Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed from life in God’s love among us to life in God’s love beyond us on Boxing Day 2021 in his beloved South Africa at the full age of 90.
As befitting a Nobel laureate, Desmond Tutu is remembered throughout the world as a courageous, candid, charismatic, compassionate, and conscientious advocate for justice, peace, and inclusion.
As befitting a prelate of his Anglican faith, Archbishop Tutu is remembered for his devotion and fidelity to the teachings and life of Jesus.
As befitting a Black native of South Africa who devoted much of his lifetime to resisting and condemning the wicked white supremacist apartheid regime that ruled South Africa, ravaged, and robbed his people of their land, health, and God-given right to liberty, Desmond Tutu is remembered for his holy activism and righteous indignation against every form of injustice.
Desmond Mpilo Tutu touched my life indirectly. I was inspired by his unflinching refusal to accommodate imperialism in South Africa, Palestine, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. I always enjoyed watching and hearing his wonderful sense of humor and unmistakable giggle work its way into his wise musings.
Our congregation was blessed to study his 2011 book, God Is Not a Christian some years ago. As we did so, it was as if Archbishop Tutu was sitting among us, probing, prodding, provoking, and chuckling each week.
Through our connection with the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and Dr. J. Alfred Smith (Pastor Emeritus of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, CA), I became acquainted with and am now beloved by Rev. Allan Aubrey Boesak, Desmond Tutu’s dear friend and longtime co-laborer in the struggle against apartheid. My wife and I will always cherish the event we attended on Thursday, September 12, 2013, titled “An Evening with A Legendary Voice for Social Justice – The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu” presented by Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.
At the time, Allan Boesak was the Desmond Tutu Chair for Peace, Global Justice, and Reconciliation Studies for the sponsoring entities, and Archbishop Tutu’s presence was everything one could have hoped, and more. I cherish my program from that event. Beyond that, I cherish the handwritten message he penned in my copy of God Is Not a Christian that reads, “Wendell God Bless you. Desmond, 9-13-2013.” Those words were from a pastor’s heart.
Desmond Tutu was a pastor who became a prelate. He was a prelate who never stopped being a pastor willing to hear and proclaim the wounds and sorrows of oppressed people. He was a pastor and prelate who refused invitations to lend his moral authority to evil emissaries of white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, militarism, tribalism, genocide, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, technocentrism, and xenophobia.
Moreover, Desmond Tutu was a prophet. When former U.S. President Ronald Reagan rejected calls to impose economic sanctions against South Africa in 1986, Desmond Tutu condemned Reagan, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and former West German Chancellor Helmet Kohl in these unforgettable words: “I am quite angry. I think the West for my part can go to hell.” Those words reminded me of the message Ezekiel received. Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them (Ezekiel 2:5, NRSV).
Desmond Tutu showed the world that a pastor, priest, and prelate can also be a prophet.
He did it while still being faithful to the liberating spirit in Black theology.
He did it by calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a death row inmate in Pennsylvania who Tutu visited and encouraged.
He did it by denouncing homophobia and transphobia.
He did it by denouncing the racist Zionist regime in Israel with its genocidal conduct towards Palestinians in Israel, across the rest of Palestine, and Gaza.
He did it with his sermons, lectures, and writings.
He did it with the beautiful light in his eyes, gleam on his countenance, and playful chuckle that always surprised and delighted us.
And Desmond Tutu did it as a follower of Jesus who adapted a prayer by Trevor Huddleston in these words, at the beginning of God Is Not a Christian.
God bless our world
Guard our children
Guide our leaders
And give us peace
For Jesus Christ’s sake.
Desmond Mpilo Tutu now beams his beautiful spirit beyond us as a member of the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews.
…They shall know that there has been a prophet among them.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.