Desmond Tutu was known throughout the world as a man of peace and passion; of faith and politics; of moral conscience and fiery wit. He was honoured and lauded on earth like no other priest in history: Nobel Peace Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Companion of Honour, Légion d’honneur, the Order for Meritorious Service, the Templeton Prize, the Pacem in Terris Award, around a hundred honorary degrees and various fellowships. Verily, you may say, he has received his reward.
But he has now departed this life and entered into the Kingdom of God: his tireless labours for civil rights, peace and reconciliation are now at an end. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
People will cavil at a few things he has said or done over his decades of Christian ministry, but nothing can eclipse his mission of love and his passion for racial equality; the perpetual hope that the black man might be seen to be as much on God’s side as the white man, and that both may coexist in harmony and mutual respect. His was a theology of liberation, inclusion and dignity in a world of oppression, sectarianism and racism, and his heart was always for the individual soul of the person, not the generic traits or indelible histories of a people.
Many swift words will be poured out today and over the coming weeks telling of his spiritual priorities and political activism; of his essential quest for justice, mercy and freedom, especially in the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. And they will all resonate with his overriding message of peace and reconciliation. For wherever he visited; into whatever national trauma, local genocide or intractable struggle he was speaking, his message from the pulpit was simple: lay down your bombs and guns, put away your swords, and talk for Christ’s sake. Love one another.
Desmond Tutu was a prophetic inspiration, a perpetual prick in the conscience of fractious humanity, and a true man of God. He was small and impish and walked with humility, and yet he was a giant who radiated a global force for good. He dared to dream a big dream, and in doing so forged a vision for forgiveness in suffering. The world is poorer for his passing, and yet greater in love for the witness of his life and his abiding legacy of hope and reconciliation.
Blessed are the peacemakers.