By Emmanuel Onwubiko
The South African born anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu died a very peaceful death on a special day set aside for delivering gifts to the poorest of the poor in the spirit of the Christmas day. He died on December 26th 2021 at the very ripe age of 90. Being a boxing Day, December 26th remains remarkable for the philosophy behind the observation of that day as aforementioned.
As a commentator on social media said, Archbishop Desmond Tutu died on a very special day and as someone who dedicated the whole of his life to the service of the unjustly oppressed and the marginalised, this observer stated that the demise of this Icon of freedom and social justice in South Africa couldn’t have happened on a better day. Anyway, in as much as the death of this uncommon African has been described as a celebration of iconic milestones made in one lifetime by a legend in the person of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a very old age of 90, his death is still being felt as something unexpected because most of his followers would want him to stay a bit longer and to spread more love and show the World the kind of uncommon enlightenment on social justice, peace and real reconciliation.
The question to be considered adequately here is in the area of Christian evangelism which Desmond Tutu was ordained for in the Anglican Church long before the ideological collapse of the global Anglican Church movement when England adopted certain far-reaching steps that offended the Conservative wing of the Church. Steps such as the ordination of Women bishops and the support for same gender sexual relationship and marriage divided the global communion of Anglicanism into clearly defined schools of thought just as most of the Anglican Churches in Africa pulled out of any kind of allegiance to the head of the Anglican communion in England- the Primate of Church of England.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is known to have backed the practice of same gender sexual orientation which a lot of Christians say offends the Holy Bible especially with the remote and immediate causes of the destruction of Babel.
The head of the over two billion Roman Catholic Church did not even reflect the aspect that Archbishop Desmond Tutu supported gay marriage which theologically impacted on his role as a Bishop negatively because Biblically, sane gender sexual relationship is not permitted.
Rather Pope Francis scandalously addressed Desmond Tutu as a disciple of the Gospel. Which Gospel if I may ask?
Nevertheless, Pope Francis according to Vatican news sent a telegramme of condolence on the death South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu who has died at the age of 90.
Pope Francis had sent his condolences to the family and loved ones of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who has died aged 90.
In a telegramme sent to Archbishop Peter B. Wells, Apostolic Nuncio in South Africa and signed by Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the Pope said he was saddened to learn of the Archbishop’s death.
Pope Francis also paid tribute to his service to the Gospel through the “promotion of racial equality and reconciliation in his native South Africa.”
In the telegramme, the Pope invoked “the divine blessings of peace and consolation of the Lord” upon all who mourn Archbishop Tutu’s passing.
In a message posted on its website, the Southern African Bishops’ Conference conveyed its condolences to “Mrs Leah Tutu, the family and the Anglican Church over the death of the Late Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Desmond Mpilo Tutu.”
The Archbishop, the message read, “will be remembered for his immense spiritual contribution to the liberation and democracy of South Africa, the reason for which he was a joint laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize. His quest for justice continued when he was the Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and beyond.”
The Anglican Archbishop was born near Johannesburg but spent most of his later life in Cape Town and led numerous marches and campaigns to oppose the policy of racial segregation and discrimination.
When apartheid came to an end in the early 1990’s and Nelson Mandela became president of the country, Archbishop Tutu was named chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
As well as winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, the Archbishop was awarded the Templeton Prize for his “life-long work in advancing spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness which has helped to liberate people around the world”.
A bishop, in some Christian churches, is the chief pastor and overseer of a diocese, an area containing several congregations. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other churches have maintained the view that bishops are the successors of the Apostles and that an unbroken line of succession connects the Apostles to all legitimate bishops, a doctrine known as apostolic succession. Until February 11, 1989, when Barbara Harris was ordained a bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the apostolic-succession churches had reserved the office only for men, so reports Encyclopaedia Britanica.
What is a bishop? What is a biblical definition of bishop to be specific? Findings from a research presentation made a scholar says that in the New Testament, bishop is a translation of the Greek word episkapos. The same word is also translated elder, pastor, or overseer. All of these words refer to the same role of the leader of a local church.
In the earliest congregations, the term elder was the most common name associated with a local church leader. By the time the apostle Paul wrote Philippians, however, in approximately AD 49, he referred to both elders and deacons.
First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 offer the most comprehensive look at what an elder is to be and to do. First Timothy 3:1-7 notes:
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer [bishop], he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
Many observations can be noted from this list. First, a bishop or elder is a noble role. Second, it is a role that requires a high level of personal character and spiritual maturity. Third, the bishop must be able to effectively teach others the doctrines of God’s Word.
Two other aspects of the biblical bishop are also important to note. All of the pronouns used in reference to elders or bishops in the New Testament are masculine. Only men were permitted to serve as elders in the New Testament church.
Second, the term bishop accord to this researcher has changed in church traditions since the New Testament period. Many layers of leadership were added to Western Christianity. By the time the Council of Nicea was held in AD 325, the term bishop was regularly applied to the Christian leader of each city or region. One bishop was responsible for several churches, overseeing the individual lead elders at each church location. Many denominations and church traditions continue this use of the term bishop today.
