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Desmond Tutu: Champion of Freedom


by Jonathan Kuttab

FOSNA and Sabeel join the millions of people throughout the world who mourn the loss of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a moral giant and champion of freedom. Archbishop Tutu, who died at the age of 90 after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer, was an outstanding human being and a true Christian. A patron of Sabeel since its inception, the Archbishop frequently and publicly supported its positions. As I remember his life and legacy, I am particularly struck by three elements:

  1. His infectious laughter and constant smile would never leave his face, even in the most difficult situations. The Joy of the Lord was in his heart, and it was irrepressible. His humanity and deep care for others shone through and was unmistakable. While he could at times be overcome with grief and concern over injustice, he would just as quickly smile, joke, and laugh, as he was full of hope and confidence. And when justice would prevail and smiling was not enough, he would break out into spontaneous dance!

  2. He was principled in his political positions, which grew directly out of his faith commitment, and was willing to publicly endorse these positions even when it was politically inconvenient for him to do so. He would often say that “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” and “if an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Archbishop Tutu was willing to support Palestinians in their struggle and challenge Israeli apartheid and the occupation. He would say this even when speaking to known supporters of Israel who may have appreciated his position on Apartheid in South Africa but otherwise expected him to be more politically discreet with regard to Israel. Tutu would not hear of it! He was willing to challenge even his closest friends and supporters, including the African National Congress (ANC) and his friend Nelson Mandela.

  3. His struggle for justice never blinded him to the humanity of his enemies. He could show empathy not only with the oppressed but for the humanity of the oppressors. Few people could match his genuine concern for Jewish Israelis, even as he roundly condemned their oppressive practices. He would echo Mandela’s famous declaration that “South Africans would not feel free until Palestinians were free,” adding to it the insight that “the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.”

No words can express how much FOSNA, Sabeel, and lovers of freedom worldwide will miss this moral giant. Within a month, we are hoping to hold a major memorial service for Archbishop Tutu to honor his remarkable witness and dedicated service to the Lord, remembering the beautiful example he left for the rest of us. May he rest in peace, and, as we say in the Orthodox Tradition, may his memory be eternal.

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