All posts by john

Who is Cyril Ramaphosa?

Ahead of the election of a new leader of South Africa’s governing African National Congress in December 2017, the readers of, the website I have helped edit and run since 2006, knew the one contestant in the race, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as the former chair of the African Union Commission.

But they didn’t know the other, Cyril Ramaphosa, nearly as well. Having followed his rise first as a union then a party leader,  I felt the story of a person I had observed as a canny political operator was one worth telling. Having seen the sophistication of his leadership since the 1980s, I didn’t share the scepticism of younger South African journalists who thought he was entering the race too late.

Ramaphosa, notoriously opaque behind his friendly mask, wasn’t giving interviews. So I turned to the writer of the most detailed Ramaphosa biography, Anthony Butler, for help. Butler is a professor in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Cape Town and a former fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

We carried the interview with Butler on AllAfrica two weeks before Ramaphosa was elected party president. Within another two months, Ramaphosa had manoeuvred the crippled Jacob Zuma out of office – 14 months before the end of his term – and had been elected president in Zuma’s place.

You can find the interview here…

American Ubuntu: Springsteen, South Africa and 9/11

by John Allen

A reflection on Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first visit to South Africa

Somehow I managed to miss Bruce Springsteen when others in my generation were listening to him.

I knew who he was, vaguely. But I guess journalism in the wake of first the Soweto uprising, then the states of emergency after the Vaal uprising of 1984, gave us all the excitement we needed. So I wasn’t among the South Africans who poured across the border into Zimbabwe in 1988 to hear him compare “the systematic apartheid of South Africa” to “the economic apartheid of my own country, where we segregate our underclass in ghettos in all the major cities…”

It wasn’t until more than a decade later when I went to live in New York, or more accurately, worked in New York and lived across the Hudson River in downtown Jersey City – New York’s “third world” – that I understood that Springsteen reflects the America which you won’t learn about from the sitcoms, the soaps or many of the graduate students who come to study us.

No, he represents the America in which if you don’t have a college degree, or even two, you might be working two jobs to make ends meet; the America in which, until Obamacare, 40 million people had no health insurance, some relying on church fund-raisers to pay for heart surgery; the America of those Jersey City streets where the Dominican immigrants working for the minimum wage congregate on the steps of their walk-up apartments (no lifts) to socialise on a hot summer evening as you walk by.

I learned in New York for the first time that Born in the U.S.A., far from celebrating fist-pumping American patriotism is about the disillusionment of the sons, and now daughters, of blue-collar workers deployed by America’s elites to fight their wars for them – such as the Vietnam vet of the song who:

Got in a little hometown jam,
So they put a rifle in my hand,
Sent me off to a foreign land,
To go and kill the yellow man.

And Springsteen’s message came closer to home when I read how, in a fit of pique, the New York Police Department withdrew the escort helping the rock star get through the traffic to an appearance at the old Shea Stadium in Queens.

The singer’s sin? In protest at the killing of 22-year-old Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant shot by police as he reached for his wallet in the foyer of his own apartment block, Springsteen had at an earlier appearance sung his composition American Skin. It opens with a recitation of the number of rounds the four officers discharged:

41 shots, 41 shots, 41 shots, 41 shots, 41 shots, 41 shots, 41 shots, 41 shots….
Is it a gun, is it a knife?
Is it a wallet, this is your life?
It ain’t no secret
It ain’t no secret
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living
In your American skin.

But I really found Springsteen after September 11, 2001. The narrative tells the story, the lyrics of the post 9/11 albums, The Rising and Magic, the experience of a South African feeling far from home.

September 11, 8.46 am: Three months after getting a work permit to join the staff of Trinity Church Wall Street, Manhattan’s oldest Anglican parish, I emerge from the World Trade Centre station after my commute under the river. Turning the corner towards our offices, I hear a low-flying jet. The scream is unlike anything I have heard since the day of Madiba’s inauguration in the amphitheatre of Union Buildings in 1994, when what became “our” airforce saluted the transfer of power. “Strange, I didn’t see that the President [George W. Bush] was in town today.” My thought is interrupted by an almighty bang. Within seconds, the sky is filled with floating paper and ash, carpetting lower Manhattan in grey. Lenore Rivera, a colleague, and I run for the cover of our offices.

