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In appreciation of “Arch”
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Pastor Devin Strong, Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church.

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu entered eternal life on December 26, 2021 at the age of 90. Much has been written about the teacher, religious leader, champion for justice, and the man who has been called the moral compass of South Africa.

I add these humble words of appreciation to the conversation.

These quotes are attributed to the man nicknamed “Arch” by many South Africans:

• “We may be surprised by the people we meet in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. [God’s] standards are quite low.”

• “Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need for one another.”

• “I am a prisoner of hope.”

• When asked what he would do if it turns out that God is anti-gay, Tutu said, “I’d prefer to go to the other place.” Such words could easily make one think that Tutu is a mushy liberal who knows little of the “real world,” except, or course, that we know that he was born in 1931 deep in apartheid South Africa. He was a black man in a place where his life was ruled by those in the white minority. His views were anything but soft. They are courageous and countercultural.

Desmond Tutu began his adult life as a teacher until he quickly came to believe that he could accomplish more good as a member of the clergy.

Educated in both South Africa and London, Tutu had every opportunity to escape the poverty and violence that most men of his race endured, but he felt compelled to help lead his country with his unique vision of reconciliation that was grounded in both just politics and healthy religion but also exceeded both. Desmond Tutu is best known for his steadfast, nonviolent resistance to apartheid. He preached vehemently against the system of injustice but refused to make “whites” the enemy, recognizing that they were not villains with tails and horns, only ordinary people who are scared. After all, who wouldn’t be scared when you are outnumbered five to one?

Perhaps Tutu’s most important work was his involvement with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated crimes committed by both pro-apartheid and anti-apartheid groups and sought to bring individuals who had harmed each other face to face to confess their sins and receive forgiveness. Throughout his life, Desmond Tutu did his best to avoid being either dogmatic or partisan, stances that surely earned him critics in both the church and politics. In fact, after being critical of the African National Congress, Tutu was initially not invited to former President Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

We do well not to place any mortal too high on a pedestal. Certainly, even “the moral compass of South Africa” was a sinner.

In the years ahead, we may yet learn of the man’s public or private failures, just as we learned that Martin Luther held ant-semitic views, Martin Luther King had extra-marital affairs, and Mother Theresa was sometimes a cranky woman who suffered from deep depression. The point is never to whitewash a man’s life but to celebrate the ways that he was a successful conduit for God’s own grace.

Desmond Tutu was an exuberant disciple of Jesus’ own justice and mercy. Rest in peace and rise in Glory.

You are a Child of God, dear Arch!

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