Tutu Brings Message of Forgiveness to Baylor

Oct. 14, 1999

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu stressed forgiveness and justice, and also expressed words of sympathy for those affected by the tragic deaths of four students, during his visit to Baylor University.

Tutu was the featured speaker in the University's inaugural President's Forum, held at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, in the Ferrell Center on the Baylor campus.

"I come at a time of sadness as this university and the affected families mourn the deaths of four members of the student community," the Archbishop said as he asked the audience of 3,300 to stand for a moment of silence for the four students.

"Good Evening"

After the audience was seated again, Tutu began his lecture by greeting them with a "Good evening," to which there was no reply. He then raised his hand to his brow and looked about the Ferrell Center and said, "I do believe there are some people in the arena. Good evening."

At this, the audience gave greetings in return.

Tutu gave a brief highlight of what he would discuss. He described a time in Africa when many people throughout the world thought there was no more hope.

"On the eve of our historic elections of 1994, it appeared as though our country was going to be torn apart by a violence that seemed to be deadly," Tutu said.

He went on to tell the audience about what took place on that day. "Things were so bad that when they announced the statistics of what had happened in the previous 24 hours...and they said, 'Oh six or seven had died,' we actually sighed with relief.

"On those occasions [we] said, 'only six, only seven,' have died."

Tutu said that there were many people in the world expecting the country to be overwhelmed by "the most ghastly blood bath" and that they were heading for the world's worst catastrophe.

"There were many times when we felt like saying, 'Is there anyone up else up there [to help us]?" He said that after the tragedy, the world watched South Africans slowly make their way to the polls on April 27, 1994. "The disaster has not overtaken us. The disaster has not struck us. We have won a spectacular victory over the vicious system apartheid."

"The youth of a nation ..."

Earlier in the day, Tutu met with Baylor students in the White-Beckham Room in the Bill Daniel Student Center. The informal session allowed students to welcome the cleric to Baylor and also the opportunity to ask questions. To those in attendance, Tutu, accompanied by his wife, Leah, clearly enjoyed his interaction with students.

In his speech, Tutu recognized the role that the younger generations play in the world. He said that normally he visits campuses at times when students seem to be more concerned about their grades and going home. When he arrived at Baylor, he got a different experience.

"It was so heartwarming to find students who weren't at that time concerned with their own careers; but they were caring about something that was happening 10,000 miles away," Tutu said.

Tutu further described his feelings toward young people, especially those who made a difference in his homeland.

"Young people have been incredible. At that time they had actually brought about a moral transformation in this country. They changed the moral climate to such an extent that [the South African] congress passed the anti-apartheid legislation," Tutu said.

Retribution or forgiveness

Archbishop Tutu told the audience about the mixed emotions some people had about bringing about justice to those who had brought pain to their country. He said there are certain options available when a country has been freed from oppression and conflict. In one instance, he described how some wanted punishment.

"There are those that say, 'Now is the time. We must catch these perpetrators of the most atrocious, awful, evil and ghastly atrocities. Let them face the full figure of the law. We want action. Let us follow the example of the Nuremberg Trials,'" Tutu said.

The Archbishop explained that because neither the apartheid government nor the liberating movement could impose its will upon the other, and due to scarcity of resources and lack of funds, that type of trial could not be implemented.

Another approach Tutu discussed was forgiveness. He asked whether it was so important for people to be proven guilty. He said that you cannot get amnesty unless you admit you are guilty and accountable for what has happened, but he wondered could it be enough that people just be forgiven.

"It is because of retributive justice, justice where the main purpose is purity. Restorative justice is justice that says we have reached a relationship...where the purpose of what we are about is the healing of relationships," Tutu said.

The Good Shepherd

Tutu went on to ask how could we expect God to forgive us if we cannot forgive others. He said that instead of condemning a person, we should go after them and try to nurture them and help them, using the story of the shepherd and the stray lamb to make his point.

"We have a God that doesn't give up on anyone," said Tutu. "Now, in most of the churches, you may have pictures of the good shepherd. They show the good shepherd carrying a nice fluffy little lamb.

"The sheep that is likely to stray, is not a fluffy little lamb. It is the most troublesome. That is grace. That is grace, where the good shepherd leaves 99 perfectly well-behaved sheep and goes after, not an attractive little lamb, but a terrible little thing." He described the way the stray would look, saying that its fleece would probably be matted and dirty.

"The old shepherd says, 'You guys go on. You have your first class ticket into heaven, don't worry. I'm going after that one.'" Tutu said that when the shepherd caught up with the little lamb, he did not turn away from it. Instead, he picked it up, placed it on his shoulder, "like it was special and tender," and carried it back to the others.

"Jesus doesn't say there is joy in heaven," Tutu said. "Jesus says there is greater joy in heaven over one who repents. That is grace. That is why we are here."

He continued his speech with the story of Jeremiah.

"[God told Jeremiah,] 'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. I chose you'," Tutu said as he expressed his excitement about the story. "Isn't that incredible? That before we were conceived, God knew us. You have been chosen before the foundation of the world."

Tutu closed by urging the audience to realize that they were made for goodness, gentleness, laughter, sharing, caring and to live in peace.

"I would urge people to know that one person can make a difference though frequently we think that it is too late. Be the best person that you can be where you are and God will use you."

At the end of his presentation and an audience question-and-answer session, Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. asked Archbishop Tutu if he would consider being a Baylor alumnus-by-choice, to which Tutu raised both arms in the air and responded with an enthusiastic, "Yea!"

Ordained in the priesthood in 1961, Tutu is known as a strong advocate of non-violence and interracial reconciliation. His contributions toward ending apartheid in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. He held several leadership positions and won several other awards, including the Order for Meritorious Service Award (Gold) presented to him by South African President Nelson Mandela and the Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize.

Tutu now lives in Atlanta, where he is a visiting professor at Emory University.

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