Hell’s brewin’ dark sun’s on the rise
This storm’ll blow through by and by
House is on fire, Viper’s in the grass

(Lonesome Day)

9.03 am: Returning up the street to St. Paul’s Chapel, an 18th century church we operate across the street from the twin towers of the trade centre, the chapel’s priest, Lyndon Harris, and I are going to see whether there’s anything we can do. Another screaming jet, and another enormous crash. Lyndon wants to go on. I think he’s crazy, the way Desmond Tutu was once during those dreadful days of August 1990, when people were being slaughtered on the streets of the East Rand. Then, he wanted to leave a bus carrying visiting clergy down Khumalo Street in Thokoza to negotiate with panga-wielding hostel residents blocking our passage, so I stood in the way, blocking him for long enough for clergy less recognisable – and less demonised by the forces of apartheid – to negotiate the way through. On 9/11, Lyndon listens to persuasion and turns back with me.

Sometime in the 56 minutes after 9.03 am: A crowd of visiting theologians is huddled in Trinity’s television studio. They’re there to record a no doubt weighty discussion, probably something to do with the nature of God, I imagine, I never really knew. In the short time I had worked there, I wondered what I thought I was doing, so distant were their experiences from mine. Then a Welsh priest, Rowan Williams, is called upon to say an off-the-cuff prayer. Months, maybe years later, after he’s been named the new archbishop of Canterbury, I come across my scrappy note of what he said, fallen between my desk and the wall:

“… Try to bring our fear and our helplessness into the open before God. Recognizing our own fear and pain, we hold before God all those killed, injured, those desperate with anxiety, those who still may be trapped, those who caused this… We ask for whatever resources we need, To speak for God as we go out again, For any who need our help or our comfort, To our hearts, to our own feelings, to the needs and pain of those around us…”

This too shall pass, yeah, I’m gonna pray
Right now all I got’s this lonesome day
It’s alright… It’s alright… It’s alright, yeah…
It’s alright… It’s alright… It’s alright, yeah…
Let kingdom come I’m gonna find my way
Through this lonesome day.

9.59 am: I’m at my desk, starting to write the story. The office block shudders, so heavily that I’m surprised that cracks don’t appear in the wall in front of me, which adjoins the American Stock Exchange building. Have they been hit too? With what? Missiles?

Now your own worst enemy has come to town
Now your own worst enemy has come to town
(Your Own Worst Enemy)

The power has failed. I leave the office and find colleague Lynn Brewster outside. Smoke and dust are shooting under the doors and filling up the corridors. We have no idea of what has happened. We decide to get out, me without laptop, cellphone, jacket or wallet; going back for them might be the difference between life and death. I run down four floors to the foyer, turn to go through the front door, only to see blackness. Has the front of the building collapsed? Moving closer, no. The glass is intact. But it’s dark outside, pitch black. Dark, at something past 10? If we had been expecting a total eclipse of the sun today, surely I would have read about it? It’s apocalyptic.

The sky was falling and streaked with blood

(Into the Fire)

Some time after 10 am: We’re in the back of the foyer. In my no doubt over-heated recollection, we are all crouching, although we probably weren’t. One colleague says to those around her: “This is just like Pearl Harbour.” I don’t say anything but I think, “No, this is not like Pearl Harbour at all. That was a military target; lower Manhattan is a civilian target. This is much worse.” Later I realise that South Africans are more experienced in judging the conditions for a just war than Americans.

Stuck in the building, nowhere to go, facing we don’t know what, my mind goes back home to the early nineties, to Thokoza and Kagiso, to Sebokeng and Boipatong, to Edendale and Table Mountain, the one near Maritzburg. I recall the solidarity of ministry in the wake of massacre with figures of the stature of Tutu, Frank Chikane, Khoza Mgojo, Stanley Mogoba, Michael Nuttall and Peter Storey. I remember the lighter moments, such as when Tutu’s personal assistant, Mazwi Tisani, tells him that as we stood among people carrying axes, pangas and petrol bombs, “Father, when you said, ‘Let us pray,’ I didn’t close my eyes.” On 9/11, I am a lot lonelier. I don’t know if I’m going to get out of this alive.

