Yousef Abu Gharbieh
Few religious leaders have caused as much political change as Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
South African journalist John Allen presented his latest book “Rabble Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu” to a packed auditorium of students and faculty at the Divinity School Thursday night.
Allen outlined Tutu’s life story to the audience, from his obscure roots to his position as a religious icon and anti-Apartheid leader in South Africa.
Tutu’s unique oratorical style and talent for mobilizing crowds helped him earn a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, and gave him a leading role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-Apartheid South Africa.
Allen said that as a young man Tutu wanted to help others as a doctor-not a priest.
Tutu, however, became a teacher because his family was too poor to send him to medical school. Soon after, he was forced out of teaching when the Apartheid government systematically nationalized the church schools in which blacks were educated.
In place of the church schools, the government created a system of segregated schools “designed to educate blacks for a life of servitude,” Allen said.
The nationalization of the schools was part of a larger program to strengthen Apartheid, which included the forcible resettlement of many black South Africans and the destruction of their neighborhoods.
At this point of tumultuous change, Tutu turned to the Anglican priesthood.
Tutu’s intelligence and zeal earned him a recommendation to King’s College in London, England for further theological training. He returned prepared for a life of work within the Church.
“[He was] politically aware, but not politically active,” Allen said.
Allen added that Tutu became an activist after witnessing peaceful student demonstrators mauled by police dogs in 1968.
“The terrified group of students was surrounded by the police and dogs, and suddenly Tutu broke through, to be with the students,” Allen said, adding that Tutu believed he was obligated to be an activist from that moment on.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Tutu became one of the principal leaders in the anti-Apartheid movement. Because of his position as a clergyman, Tutu was able to openly criticize the South African government in a way few others could.
“He was exceptional because he was willing to speak out no matter what the consequences,” Allen said. “He had a way with words, and wasn’t willing to compromise his language when speaking to whites-he could get under their skin.”
The symbolic importance of Tutu’s legacy goes beyond his role as a political activist.
“He is an example that shows how the gospel of Jesus Christ should react under oppression… he became an example for other ministers to use non-violence against brutal, oppressive systems,” said Ellis Carson, a first-year Divinity student.