Passing of a Moral Giant”
Updated: Jan 1
We lost a giant. On December 26, archbishop Desmond Tutu, the man who exemplified moral strength, passed away at age 90. His life and work were marked by his fight to end South Africa’s Apartheid and the healing of a nation by guiding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His life was marked by criticism from both factions, at first from the conservative whites who said a religious leader should stay out of politics and later from the progressive blacks who thought he was too soft on the whites who perpetrated the evil during the Apartheid era. He remained unwaveringly resolute, speaking the truth to power and advocating for the oppressed.
The archbishop’s consistent, sharp criticism of and persistent demand for the end of Apartheid, even when it appeared to have no impact at all, awoke the consciousness of the people around the world. While many of his colleagues lost patience and advocated for, and even participated in, violent overthrow of South Africa’s slavery system, archbishop Tutu remained steadfast in working for the peaceful end to the oppressive Apartheid. Even though he did not advocate for violence, he did not condemn those who chose violent means to bring about a change; he understood the human soul and knew that the prolonged oppression of people would inevitably result in hopelessness. He understood that some people would resort to whatever means necessary to restore hope.
Even when the South African government repeatedly confiscated his passport and tried to isolate him from the world, his message of justice and honor for all humanity was never silenced. The more they tried to silence him, the louder his voice was heard. The numerous awards and honors he received from around the world were evidence of the respect and love people around the world had for him. He became the world’s spokesperson for the plight of all oppressed people, especially the Palestinians living through Apartheid of their own in Israel. In a typical archbishop Tutu’s way, he advocated for the right of Israel to exist as a nation, but also for the freedom and justice for the Palestinians. He called for people to live in peace and harmony.
He also knew the importance of his responsibility as the pastor to those who worked for the unjust system and those who worked for the change. As the Bishop of Johannesburg and archbishop of Cape Town, he was the pastor of mainly all-white congregations, and he had to guide his people to navigate the difficult issue of how to support dismantling an unjust political and economic system that benefited them. Even when he won the respect of the world for his unrelenting denunciation of the injustice of Apartheid, he did not lose the support of the people of South Africa. His message of peace and justice won over the heart of the people, and we all witnessed a miraculous peaceful transition of the South African government to democracy.
One of the most iconic pictures of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was the archbishop in tears listening to the stories of the torture the soldiers had inflicted on the citizens of South Africa. The tears flowed readily and freely for the victims and their families, giving them closure and justice that was so needed. But through the tears, we also saw his love for the solider and their humanity; he saw them as the victims of their own hatred. He offered them the opportunity to discover their own humanity by offering them forgiveness and a fresh start. His work of reconciliation enabled South Africa to move forward.
Recent politics have reminded us that our world requires a moral leader like archbishop Desmond Tutu more than ever. May our leaders find the courage of Desmond Tutu and lead with righteousness. May our leaders fight for justice, even at their personal risks, and work to create a better world for others. May we remember archbishop Desmond Tutu.