I’m countin’ on a miracle
Baby I’m countin’ on a miracle
Darlin’ I’m countin’ on a miracle
To come through

(Countin’ on a miracle)

As we find the places in the building where it’s easiest to breathe, we don’t know whether it’s safer there or on the uncertain streets outside. But as smoke and dust begin to penetrate every space, it becomes clear we have no choice. Around 90 toddlers and young children are with us, mostly other people’s kids dropped off at the church pre-school, so we tear babies’ bibs in two and dip them in water to cover their and our faces to help us breathe.

As we step outside, the same phrase leaps to everyone’s mind: nuclear winter. An eery silence. Streets, cars, everything covered in grey ash, littered with debris of every kind. Later we hear that the undercarriage of one of the aircraft which hit Tower Two was found just up the street.

10.28 am: As we walk south through the deserted streets, away from the World Trade Centre, there’s a long, growling, then deafening roar from behind us. We run for the overhangs of shop entrances, which offer pitifully little cover. Years later, in a previously untold story, I hear that Lenore had frozen in the middle of the street, paralysed, and that it was Rowan Williams who broke cover to run out and pull her back. The roar passes, and we’re all okay. As we head down to the southernmost point of the island, I wonder whether gas mains will catch fire and set the whole of lower Manhattan alight. Will we have to swim for it? But at a ferry terminal, we manage to get the children on buses which have been dropping off emergency workers, and then escape the area ourselves, by bus or ferry.

Afternoon: Colleagues in a church building near the United Nations – a part of town in which I’m comfortable through long acquaintance – give me refuge. I borrow $100 for food and the subway. I learn some time during the day or the evening that the “Apocalypse” must have been the consequence of Tower Two collapsing, generating the billowing black clouds of smoke and dust which raced through Manhattan’s canyons, sending people fleeing as if in a disaster movie. The roar half an hour later was Tower One coming down.

Days later, we find a pair of civilian boots hanging upside down on the church’s iron railings on Broadway, near the corner of Wall Street. A firefighter had changed into his work boots and presumably joined the scores of others who began to climb up the stairwells of the 110-storey towers, carrying up to 50 kg of equipment and hose on their backs:

I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

(Into the Fire)

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothin’ but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile o’ line

(The Rising)

Three hundred and forty-three firefighters died that day, many in those stairwells.

Around 8 pm: A train is laid on to take commuters back under the river to Jersey City. I get home, shoes and trousers covered in ash, my arms less obviously so; I realise it only when I take my watch off.

God’s drifting in heaven, devil’s in the mailbox
I got dust on my shoes, nothing but teardrops

(You’re Missing)

I go to bed with an acrid cough at the top of my throat, which lingers on for days as smoke pollutes the city, generated by fires burning deep underground at temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees.

September 12: Waking, the feeling is surreal. Did yesterday really happen? Or was it a nightmare? I can see the top of the twin towers out the window above my bed, so I get up to look. They’ve gone.

Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky
Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

Blood on the streets
Yeah blood flowin’ down
I hear the blood of my blood
Cryin’ from the ground

(Empty Sky)

Notices are pasted on apartment doors down the endless corridors in our complex, a converted pencil factory covering the best part of four city blocks, asking us to check in with the rental office. A seven-minute commute to the World Trade Centre station, ours was a popular address for downtown workers, especially computer specialists from India. Liz, my wife, signs up at the office in case she’s needed to feed the pets of residents who don’t return. Days later, newspapers are still uncollected and notices flapping on some of the doors:

Coffee cups on the counter, jackets on the chair
Papers on the doorstep, you’re not there
Everything is everything
Everything is everything
But you’re missing

(You’re Missing)

September 14: George W. Bush (or “Dubya” to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd) visits the pile of rubble that people, developing the nuclear metaphor, soon call “Ground Zero”. His arm around a firefighter, he tries to make himself heard using a megaphone. “We can’t hear you!” shout rescue workers. He responds:

“I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! (Cheers) And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

More cheers. Then a chant rises, that chant from angry, aggressive, humiliated people which the world learns to fear: “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”

God, I wish I was home. What are they capable of?

