Desmond Tutu has never seemed shy about his beliefs. As one of the world’s most famous religious leaders, the former archbishop has regularly challenged other believers on sticky theological issues like homophobia and sexism. A black man born in South Africa shortly before the formal system of apartheid, Tutu early on took a stand against racism in his homeland and spoke out for equality and freedom for all. He was named the first black Archbishop of Cape Town 30 years ago, on Sept. 7, 1986.
Tutu has tried to move everyone — people of all faiths and people of none — to adopt a life of peace, grace, love. This week, he was hospitalized for a recurring infection and will be undergoing treatment. In honor of the 30th anniversary of Tutu’s appointment as Archbishop, and in prayers for his good health, here are 12 pieces of wisdom from this beloved, outspoken leader of the neglected and the oppressed.
On the church’s obligation to take sides:
The church … has a responsibility for all, the rich and the poor, the ruler and the ruled, the oppressed and the oppressor, but it needs to point out that God does take sides. Incredibly, he sides with those whom the world would marginalize, whom the world considers of little account.
On speaking out against apartheid:
I never doubted that ultimately we were going to be free because ultimately, I knew there was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life.
On LGBTQIA representation in heaven:
I would not worship a God who is homophobic … I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven.
On demanding full human rights:
I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of human rights.
On why peace requires justice:
There is no peace because there is no justice. ...God's Shalom, peace, involves inevitably righteousness, justice, wholeness, fullness of life, participation in decision-making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation. ...When there is injustice, invariably peace becomes a casualty.
On the budget:
Just a fraction of what is expended so obscenely on defense budgets would make the difference in enabling God's children to fill their stomachs, be educated, and given the chance to lead fulfilled and happy lives. We have the capacity to feed ourselves several times over, but we are daily haunted by the spectacle of the gaunt dregs of humanity shuffling along in endless queues, with bowls to collect what the charity of the world has provided, too little too late.
On individualism vs. interdependence:
God created us for fellowship. God created us so that we should form the human family, existing together because we were made for one another. We are not made for an exclusive self-sufficiency but for interdependence, and we break the law of our being at our peril.
On the necessity of different opinions:
We appear to be scared of diversity in ethnicities, in religious faiths, in political and ideological points of view. We have an impatience with anything and anyone that suggests there might just be another perspective, another way of looking at the same thing, another answer worth exploring.
On being made in God’s image:
When will we learn that human beings are of infinite value because they have been created in the image of God, and that it is a blasphemy to treat them as if they were less than this … ?
On the crime of remaining neutral:
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has his foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
On the value of forgiveness:
To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. What dehumanizes you inexorably dehumanizes me.
‘Ubuntu’ is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks to the very essence of being human … it also means my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in theirs. We say, ‘A person is a person through other people.’