Address by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the Sudan Council of Churches in Khartoum

KHARTOUM — Extracts from an address by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the Sudan Council of Churches in Khartoum on October 26, 1989:

“[In 1987] one of the things we [in the AACC] said we would want to do would be to develop closer relationships with our member churches. Therefore we [decided to] undertake as far as was humanly possible regular visits to the different countries in order to be with the leaders of our member churches, so that we would know what were their concerns, what they wanted the AACC to be doing, because the AACC is their servant.

“We were also obviously very deeply concerned about the parlous state in which our continent finds itself. Many, many countries have become independent but very little has changed for the ordinary people. Africa has thrown off the shackles of colonial bondage but Africa is really not free and the account that you have given of your own situation here in the Sudan… is one that very sadly can be repeated so many times over.

“Africa has the unenviable record of producing nearly half of the world’s refugees. Some of these are obviously due to natural disasters like flood or drought, but far too many are the victims of human rights violations. Africa’s human rights record is horrendous and it makes you feel so deeply, deeply saddened, that often all that has changed for the so-called ordinary people is the complexion of the oppressor. Whereas formerly under colonial rule the oppressor was someone with a light skin, now for many of God’s people the oppressor is someone who has the same skin colour, belongs often to the same ethnic group, often speaks the same language.

“We have said we are under obligation, we are constrained by the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we are constrained by our faith, we are constrained by our biblical foundation to speak up on behalf of God. We are those who are sent to say `Thus saith the Lord…’

“When a David kills a husband because he wants to take that husband’s wife, then we must be like Nathan, confronting the powerful on behalf of the weak. When the powerful confiscate the vineyard of a nonentity, a Naboth, then we cannot help it, we must stand up and speak as an Elijah against an Ahab.

“When people in the name of religion try to bribe God, we have to say, as the prophet Isaiah said: `I will not have any of your sacrifices, I cannot stand them. Why do you trample the courts of my temple and think that because you provide incense and you do all these wonderful things, that I will be pleased. I am not pleased. I am not pleased because your hands, when you lift them up in prayer… are full of blood, you are murderers. I will not accept your worship unless your worship is one that changes your lives. Your lives must be consistent with your worship.’

“I said last night at the university, if we do not stand up for justice, God’s justice, if we do not become the voice of the voiceless, if we do not stand side by side with those who are downtrodden, then we must know we are disobedient to God.

“We want to commend you, brothers and sisters, because often you see when you are obedient to God, the powerful do not like it and you will get into trouble. You may be arrested, you may even be killed for speaking up on behalf of God. But why should you be surprised? Didn’t our Lord and Saviour say so, that if you want to follow me then you must take up your cross, you must deny yourselves? Didn’t our Lord and Saviour say that unless a grain of wheat falls down into the ground and dies, it remains alone?

“Because when you suffer for standing up for the truth, that suffering authenticates your witness. That is what the Bible says, everywhere. You read I Peter, you read whatever portion of the Scriptures.

“And my friends, the powerful are very clever in introducing ways of dividing us. You know, according to the Bible… God’s intention was that we must live in harmony… in fellowship… in togetherness, we must live as family. And we know that what happened was that sin entering God’s garden destroyed that harmony and there was brokenness, there was alienation, there was separation and God’s efforts ever since have been to bring together.

“You remember how Jesus Christ said, `I, if I be lifted up, will draw all to me.’ The Epistle to the Ephesians speaks about how God’s intention was to draw all things into one in Jesus Christ. That same epistle speaks of `Jesus Christ is our peace.’ This Jesus Christ has broken down the middle wall of partition, that wall which used used to separate the Jew from the Gentile so that they were enemies, that wall has now been broken down and in Jesus Christ we are all one.

“There is now no longer Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, free nor slave, we are all one in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. That is why on the night before he died Jesus prayed this wonderful prayer, which has been called the High Priestly Prayer, `I pray that they may be one, even as I and you, Father, are one, in order for the world to know that you have sent your Son into the world.’ So that we really ought not to be sitting here as members of different churches. We are disobedient to Jesus Christ and to his prayer and to the will of God.

“This country, this continent, is one that is torn by conflict and separation and alienation, and the Church of God ought to be the instrument of reconciliation. But how can the Church be an instrument of reconciliation when the church itself is broken and divided? How can the world hear us when we speak out of different mouths? So that the search for the unity of churches is not an optional extra, it’s not something that is being done by people who feel like it. It has to be something that is at the top of our agenda. We ought not to have a Council of Churches. We have a Council of Churches because we all carve out little kingdoms for ourselves. We are all jealous of one another, we speak as if we are not commending the one Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. And that is true of us Anglicans. In this country we don’t have just different churches but the Anglican Church is split…

“I want to pray with you that the churches in this country will be God’s instruments for reconciliation. But not cheap reconciliation, not reconciliation that says `peace, peace’ where there is no peace, but a true reconciliation that is based on justice, justice for all the people of this country…

“In the AACC, we do not say we side with this or that group, we support the people of the Sudan. We wish to work with you for peace in this land, this great land, this land which has got the potential to become one of the most prosperous countries in the continent of Africa. We make ourselves available… we want to be used by yourselves in any way that you think may help to advance the cause of peace. Because without peace, this country is going to be destroyed.

“For as we sit here, brothers and sisters, children are dying, people are starving, starving unnecessarily. It need not happen. There is no reason why you cannot sit round the table and solve your differences and the Church of God must be seen to stand up for justice. Where there is wrong, they must point out that wrong without fear or favour…

“Now, doesn’t St Paul tell us wonderful things. `What can separate us from the love of God?’ Doesn’t he say so in Romans Chapter 8, and ends up with that wonderful affirmation, `I am certain that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. For if God be for us who can be against us?’

“If God be for us, who can be against us. I pray for God’s blessings on this council, on the leaders of the churches in this land, that you will be God’s instruments for healing this land, for pouring oil in the wounds of those who suffer, for as you minister to them you are ministering to the Jesus Christ who said, `When I was hungry, you fed me, when I was thirsty, you gave me to drink, when I was naked you clothed me, for inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brothers and my sisters, you have done it to me.”’ — Bishopscourt Update