A little revenge and this too shall pass
This too shall pass, I’m gonna pray
Right now all I got’s this lonesome day.

September 17: Dubya goes to the Pentagon, also hit by a passenger aircraft transformed into a missile. “An act of war has been committed on this country,” he says. This is “a different type of enemy than we’re used to… There’s no rules. It’s barbaric behavior… But we’re going to smoke them out.” Sounds just like P. W. Botha’s defence minister, Magnus Malan, in Parliament.

Then Dubya is asked: “Do you want bin Laden dead?” He replies: “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, that I recall, that said, ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive.’”

Now I really want to be home. Does this man who says he’s from Texas think this is the Wild West?

Then just about sundown
You come walkin’ through town
Your boot heels clickin’
Like the barrel of a pistol spinnin’ ‘round

(Livin’ in the Future)

Oh, for the leadership of Mandela, Tutu, and yes, even of F.W. de Klerk, who together got us through much worse than this; with thousands dying, it’s true, but at least they didn’t wield the terrifying power of this man and this country.

I got a shiny saw blade
All I need’s a volunteer
I’ll cut you in half
While you’re smiling ear to ear
And the freedom that you sought’s
Driftin’ like a ghost amongst the trees


January 2003: Back at my desk at Trinity, offices cleaned and power, sewerage, telephones and internet restored. It took four months to get back but the only loss was of a laptop, looted from my desk while the building was deserted after our evacuation. (The jacket, wallet and cellphone behind the door were untouched.) For eight months, the church operated a ministry to recovery workers from St. Paul’s – scene of the thanksgiving service after George Washington was inaugurated America’s first president in 1789. Seven days a week, around the clock, church members flew in from around the country to work in 12-hour volunteer shifts.

Now the rubble’s been cleared and those human remains that could be found have been removed. (Seven years later the city medical examiner was still identifying remains: of 1,100 victims among around 2,700, there was either no trace or what remains there were could not be identified.)

But there’s still an atmosphere of fear, which the government helps to spread with colour-coded warnings of the terrorism threat: from Code Green, rising up to Code Orange and Code Red. The phone rings. It’s someone from Code Pink, an anti-war women’s group which is helping to organise protests against the looming assault on Iraq:

Better ask questions before you shoot
Deceit and betrayals bitter fruit
It’s hard to swallow, come time to pay
That taste on your tongue don’t easily slip away.

(Lonesome Day)

The woman on the line asks me: would Desmond Tutu be willing to join a rally in New York? I tell her that he’s never before joined street protests in another country against their government’s policies. But write to him: tell him you recognise that and ask him to make an exception.

February 15, 2003: One of a string of speakers, Tutu gives the crowd a display of South African 1980s-style rabble-rousing rhetoric against the war. A sea of faces stretches up First Avenue as far as you can see, more than 20 city blocks. Thousands more were turned back by police, filling up blocks and blocks on three parallel avenues of the city. Hundreds of thousands protested across the country that day. Ever since, I’ve been asking Americans: has your country ever seen such big demonstrations against a war even before it started?

Later, with troops embroiled in Iraq, in his album “Magic”, Springsteen builds a song around a line from the 1971 anti-Vietnam War testimony of John Kerry (now Barack Obama’s Secretary of State):

Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who’ll be the last to die, for a mistake

(Last to Die)

But in the end, most of what American reviewers call his strongest anti-war album is nuanced, too subtle for South African ears and politics. What I remember most are the lyrics which speak to the suffering, the sorrows and the hopes of ordinary Americans.

For days and weeks after the attacks, New York was a city transformed. St. Paul’s, fire stations and the city’s squares became shrines of flowers. Fences became impromptu noticeboards with pictures of the missing on them: mothers, fathers, spouses, daughters and sons desperately pleading for information about their loved ones. Strangers spoke to one another on the subways, sharing their fears when trains stopped unexpectedly deep underground.

It was a kinder, gentler New York, profoundly moved by stories of public service and self-sacrifice, especially that of the firefighters who went up into the towers to die, and whom Springsteen eulogised in “Into the Fire”:

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

So next week I’ll be with the crowds at the Velodrome in Cape Town. And for vocalising my curiously mixed emotions as a stranger living through the worst attack in the 225-year history of the country which boasts the world’s most powerful military, I’ll be silently saying: Thanks, Boss, for showing us the face of ubuntu in America.

