Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, activist and enemy of apartheid, dead at 90 – Episcopal News Service


Archbishop Desmond Tutu laughs as the crowd gathers to celebrate his birthday by unveiling an arch in his honor outside St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, October 7, 2017. Photo: Mike Hutchings / REUTERS

[Religion News Service] Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, the man who has become synonymous with South Africa’s nonviolent struggle against apartheid, died on December 26 at the age of 90.

Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer almost two decades ago.

The fiery spiritual leader of millions of black and white South Africans has seized every opportunity at home and abroad to speak out against the racially oppressive regime that has stifled his country for decades. His struggles earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and the appointment to head of a commission that sought to uncover the truth about the apartheid atrocities.

“There is no one on earth – Nelson Mandela would have been the other – who had the kind of moral compass and exemplary mandate that I think the Archbishop has,” said Alton B. Pollard III, Dean of Howard University School. of Divinity.

In recent years, Tutu has taken his justice work to other areas beyond racial reconciliation – from AIDS to poverty to gay rights.

“All, all are children of God and none, none should ever be considered garbage,” he told the “God and Us” class he taught in 1999 as a visiting professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. “And that is why you must be so passionate in your opposition to injustice of any kind.”

Read Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s statement on Tutu’s passing here.

Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, leader of South Africa’s nonviolent struggle against apartheid, died on December 26 at the age of 90. Photo: ENS Archive

Long before South Africa elected its first democratic government in 1994, Tutu dreamed and spoke fervently about “what it will be like when apartheid goes away”.

But there were times in public speeches and in interviews when the cleric doubted whether, after decades of agitation for social justice, he would live to witness the decline of apartheid.

During the 1970s and 1980s, when other black leaders critical of white majority rule were violently choked or silenced, Tutu’s importance in the church made him one of the few black voices sufficiently strong to resonate in the world.

But sometimes even his stature in the church or his powerful international religious connections were not enough to keep the government at bay or confiscate his passport. Protests from the world’s main clerics, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, came but failed to protect Tutu from the brutal regime.

Tutu said a disciplined prayer life helped him through apartheid and continued to support it decades later.

“I myself would not have been able to survive if I had not been supported by my spiritual disciplines of prayer, silent and regular attendance at the Eucharist,” he told Religion News Service in 2011 .

His bold protests against racial segregation and his public campaigns for international economic sanctions have made Tutu a thorn in the side of the South African government. But for many black people in the country, Tutu was not radical enough. Some even berated him for devoting himself to crafting a non-violent resolution with whites for racial reconciliation in South Africa.

Read Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s tribute to Tutu here.

Tutu never wanted to be a controversial figure or even a priest.

As a child, Tutu was baptized a Methodist, but later converted to Anglicanism with the rest of his family in Klerksdorp, South Africa, where he was born. Tutu, the son of a schoolteacher, wanted to become a doctor, but with no money or scholarship available, he enrolled in a teacher training program.

His teaching career was short-lived. After resigning from his teaching post to protest the government’s educational policy towards blacks, Tutu turned to the priesthood and the church.

It would be a career of firsts. In 1975 Tutu was appointed the first black Anglican dean of Johannesburg and in 1976 he was elected bishop of Lesotho, an independent African country surrounded by South Africa. Two years later, he became the first black secretary general of the South African Council of Churches. Tutu used his post as Secretary General as a platform to peacefully advance the anti-apartheid movement.

Read the announcement of Tutu’s death by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town here.

In 1984, the Anglican bishop was teaching in New York on sabbatical when he learned that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize that year for his nonviolent crusade against apartheid. His fellow black South Africans extended an enthusiastic welcome to the winner upon his return home and it is to them that Tutu dedicated his award.

“This award is for you, the 3.5 million of our people who have been uprooted and thrown away as if you were garbage,” Tutu said in a speech at the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches.

It has been an exceptional year for Tutu. Just a month after winning the Nobel Prize, he was elected the first black Anglican bishop of Johannesburg. Tutu’s episcopate was expected to stifle his passion and protest. It never happened.

In 1996, a decade after being elevated to the rank of Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and primate of much of southern Africa, Tutu sidelined his episcopate staff, but he did not abandon the work that occupied much of his adult life – bringing freedom and healing to a race fractured South Africa.

Tutu’s quest for a free South Africa placed him at the forefront of politics and protests, but he often dismissed claims that he had political ambitions. He would respond to the curious by saying, “I happen to be black myself, but the most important thing about me is that I am a Christian leader in South Africa at a critical time in its history. I received the ministry of reconciliation.

Content to be “the priest” even in the new South Africa, Tutu was determined to maintain what he called a “critical distance” from the government that being “the politician” would not allow. Tutu said, “If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and I’ll tell you.”

In the mid-1990s, Tutu was chosen to head South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Despite his illness and cancer treatment, Tutu monitored the commission as victims, perpetrators, police and the country’s former president spoke of the evils of the era he had fought against.

As the world watched the commission proceedings, television cameras often caught the quick-witted Tutu audibly sobbing about the tale of a horrific atrocity that was being disclosed.

Years later, he continued to preach on the need for reconciliation and forgiveness.

“(P) ordaining is a gift for both the forgiver and the guilty,” he told RNS in a 2014 interview, when he co-wrote “The Book of Forgiveness” with his daughter. Mpho Tutu. “As a victim, you offer the gift of your forgiveness to the perpetrator who may or may not appropriate the gift, but it has been offered and thus frees the victim.”

Tutu received top honors, including the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President Barack Obama.

“As a man of honor, he garnered the respect and admiration of a diverse congregation,” the medal quote read. “He helped lead South Africa through a turning point in modern history, and with unwavering humility and a steadfast commitment to our common humanity, he helped heal wounds and lay the foundation for a new nation. “

When Tutu received the Templeton Prize four years later, considered the most important award in the field of spirituality and religion, he credited the South African people, as he had done with his Nobel Prize.

“(W) when you’re in a crowd and you stand out from the crowd, it’s usually because you’re carried on the shoulders of others,” he said in 2013.

Tutu was not without his detractors, including those who protested invitations to lecturers from American universities, in part because of his support for the Palestinians and his criticism of Israel.

In an interview with RNS in 2013, when Butler University’s Desmond Tutu Center and Christian Theological Seminary were announced, Tutu blamed God for being outspoken on issues such as gay rights and the Middle East. East.

“I don’t think, ‘What do I want to do today? I want to talk about gay rights, ”he said. “No. It’s God grabbing me by the neck. I wish I could be silent about the plight of the Palestinians. I can’t! The God who was there and showed that we must become free is the God described. in the Scriptures as the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Vanderbilt Divinity School Dean Emilie Townes said Tutu, with his “refusal to bow to injustice”, has become a pastor of the world.

“He has been such a shining light for hope, justice and love for many of us,” Townes said. “It’s hard to think of a world without him. But one of the things he has taught so many of us is that we have to find that shining light within us and move the work that he has started forward.

Tutu, who has been hailed as the conscience of South Africa, lived a life of moral strength, vision and hope that enabled him to serve his church and his people faithfully and at times with peace and humor even in the face to persecution.

By doing his life’s work – opposing apartheid – Tutu knew the cost of
pledge: “If you are doing God’s work, it is his work. He’s going to have to take care of you. And no one is essential.


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