Again, the biblical definition of a bishop referred to the leaders of a local church. These were male leaders who had integrity, spiritual maturity, and the ability to teach God’s Word effectively to others. Beautiful research on the functionality of a Bishop. From the above, it is clear that Archbishop Desmond Tutu with his support for LGBTQ Rights may not truly be regarded as a successful bishop of the Gospel.
Perhaps the Voice of America’s investigative story on the views of Africans on the constructive support that Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave to gay marriage represents the larger percentage of the perception by Africans that he failed as a Bishop.
Entitled: “Tutu’s Advocacy for LGBTQ Rights Did Not Sway Most of Africa” the Voice of America carried the below extensive interviews on Desmond Tutu that captures the bulk of the positions of most Christians in Africa on Desmond Tutu.
Desmond Tutu, the broadcasting behemoth said is being remembered for his passionate advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ people as well as his fight for racial justice. But the South African archbishop’s campaign against homophobia had limited impact in the rest of Africa, where same-sex marriage remains illegal and most countries criminalize gay sex.
Even within his own denomination, the Anglican Communion, there has been no continentwide embrace of LGBTQ rights. Leaders of Ghana’s Anglican Church, for example, have joined other religious leaders there in endorsing a bill that would impose prison sentences on people who identify as LGBTQ or support that community.
Before Tutu died Sunday at age 90, most African religious leaders rejected his LGBTQ positions, and those who agreed with him often were cautious, said Kenya-based researcher Yvonne Wamari of Outright Action International, a global LGBTQ-rights organization.
“Most of them are unwilling to offer their contrary views due to fear of reprisal and backlash for not conforming with ‘African values,'” Wamari said via email. “As long as the religious leaders are unwilling to interpret the Bible from the lens of love for all, as Tutu did, homophobia and transphobia will remain a part of our lives.”
Homosexual activity remains outlawed in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries; in a few, it is punishable by death. Many LGBTQ Africans are subject to stigma and abuse, facing unemployment, homelessness and estrangement from their families.
Stephen Brown, a professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Political Studies, described Tutu as “a moral giant” who held to his convictions — including support for LGBTQ people — no matter how risky or unpopular it could be. This statement from the West throwing strong support behind Desmond Tutu on gay marriage is diametrically opposed to by African Christians and tried as he did, the late South African cleric could not convince Africans on why they should ideologically accord recognition to gay marriage.
For example, VOA reported that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was mocked in 2013 by Robert Mugabe, then the repressive leader of Zimbabwe.
“Tutu should just step down because he supports gays, something that is evil,” Mugabe told a political rally.
That same year, Tutu uttered one of his most memorable comments about LGBTQ inclusion.
“I would not worship a God who is homophobic,” he said. “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say, ‘Sorry, I would much rather go to the other place.'”
South Africa is the only African country that has legalized same-sex marriage, and its constitution protects against anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Yet even there, violence against LGBTQ people remains common.
In Cape Town, where Tutu was the Anglican archbishop, members of the LGBTQ community reacted to his death with tributes.
Throughout his life, Tutu stuck “to the ideas of promoting absolute love, absolute acceptance and absolute kindness, no matter who you are, no matter your sexuality or race,” activist Saya Pierce-Jones said.
Daniel Jay, who works in the medical industry, said Tutu’s support for LGBTQ people was pivotal in South Africa’s decision to make HIV drugs available at no cost.
In Botswana, the Court of Appeal last month unanimously upheld a 2019 ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex activities. Previously, gay sex was outlawed and offenders faced up to seven years in prison. A few other African countries also have decriminalized same-sex relationships in recent years, including Angola, Mozambique.
In Senegal, 13 opposition legislators recently introduced a bill to toughen penalties against homosexuality, doubling the maximum sentence to 10 years. Parliament members from the governing coalition say such a measure is unnecessary since homosexual acts are already illegal.
In Ghana, parliament members continue to work on a bill that has been condemned by LGBTQ-rights supporters in the West African country and abroad. Among other things, the bill seeks to criminalize the promotion and funding of LGBTQ activities, and disseminating information about LGBTQ people.
Alex Kofi Donkor, director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, expressed regret that relatively few African faith leaders shared Tutu’s outlook.
“A lot of African preachers hold a lot of prejudice, hate and disgust for the LGBTQ community,” he said.
Controversy over the Ghana bill has highlighted the challenges facing the global Anglican Communion, which has taken LGBTQ-friendly positions not embraced by many Anglican leaders in Africa.
In October, Justin Welby, the Church of England’s archbishop of Canterbury and the symbolic head of Anglicans worldwide, said he was “gravely concerned” about the bill and would discuss the Anglican Church of Ghana’s response to the bill with Ghana’s archbishop.
He issued a statement reminding Ghana’s Anglican leaders that the global body of Anglican leaders had committed itself to opposing anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the criminalization of same-sex activity.
But in mid-November, Welby apologized for failing to speak to the Ghanaian church before issuing his statement of concern.
A few days later, he issued another ambivalent statement, referring to ongoing “private conversations” that would become “useless or harmful” if made public.
As an activist, I do not support homophobic discrimination and the criminalization of same-sex activity but the truth is that it will take virtually another century to be able to see an Africa whereby the traditional outlook on marriage may be weakened.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and writes from www.thenigerianinsidernews.com.