The online edition of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian has published an edited version of this reflection.

God is not a Christian: Speaking Truth in Times of Crisis – Irish Times

imageIt is only a small exaggeration to say that Desmond Tutu is as well known as the pope or the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader. The first black archbishop of Cape Town, this African of the Anglican tradition was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa. Tutu, as a Christian minister, has won himself a place on the world stage as someone who can draw attention to an issue, such as racism, violence or the need for forgiveness.

The selection of writings here shows how he has sought to interpret his pastoral duty in the light of the Gospel. The title essay, God Is Clearly Not a Christian , offers some reflections (and warnings) on God and how religions try to claim Him exclusively for themselves. “God has no enemies, ultimately,” he writes, “for all, all – the atheist, the sinner, every one of those whom we have tended in our respectabilities to push outside – are God’s children.”

Review first published May 4, 2013 in the Irish Times

Working with a rabble-rouser

Working with a rabble-rouser

From Times Online
October 10, 2007

John Allen spent 13 years following in the wake of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as the author of his biography, he explains what motivated the rabble-rouser and what kept him going through the dark days of apartheid

by Joanna Sugden

He’s been called an “angry, evil and embittered little bishop” by Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe which must be a badge of honour.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who turned 76 on Sunday, can claim so many titles, Nobel Peace Laureate, anti-apartheid activist, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but in his authorised biography, he is the rabble-rouser for peace. As apt a description as Mugabe’s is offensive.

John Allen, biographer and former pressman for the diminutive Archbishop took the title from Mrs Albertina Sisulu, leader of the United Democratic Front. After rallies in 1980s South Africa, she would gently berate him, “You’re a rabble-rouser!”

But it wasn’t until Tutu really started clashing with the South African government over racial segregation, that Allen thought “this man is the subject of a biography”.

“He doesn’t like confrontation, but when he sees people being mistreated he thinks ‘I have to speak out’”.

Allen followed the Archbishop’s work in South Africa while he was a journalist covering religion, and then worked as his press officer for 13 years. “It was hard to keep up with him – he had a depth of commitment of ministry where you stay with your flock, you do your job, which is to nurture them and be their confessor.”

Tutu was, according to Allen, “called to be with his people” and took that ministry seriously. “He was a rabble-rouser, but more than being an activist he had a fundamental concern for people – the mother or grandmother who just wanted to get on with their lives – it was when people like that, so-called ordinary people, when they suffered at the hands of the government, that’s what incensed him.”

It was also led him to work tirelessly to fulfill the instruction in Micah to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.

So how did he maintain the boundless enthusiasm for his work and for life in the dark days of apartheid?

“You can’t talk about Tutu without his prayer life,” says Allen, “It is integral to his faith, and his spirituality sustains him.” Everyday Allen worked with Tutu the Archbishop would rise at four o’clock in the morning spending the hours of dawn in prayer, exercising and in silence. Again in the middle of the day Tutu would, emulating Jesus, withdraw to be alone, as he would each evening.

“To get the ebullient Tutu, who connects with people, you have to give him the hours and hours of silence on which he depends,” says Allen, encapsulating the man as well as any of his grand titles.

Book extract

“Speaking Truth in Times of Crisis.”

David Rosman, New York Journal of Books

When people meet a man or woman of spirit, peace or national leadership, the reaction is almost always the same; there is an aura about these men and women that exudes power, confidence and leadership. I have not had the honor of sitting in the presence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but believe he, too, meets this criterion. So when I had the opportunity to review a collection of his speeches and letters, I jumped at it.

The title—God Is Not a Christian—is intriguing. The Archbishop is as great of a humanist as he was a great leader of the Anglican Church, both before and after his retirement. Reading the title and the summary of the book, one is led to believe that it concerns world affairs, religious and racial tolerance, and the nonviolent protests initiated by Henry David Thoreau in Walden and carried forward by other religious leaders as Mahatmas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Editor John Allen makes this a story about South Africa, religion, apartheid, and tolerance. There are three sections that meet the expectations of the tiDavid Rosmantle. The first connects directly.

