BY GABRIELLE BIRKNER – Staff Reporter of the Sun
October 19, 2006
The Anglican archbishop who rose to fame as a fervent but always peaceful opponent of South African apartheid, Desmond Tutu, last night urged Christians to avoid making sweeping generalizations about members of other religions.
“Today, when we say, ‘That faith is a faith that encourages violence,’ we have to look at ourselves in the mirror,” he told more than 600 people who packed Manhattan’s Trinity Church. The 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner then condemned Christianity’s role in historical atrocities such as slavery, the Holocaust, and apartheid.
He did not specifically mention a controversy that erupted last month, when Pope Benedict XVI cited a quotation that linked Islamic tenants with “things only evil and inhuman.”
Archbishop Tutu and his former press secretary, John Allen, were the featured speakers at an open-to-thepublic gathering celebrating Mr. Allen’s 500-page tome, “Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu,” published earlier this month. Television journalist John Hockenberry moderated the hour-long conversation.
Mr. Allen, a former religion correspondent for a Johannesburg-based newspaper, served as the archbishop’s spokesman for more than a decade.
Throughout Archbishop Tutu’s antiapartheid fight, the cleric said he was buoyed by his faith, and would often relate biblical parables to “maintain the morale”of his followers. He said he also drew strength from supporters around the world. “We asked for their help, they gave us their help, and — voilà — here we are, free,” he said.
Apartheid, the explicitly racist doctrine of South Africa for nearly a half-century, was abolished in 1994.
With characteristic good humor, he told of his decades-long struggle against the apartheid government.”I didn’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Desmond, what can you say that’s going to upset the government?” he said, giggling, and eliciting laughter from the crowd.
“He was a brave and important opposition voice,” a freelance writer who attended yesterday’s gathering, Timothy Tanner, 38, said. “He’s a very mild, gentle man, in spite of the title, ‘Rabble-Rouser.’ As a man of the cloth, he wasn’t advocating armed struggle and was able to appeal to peoples’ consciences. “Mr. Tanner, an American who lives in Midtown, is the son of a diplomat and attended high school in Cape Town, South Africa, in the early 1980s.
Archbishop Tutu recently celebrated his 75th birthday, and leaders of Trinity Church surprised him with a birthday cake when the conversation concluded. In turn, the cleric led a prayer, calling for peace, joy, and faith the world over.