In 1974 Janani Luwum became the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. Three years previously Colonel Idi Amin had overthrown the Government of Uganda and established a military dictatorship. Amin’s regime became infamous around the world. Thousands of people were arrested, beaten, imprisoned without trial and killed. Archbishop Luwum often went personally to the office of the dreaded State Research Bureau to help secure the release of prisoners.
Tension between Church and state worsened in 1976. Religious leaders, including Archbishop Luwum, met to discuss the deteriorating situation and asked for an interview with Idi Amin to share their concern. The President reprimanded the Archbishop. But Archbishop Luwum continued to attend Government functions. One of his critics accused him of being on the Government side and he replied: “I face daily being picked up by the soldiers. While the opportunity is there I preach the Gospel with all my might, and my conscience is clear before God that I have not sided with the present Government which is utterly self-seeking. I have been threatened many times. Whenever I have the opportunity I have told the President the things the churches disapprove of. God is my witness.”
On 5 February 1977 the Archbishop Luwum’s house was raided by soldiers who said they had been ordered to look for arms. On 8 February the Archbishop and nearly all the Ugandan bishops met and drafted a letter of protest to the President and asked to see him. A week later, on 16 February, the Archbishop and six bishops were publicly arraigned in a show trial and were accused of smuggling arms. Archbishop Luwum was not allowed to reply, but shook his head in denial. The President concluded by asking the crowd: “What shall we do with these traitors?” The soldiers replied “Kill him now”. The Archbishop was separated from his bishops. As he was taken away Archbishop Luwum turned to his brother bishops and said:” Do not be afraid. I see God’s hand in this.”
The next morning it was announced that Archbishop Luwum had been killed in a car crash. The truth was that he had been shot because he had stood up to President Amin and his Government. The Archbishop was killed just a few months before the centenary celebrations of the Church of Uganda, an anniversary which marked the martyrdom of Anglicans in Uganda nearly a century before. At a memorial service Janani Luwum was proclaimed the first martyr of the Church of Uganda’s second century.
Anglican Communion News Service