Prisoner of Hope

Sojourners interviewed Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and archbishop of the Anglican Church in Johannesburg, South Africaby phone on December 24, 1984.

Sojourners: You are a Christian and a minister of the gospel. You are also a leader of the freedom movement in South Africa. How is your faith brought to bear in this struggle?

Desmond Tutu: If it weren't for faith, I would have given up long ago. I am certain lots of us would have been hate-filled and bitter. For me the Scriptures have become more and more thoroughly relevant to our situation. They speak of a God who, when you worship him, turns you around to be concerned for your neighbor. He does not tolerate a relationship with himself that excludes your neighbor.

It is the horizontal dimension that makes our faith so thoroughly subversive in a situation of oppression and injustice. It speaks of the infinite value of human persons. We count for God because he treated us lovingly. Each one of us is the object of the divine love as if we were the only person around. We are created in God's image and, therefore, each one of us is held to be a representative, a viceroy of God.

In the middle of our faith is the death and resurrection. Nothing could have been more hopeless than Good Friday—but then Easter happened, and forever we have to become prisoners of hope.

You and others in South Africa have called apartheid, and the church's acceptance of it, a heresy. Why do you use that language?

This ideology, this policy is not just wrong; it is not just one that causes pain to people. Apartheidhope denies essential aspects of our faith. And we have to speak of it in religious terms, not just political terms because it has been buttressed by others, or they have sought to buttress it, to justify it, on biblical grounds.

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