Desmond Tutu Tutufication

Tutufication is not the solution to division and oppression

Canon Mark Oakley wrote to the Times over the weekend with a plea for the Church of England to adopt Tutufication:

It is an interesting thesis, not least because quite a few bishops will read this and think, ‘I’m already doing that’, and ‘Yes, that’s precisely my mission passion’, or ‘I’m immensely creative and already preach freely about radical inclusion and justice for minorities’. So the first hurdle to the proposal would be the pride of righteous reification, which may be probed gently and certain self-perceptions pricked with the repelling reality: few if any of the Bishops are committed to honesty and transparency. Canon Oakley is right about how being episcopal symbols of unity can compromise personal integrity and theology; and how a bureaucratic “dominant committee language”  has become consuming and pervasive, which “ticks boxes but resonates with virtually no one”.

And yet his proposition – Tutufication – is really not the solution.

Or at least not the Tutufication he prescribes: a “commitment to never let religion compromise justice”, which sounds rather like a plea never to let Scripture or tradition get in the way of equality and inclusion. Because those Bishops (if there be any) who (say) support Brexit or oppose women bishops (or priests), or those who believe marriage to be a union of one man and one woman or incline to the view that homosexual acts are sinful, or those who believe life begins at conception and that abortion should be severely restricted are generally not the ones who are considered to be preaching ‘justice’ in the Church of England. They are those who are seen to be obsessed with ‘religion’, and so “compromise justice”, and the last thing the Church of England needs is freedom of speech in the House and College of Bishops for members to make a stand for Christian moral orthodoxy or conservative theology which might confuse the flock and lead people astray.

How can there be freedom of speech and freedom of belief in the Church of Jesus Christ, whose precepts are set down in Scripture and have been expounded, preached and understood for two millennia?

Ah, you may say, many of these ‘precepts’ were open to discussion and debate for centuries, and then determined by councils and synods, so why not discuss and debate them further? What, then, would the limits of Tutufication be? Would allowing bishops “more creativity, freedom of speech and honesty about what they believe” extend to beliefs about the nature of Christ and soteriology? Would they be permitted to preach that salvation is not uniquely to be found in Jesus, and that all paths lead to God? Isn’t that what ‘justice’ demands? Would Tutufication extend to any vision and passion for any “radical new inclusion” which a bishop happened to believe in? Would it extend to the freedom to say that all Tories are duplicitous liars? Isn’t that what honesty demands?

If the Church is defined by its adherence to Christ, there are necessary limits to freedom, and necessary limits to inclusion, for there are those who follow false christs, false gods, anti-christs and heresies, by which idolatry and dogma they exclude themselves from Christian fellowship. It may be a tautology, but disciples of Christ must be disciplined, and bishops preeminently so: there must be rules which govern membership of the Anglican communion, and so there must be beliefs, professions and actions which are forbidden – ‘red lines’, if you will; the crossing of which demands exclusion, which some might term excommunication.

Now, the severity of the penalty is for the judgment of spiritual leadership – the Bishops, whose very vocation is to be a symbol of unity. The history of all denominations of the Church is strewn with examples of ‘tough love’ meted out to recalcitrants and recidivists who hardened their hearts to grace and turned their minds from truth. But what does discipline mean in a (post)modern liberal age where ‘inclusion’ has become the touchstone of common civility? If we are to be friends with all and the enemy of none (ie ‘tolerant’; no ‘hate’), then formalism and spiritual rigour (which some might call ‘religion’) must give way to ever-expanding diversity and equality.

Of course, the way must not be narrower than Jesus made it. And yet he made it narrow: there is salvation and damnation; heaven and hell; sheep and goats. Should the justice required by “radical new Christian inclusion” extend to damnation, hell and goats? What is to be the threshold of tolerance? What further division is tolerable in order to ensure that ‘religion’ gives way to ‘justice’?

Bishops who determine to put their individual notions of justice above their vocation to be a symbol of unity soon become a focus of division:

One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Tutu”; another, “I follow Welby”; still another, “I follow Oakley.”
Is Christ divided? Was Tutu crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Tutu?

And then there is the darker side of Tutufication:

While attacking Israel for its “collective punishment” of Palestinians—which he claims is worse than what Apartheid South Africa did—he himself called for the collective punishment of Jewish academics and businesses in Israel by demanding boycotts of all Jewish (but not Muslim or Christian) Israelis. (This call for an anti-Jewish boycott finds its roots in the Nazi “Kauft Nicht beim Juden” campaign of the 1930s.) When confronted with his double standard against Jews, he justified it on phony theological grounds: “Whether Jews like it or not, they are a peculiar people. They can’t ever hope to be judged by the same standards which are used for other people.” There is a name for non-Jews who hold Jews to a double standard: It is called anti-Semitism.

Do we really want the Bishops of the Church of England going round telling us what they really think of Jews and Israel, insisting that God is on the side of the Palestinians, and that they believe Zionists are the cause of suicide bombers and terrorism, all in the name of ‘justice’?

Perhaps there is one aspect of Tutufication which all might consider adopting:

So much of Christian theology is contextual and applied: Tutufication was for Tutu and South Africa. England’s Bishops would do better simply trying to be more Christlike in England, which is their essential mission and vocation. And there is nothing more Christlike than speaking out robustly against injustice when they see it, discerned in accordance with Scripture and tradition, and articulated prophetically by reason and experience. And this may be done with grace and abundant joy, if not lampooning and a great deal of laughter. That way lies a greater salvation, and a truer vision for unity.