“That Christians do not have a monopoly of God is an almost trite observation,” said Bishop Tutu in a 1992 eulogy for his friend, the Catholic archbishop of Cape Town Steven Naidoo. Archbishop Tutu questioned the idea that it was only through Jesus Christ that one would find sanctuary with God. “We would have to dismiss as delusion and vanity the profound religious and ethical truths by . . .” the great leaders of the nonChristian faiths—a belief shared by Archbishop Naidoo.

Archbishop Tutu also bucked the tide of the conservative Anglican Church with his humanist stance concerning gays and lesbians. In Southwick Cathedral, London, he proclaimed that if he had one wish it would be “for the world to end the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation and hold them in thrall.” Here his love for the sanctity mankind and for human rights shines.

Finally comes Archbishop Tutu’s anguish over the plight of the Palestinians and the Israeli occupation. In a few words, he makes the distinction between the people of Israel and the government. From temples in New York City to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, his message remained the same: “It is because I am a black South African, and if you change names, the description of what is happening in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank could be a description of what is happening in South Africa.”

However, the Archbishop always refers back to the plight of the South African blacks and apartheid, to his religion and belief that his God is a god of tolerance and peace and understanding. This results in the collection reading more as a sermon from a leader of a great church and a great people. This is not a discussion of Archbishop Tutu’s role in the anti-apartheid movement as much as it is a discussion on how his faith in God and in mankind helped shape the lives of millions in the African continent and his South Africa.

This book is for those who are interested in the fight against apartheid and of the history of South African activism for freedom. It is for those interested in how the role of religion and Desmond Tutu contributed in the freedoms all South Africans have today. It is for those who believe that we do live in a “moral universe where ultimately right and goodness and justice, truth and freedom will always prevail over their ghastly counterparts.”

This book is for those who seek the African spirit of “Ubuntu: that “a person is a person only because of other people.” It is for those who seek interfaith tolerance, the wanting of sanctity for all lives and peace through understanding. It is for those who see wrongs to be righted and for those who prey on the weak to be punished in this world and the next—and to be forgiven in this world and the next. It is for those seeking a better understanding of the ministry of Desmond Tutu.

There are two working subtitles to this book. The copy reviewed showed “Speaking Truth in Times of Crisis.” The second, and the one most likely on the final printing, is “And Other Provocations.” Sometimes the truth is harder to understand and accept than the irritants they are meant to cure. The scripts provided in this title move more toward the former, for Archbishop Tutu never sees the crisis as simply irritants, but as the great struggle for freedom, equality, and self-determination.

Reviewer David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker, and college instructor in Communication, Ethics, Business and Politics.

‘God is bigger than Christians,’ Tutu says

Winnipeg Free Press – By: John Longhurst
Posted: 06/25/2011

Is God a Christian?

I must confess I had never asked myself that question. Then I heard about a new book about Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Titled God Is Not A Christian: And Other Provocations, the book is a collection of sermons, speeches and interviews given by the well-known South African pastor, who rose to prominence in the 1980s as a vocal and determined opponent of apartheid.

According to Tutu, the answer to the question is no — God is not a Christian.

“His concern is for all his children.” he is quoted as saying in the book. “To claim God exclusively for Christians is to make God too small and in a real sense is blasphemous. God is bigger than Christians and cares for more than Christians only.”

Some Christians might object to that line of thinking. Tutu anticipates their objection. For them, he has a question: “Can you tell us what God was before he was a Christian?”

In a 1989 speech to leaders of different faiths — a speech included in the book, and now circulating widely on the web — Tutu elaborated on this idea, beginning with a story of a drunk who crossed a street to ask a pedestrian a question.

“I shay, which ish the other shide of the shtreet?” the drunk asked. The pedestrian replied: “That side, of course!”

The drunk said, “‘Shtrange. When I wash on that shide, they shaid it wash thish shide.”

For Tutu, “where the other side of the street is depends on where we are. Our perspective differs with our context, the things that have helped to form us; and religion is one of the most potent of these formative influences, helping to determine how and what we apprehend of reality and how we operate in our own specific context.”

