Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Church, and Ending Discrimination of LGBTI People
February 23, 2016
February 23, 2016
This article originally appeared on Medium.com
“I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this. I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about Apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.” — Desmond Tutu
At the end of 2015, the Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s youngest daughter, married her partner Professor Marceline van Furth. The event was a small civil ceremony held in the home of van Furth’s parents in The Netherlands. For those of us in North America and Europe, the news was received with joyous celebration, and congratulatory messages poured out from luminaries across the globe.
But in some circles, the news was not quite so positive. Particularly in parts of Africa and the Middle East, a stream of hatred and negativity came pouring in, directed not just at the couple, but toward the Archbishop, various family members and associates.
Shortly after the couple’s wedding, Anglican leaders got together in the United Kingdom and made the decision to restrict the U.S. Episcopal church over its support of LGBTI individuals and marriage equality — a decision that was brought about due to the efforts of the Global Anglican Future Conference, which represents conservative Anglican leaders, mostly from the global south.
It has become glaringly apparent that when it comes to equal rights for our LGBTI brothers and sisters, we still have some work to do.
I see the wedding of Reverend Tutu, such a high-profile African woman who also happens to be an Episcopalian minister, as an opportunity for growth in this area. While the conversation hasn’t been all constructive, at least the conversation is happening and that is important. It is my hope that by seeing a successful, devout, faithful woman in a loving relationship, some boundaries are being broken.
Which brings me to Archbishop Tutu. A common theme to many of the messages that I received after the marriage was “Oh, THIS is why he supports homosexuals.” While I think knowing and loving a homosexual family member is the best reason a person would pivot on this issue, I was not sure this was the case with the Archbishop.
In conversations with family and friends of Archbishop Tutu, I learned that equality for LGBTI people is something he has been passionate about since the apartheid era in South Africa, long before he learned of his daughter’s relationship with another woman. Because of the efforts of the Archbishop and others, the South African constitution prevents discrimination on the basis of sexuality. Time and time again, Desmond Tutu has been an ardent supporter of LGBTI rights, speaking out against discrimination for more than three decades.
“Anywhere where the humanity of people is undermined, anywhere where people are left in the dust, there we will find our cause. Sometimes you wish you could keep quiet. It’s the kind of thing you heard the prophet Jeremiah complain of where he says, ‘You know God, I didn’t want to be a prophet and you made me speak words of condemnation against a people I love deeply. Your word is like a fire burning in my breast.’
It isn’t that it’s questionable when you speak up for the right of people with different sexual orientation. People took some part of us and used it to discriminate against us. In our case, it was our ethnicity; it’s precisely the same thing for sexual orientation. People are killed because they’re gay. I don’t think, ‘What do I want to do today? I want to speak up on gay rights.’ No. It’s God catching me by my neck.” — Desmond Tutu
We might never know if the Archbishop’s support for LGBTI people came through an epiphany brought about through a friendship with someone who was homosexual, or just through his personal understanding of God’s love. It is my hope, my prayer, that both his unwavering support of the LGBTI community, and the love between his daughter and her wife, can serve as an inspirations to the Anglican community, and ultimately to the world, to put an end to this discrimination.
Note: After this was written, it was announced that South African Anglican bishops have made a move toward gay inclusion. Read the details here: http://www.religionnews.com/2016/02/23/south-africas-anglican-bishops-move-toward-gay-inclusion/