On September 25, 1977, the country of South Africa awoke to face yet another grim day of violent political tension caused by Apartheid, the system of “legal racism” inflicted on black tribesmen by the whites. But September 25, 1977 would prove to be a significant day for more than one reason.
That volatile Sunday, black civil rights leader Stephen Biko was being laid to rest in King William’s Town, South Africa following his vicious murder at the hands of police interrogators. At his funeral, attended by over 15,000 mourners, a small-framed man ascended to the podium with a simple – but provocative – message.
Desmond Mpilo Tutu, then a 45 year old bishop, addressed the crowd and boldly proclaimed, “The powers of injustice, of oppression, of exploitation, have done their worst, and they have lost. They have lost because they are immoral and wrong, and our God…is a God of justice and liberation and goodness.”
How could such a small and frail man make such a thunderous claim in the midst of such devastation, suffering…and danger? How could a meager pastor speak so matter-of-factly, given that Apartheid was just as strong that morning as it had been the previous? As it would be for the next 16 years?
It’s because this man knew God…and His righteous acts of justice.
“The Arch” as Tutu is in known around the world did not come into this world with great power, wealth, or prestige. In fact, he barely escaped childhood, having contracted polio at a tender age. But for this boy whose middle name means “life,” he was bent on living it to the fullest…and offering it to others.
By the time he stood to speak at his friend’s funeral, Bishop Tutu had already walked into the midst of several shootouts between protestors and armed police, convincing both sides to walk away in peace. Sauntering across a stage seemed simple enough in comparison…even if it was to make such a weighty and stirring statement.
Nearly four decades later, Tutu reflects on that moment – a moment that began to usher in the gentle breeze of peace – and remarks, “That’s the chief lesson I have learned. The texture of our universe is one where there is no question at all but that good and laughter and justice will prevail.”
Bishop Tutu could make such a profound declaration then – no matter how preposterous it sounded – because he knew how God felt about justice. Psalm 140:12-13 reads
“I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise your name and the upright will live before you.”
On October 7, 2010, “The Arch” turned 79…but he’s got just as much tenacity within him as he did during his fight against oppression a half century ago. In an interview with TIME Magazine, he also reveals that he’s just as confident in God’s justice today as he was then. “In the end,” he tells reporters, “the perpetrators of injustice or oppression, the ones who strut the stage of the world often seemingly unbeatable – there is no doubt at all that they will bite the dust!”
He pauses for a moment, and then roars with laughter. “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!”
And that’s why Bishop Tutu is called “the laughing bishop.”
Alex Perry. “The Laughing Bishop.” TIME Magazine, October 11, 2010, Page 42.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)