His point, he went on to say, “seems overwhelmingly simple: that the accidents of birth and geography determine to a very large extent to what faith we belong. The chances are very great that if you were born in Pakistan you are a Muslim, or a Hindu if you happened to be born in India, or a Shintoist if it is Japan, and a Christian if you were born in Italy.”

The lesson to be drawn from these accidents of birth, he suggested, was not to “succumb too easily to the temptation to exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith. You could so easily have been an adherent of the faith that you are now denigrating, but for the fact that you were born here rather than there.”

This realization, he stated, should make Christians open to learning from people of other faiths.

“We must acknowledge them for who they are in all their integrity, with their conscientiously held beliefs; we must welcome them and respect them as who they are and walk reverently on what is their holy ground, taking off our shoes, metaphorically and literally,” he stated.

But that doesn’t mean giving up one’s own deeply held convictions, he added.

“We must hold to our particular and peculiar beliefs tenaciously, not pretending that all religions are the same, for they are patently not the same. We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth and that somehow we have a corner on God.”

At the same time, he believes that members of all faiths should look for commonalities.

“We have enough that conspires to separate us,” he noted. “Let us celebrate that which unites us, that which we share in common.”

Tutu concluded his speech by saying “surely it is good to know that God (in the Christian tradition) created us all (not just Christians) in his image, thus investing us all with infinite worth… surely we can rejoice that the eternal word, the Logos of God, enlightens everyone — not just Christians, but everyone who comes into the world; that what we call the Spirit of God is not a Christian preserve, for the Spirit of God existed long before there were Christians, inspiring and nurturing women and men in the ways of holiness, bringing them to fruition, bringing to fruition what was best in all.”

God, he stated, “does not need us to protect him. Many of us perhaps need to have our notion of God deepened and expanded.”

Is God a Christian? Tutu says no. What do you think?

Find this article at:

Op-Ed: ‘Tutu’s ‘God is not a Christian’ is as Christian as it gets!

Posted Jun 5, 2011 by Kelly Bowlin – Digital Journal

Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu’s recent new book shows why this man is a religious giant in the world today. “God is Not A Christian” is a Christian message to behold.

A new release by 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu titled “God is Not A Christian” is a joyous and wonderful look at the principles and philosophy of the famous South African Archbishop who gained world recognition with his stand against apartheid and then his benevolent reconciliation with those whom he opposed.

“God is Not A Christian” is one of the most moving, Christian works you will ever read. It ranks with the great speeches by Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela.

President Obama wrote: “For decades (Tutu) has been a moral titan, a voice of principle, an unrelenting champion of justice, and a dedicated peacemaker…an outspoken voice for freedom and justice in countries across the globe; a staunch defender of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.”

A recent article in the Huffington Post included a brief excerpt from the book. In the excerpt, the archbishop is speaking on a mission to Birmingham, England in 1989:

They tell the story of a drunk who crossed the street and accosted a pedestrian, asking him, “I shay, which ish the other shide of the shtreet?” The pedestrian, somewhat nonplussed, replied, “That side, of course!” The drunk said, “Shtrange. When I wash on that shide, they shaid it wash thish shide.” Where the other side of the street is depends on where we are. Our perspective differs with our context, the things that have helped to form us; and religion is one of the most potent of these formative influences, helping to determine how and what we apprehend of reality and how we operate in our own specific context. My first point seems overwhelmingly simple: that the accidents of birth and geography determine to a very large extent to what faith we belong. The chances are very great that if you were born in Pakistan you are a Muslim, or a Hindu if you happened to be born in India, or a Shintoist if it is Japan, and a Christian if you were born in Italy. I don’t know what significant fact can be drawn from this — perhaps that we should not succumb too easily to the temptation to exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith. You could so easily have been an adherent of the faith that you are now denigrating, but for the fact that you were born here rather than there. My second point is this: not to insult the adherents of other faiths by suggesting, as sometimes has happened, that for instance when you are a Christian the adherents of other faiths are really Christians without knowing it. We must acknowledge them for who they are in all their integrity, with their conscientiously held beliefs; we must welcome them and respect them as who they are and walk reverently on what is their holy ground, taking off our shoes, metaphorically and literally. We must hold to our particular and peculiar beliefs tenaciously, not pretending that all religions are the same, for they are patently not the same. We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth and that somehow we have a corner on God.

