Friday, December 3, 2010

Scout Finch and Bishop Tutu

Scout, the narrator of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, observes that her ancestor, Simon Finch, was a fine Christian who ignored one Biblical admonition--the one against owning human beings. His descendants continued to ignore that particular piece of scripture in order to scratch out a living by possessing a cheap labor force.

Scout’s observation that slavery and disenfranchisement are unchristian is at the heart of armed combats, family divisions, and injustices delivered for hundreds of years around the globe. It is also one of the arguments that Bishop Tutu used to bring world-wide attention to the horrors of apartheid and thereby, facilitate an end to the racial divide and oppression in South Africa.

In 1960, the year in which Tutu was ordained as an Anglican priest, South Africa deported non-whites, including black Africans and Asians, from areas designated for whites and closed the doors of education to them. Non-whites were allowed to return to South Africa as guest workers only. In other words, South Africa built a figurative wall on the border, but granted access to those who would do the work that white South Africans needed done while disallowing those guest workers any opportunity to improve their circumstances.

Tutu decried the deportation, the disenfranchisement, the desecration of Christianity, but he lacked a world-wide forum. Only when Tutu became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches in 1978, eighteen years later, did Tutu find an international stage upon which to make his stand and turn the world’s lens to the plight of his nation and its people. By 1984, Bishop Tutu’s cause was one in which the world was invested, signified by the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him the same year "not only as a gesture of support to him and to the South African Council of Churches of which he is leader, but also to all individuals and groups in South Africa who, with their concern for human dignity, fraternity and democracy, incite the admiration of the world.”

I enjoyed the great good fortune of hearing Bishop Tutu speak some years ago. His voice was musical and his spirit infectious. His capacity for love and hope seemed indefatigable because he endured a cruel, unjust, oppressive system, yet he speaks about man’s promise, divine mercy, and his own gratitude for the world’s empathy. In doing so, his life becomes a parable for the life we could live.