This afternoon, I read an interview that Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave shortly after the creation of the Desmond Tutu Chair of Peace, Global Justice, and Reconciliation Studies at Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Tutu, he was the Archbishop in Cape Town, South Africa and was one of the leaders of the struggle against Apartheid.
He has been a long time advocate for the rights of all people, and has earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986, the Pacem in Terris Award in 1987, the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999, the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2007, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Put simply, Desmond Tutu is an internationally respected voice for peace and he might be one of the closest things that we have today to the prophetic voices of the Hebrew Bible.
I don’t say this because of the size of his audience, or the socio-political sway that he has. Rather, I say it because of the fact that Desmond Tutu has consistently spoken truth to power in a way that is rarely seen in our times. He has spoken out against injustice, regardless of who happens to be playing the role of oppressor and who happens to be playing the role of the oppressed, and he has refused to step down until changes are made.
As you can probably tell from the title of this post, Tutu had some things to say in this interview about issues that we might consider a little…contentious. If you know me, you probably know where I stand on these issues, but if you don’t it is fair to say that not everyone who calls themselves Christian will agree with me on everything (and those are conversations to be had face to face, not in a nightly blog post).
Regardless of that fact, I want to share one particular question and response that Tutu gave during this interview:
Q: What is the most pressing issue in which Christians need to relate their faith to power and injustice?
A: Anywhere where the humanity of people is undermined, anywhere where people are left in the dust, there we will find our cause. Sometimes you wish you could keep quiet. It’s the kind of thing you heard the prophet Jeremiah complain of where he says, “You know God, I didn’t want to be a prophet and you made me speak words of condemnation against a people I love deeply. Your word is like a fire burning in my breast.”
It isn’t that it’s questionable when you speak up for the right of people with different sexual orientation. People took some part of us and used it to discriminate against us. In our case, it was our ethnicity; it’s precisely the same thing for sexual orientation. People are killed because they’re gay. I don’t think, “What do I want to do today? I want to speak up on gay rights.” No. It’s God catching me by my neck. I wish I could keep quiet about the plight of the Palestinians. I can’t! The God who was there and showed that we should become free is the God described in the Scriptures as the same yesterday, today and forever.
There are two things that I want to highlight from that response.
- The most pressing issues that our church needs to face are those anywhere where the humanity of people is undermined, anywhere where people are left in the dust. Tutu could have named any issue that he felt strongly about, but he chose not to. Instead, he said that the job of the church is to respect and acknowledge the humanity of all of our brothers and sisters. Period.
- Speaking truth to power has never been easy, and it never should be easy. Tutu chose to speak about Jeremiah, but the reality is that there were very few people chosen by YHWH to speak truth to power that readily accepted the calling.But ultimately they did just that. They aligned themselves with the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden, and the oppressed, and they demanded justice.
Where are you seeing the humanity of people being undermined?
Where do you see people being left in the dust?
What can you do about it?The Rainbow People of God To read the entire interview, click here.