God Transcends Man’s Religions

In a world full of strife, angst, hatred and prejudice, the kindly Archbishop reminds us that we all are, and always have been, one under God. We are finite and God is infinite. Instead of fighting about what makes our own religious perspective the unequivocal voice of God, we should have empathy and love for all people and seek the common basis of faith and perspective that all mankind shares.

Tutu goes on to say: We should in humility and joyfulness acknowledge that the supernatural and divine reality we all worship in some form or other transcends all our particular categories of thought and imagining, and that because the divine — however named, however apprehended or conceived — is infinite and we are forever finite, we shall never comprehend the divine completely.

The essence of what Tutu says is that in all matters of prayer, meditation, and mysticism, we find similarities at the very core of all religions, such as forgiveness, love, generosity, and peace and that we should celebrate those similarities and unite what we share in common.

We should spend less time pointing fingers and attempting to prove why our religion, our Christianity, and our beliefs are right and spend more time accepting and promoting God’s inherent, eternal love. Yes, in Tutu’s eyes, God is not a Christian, he’s so much more.

Read more:

Op-Ed: ‘Tutu’s ‘God is not a Christian’ is as Christian as it gets!

Tutu’s Zeal for the Precious Virtue of Freedom

Without us, God has no eyes; without us, God has no ears; without us, God has no arms or hands. God relies on us. Won’t you join other people of faith in becoming God’s partners in the world?” This is the essential question posed by Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu in this collection of sermons, speeches, and writings about his advocacy of faith-based social justice and religious tolerance.

Tutu’s courage and creativity in dealing with the scourge of apartheid in South Africa is well known, along with his formative role in the healing work of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Likewise his openness to interfaith cooperation in a world of severe need. But what has surprised many is his zeal for the precious virtue of freedom that stands behind both his controversial identification with the Palestinians and his fierce defense of gays and lesbians.

Covering 40 years in his ministry, this book is divided into sections on his impact as “Advocate of Tolerance and Respect,” “International Campaigner for Justice,” “Voice of South Africa’s Voiceless, ” and “South Africa’s Conscience.” Whether talking about restorative justice, human rights, celebrating differences, democracy in South Africa, or the price of freedom, Desmond Tutu speaks as a prophet whose message is not condemnation but a spiritual prodding from the heart. He invites us to join with believers from all religious traditions to begin together on the Great Work as God’s partners.

Spirituality and Practice

This Scrappy Bishop

July 15, 2011
By Mary Wood

This book is a series of exerpts from speeches and sermons by Archbishop Tutu, the South African cleric who was one of the  courageous  blacks who helped overthrow Apartheid.

There is a chapter quoting him on the nature of human community, and one outlining a Radical Program for Reconciliation.

He was severely criticized for advocating forgiveness of those who have caused suffering, Nazis,and the Dutch Reformed church, which advocated Apartheid and preached that Jews and Palestinians must forgive each other.

Tutu was head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the liberated country of South African struggled to free itself from the rule of white supremacy.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, Tutu visited churches throughout Africa supporting “the continent’s churches as they campaigned for human rights”  — Sudan, Angola, Zaire and Ethopia.

In 1989 he joined other heads of the Anglican churches, visiting and preaching in Central America, and two years later in Ireland.

The book ends on a sad note with Tutu commenting on the fact that having won their great victory, South African leaders have in many areas become as corrupt and dictatorial as their former oppressors.

What courage this scrappy Bishop shows the world.

[Published 2011]
This Scrappy Bishop

Never Afraid to Be Controversial

Archbishop Desmond Tutu remains one of the Christian Church’s most high-profile and best-loved figures. He has not lost his controversial edge with the passing years and in God is Not a Christian (Rider Books) his biographer, the South African journalist, John Allen, has collected his recent speeches, addresses and articles.

Barack Obama, Kofi Annan, and the Dalai Lama are all quoted on the cover commending the book.

Subjects dealt with include, restorative justice, the place of gays and lesbians in the church, interfaith tolerance, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, black theology and why Christians must be involved in politics. Archbishop Tutu is never afraid to be controversial.

Church of England Newspaper
Book review: God is not a Christian