Desmond Tutu, an architect of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation process, has long been a hero of mine. I've narrowly missed meeting him twice. Once was my choice: he was worshipping at the episcopal morning prayer at my Divinity School. My roommate, a faithful attendee, woke me up when she heard he would be there but I didn't feel right about attending a service in order to be in the same space as someone I admired. I regret that decision. Apparently, he wore a jogging suit and headed out running right afterward. He was in his 70s.
The second time I was in Cape Town at his cathedral. He normally presided over the Friday prayers, but had been called away to facilitate a peace process in the Middle East. I supposed that was a good excuse. That cathedral became, over the course of a couple of visits there, a place of meaning for me. But I never met Archbishop Tutu.
I admire him and his writing. I almost always find what he has to say resonates with the reality of my faith and the experience of the church in a world of diverse religious expressions. So am excited to read what he has to say in his new book of compiled writings and speeches: "God is not a Christian: and other provocations" .
Clearly, he too has wrestled deeply with the exclusion that is often seen at the heart of Christianity. I've written a tiny bit about this (see 2 blog posts down) and have had many recent conversations on the topic.
Here's a recent example of how that exclusive tendency plays out in real life:
My parents' pastor delivered a sermon on hell - who is in and who is out. This is fairly standard stuff. According to one basic Christian view, Non-Christians don't go to heaven.
A few days later, my dad went to the funeral of his deeply faithful, Jewish, colleague. This was a man he befriended and worked with. He was a good, kind, just, loving man. The two experiences (being told that only Christians go to heaven and then seeing a religious community send a non-Christian God-fearing man into his eternal rest) placed side by side exemplify the cognitive dissonance many Christians feel. They love non-Christians with a genuine love and hear in church (or assume they will hear in church) the doctrine that non-Christians are not heaven-bound. This is the tension that I have been hearing and seeing so many discuss lately.
Tutu's observations can help the conversation. An excerpt of Tutu's writing on this can be found here.
I've begun to articulate my current (and ever changing) thoughts on this like this: soulful, peace-loving people who are not Christian can be followers of the way of Christ (explicitly or implicitly) without being followers of the person of Jesus. But Tutu might not think this approach takes the differences between religions seriously enough. My approach may do violence. I think of how I would feel if someone told me I were a follower of the way of Muhammad, just not of Muhammad. How would I feel? I don't know.
Here's a brief Tutu quote that challenges:
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.Thoughts? Anyone read this book yet?