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Book Excerpt: God Has A Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time
© 2004 by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
God Has A Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time

© 2004 by Desmond Tutu, With Douglas Abrams
New York: Doubleday


Dear Child of God, if we are truly to understand God loves all of us, we must recognize that He loves our enemies, too. God does not share our hatred, no matter what the offense we have endured. We try to claim God for ourselves and for our cause, but God's love is too great to be confined to any one side of a conflict or to any one religion. Our prejudices, regardless of whether they are based on religion, race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else, are absolutely, and utterly ridiculous in God's eyes.

Let me show you the absurdity of prejudices to God using the one that I have experienced most: racism. Racism declares that what invests people with value is something extrinsic, a biological attributes arbitrarily chosen, something which in the nature of the case only a few people can have, making them instantly an elite, a privileged group not because of merit or effort but because of an accident of birth. In South Africa they said the thing that gave you value was the color of your skin; you were white and therefore you had value.

Suppose we did not use skin color to mark what gave people their imagined racial superiority. Since I have a large nose, suppose we said privilege was to be reserved for people with large noses only, and those many millions with small noses were to be excluded.

In South Africa they used to have signs on toilets saying "Whites Only." Suppose you are looking for a toilet and instead it says "Large Noses Only." If you have a small nose, you are in trouble if nature is calling. We also used to have universities in South Africa reserved for whites. The primary entry qualification was not academic ability but a biological irrelevance. Let's say it changed and the quality that determined whether you could enter was size of nose,if you had a small nose and you wanted to attend the university for large noses only, then you would have to apply to the Minister of Small Nose Affairs for permission to attend the Large Nose University. One does not have to take a God's-eye perspective to see that this is absolutely and utterly ridiculous.

What does the color of one's skin tell us that is of any significance about a person? Nothing, of course, absolutely nothing. It does not say whether the person is warmhearted or kind, clever and witty, or whether that person is good. But this irrelevance, like all the other prejudices in the world, has caused great suffering. Again, I will refer to the example I know best. In August 1989 we were engaged in the Standing for the Truth Campaign in conjunction with the Defiance Campaign. We had decided that apartheid laws did not oblige obedience since they were so grossly unjust, and we wanted to help end a vicious and evil system nonviolently. We decided in Cape Town to break beach apartheid one Saturday. We had to run the gauntlet of roadblocks manned by heavily armed police, so the people had to face up to police dogs, whips, and tear gas. At the Strand the police officer in charge warned that if we did not disperse they would use live ammunition to disperse us. Incredible that they would have shot to kill in order to up hold beach apartheid, to stop God's children from walking on God's beaches.

When our children were young, Leah and I used to have picnics on the beach in East London. South Africa has beautiful beaches, but the portion of the beach reserved for blacks was the least attractive, with quite a few rocks lying around. Not far away was a playground with miniature train, and our youngest, who was born in England, said, "Daddy, I want to go on the swings." And I said with a hollow voice and a dead weight in the pit of the tummy, "No darling, you can't go." What do you say, how do you feel when your baby says, "But, Daddy, there are other children playing there"? How do you tell your little darling that she could not go because she was a child but she was not really a child, not that kind of child? And you died many times and were not able to look your child in the eyes because you felt so dehumanized, so humiliated, so diminished. Now I probably felt as my father must have felt when he was humiliated in the presence of his young son.

GOD TELLS US that every child is precious, every person is fully human, and without qualification a child of God. During apartheid, when twenty or so white children died in a bus accident, the papers covered this awful disaster extensively and the bus driver was actually brought to court, and yet at just about the same time when over twenty people, many children, were killed by the police in Soweto, there was not too much fuss. Any death is one death too many, and yet some were more important than others not only in life but also in death.

This inequality in death results from our separating our selves from one another in life. In war, for example, we keep score of our casualties and their casualties to see who is winning. God only sees His dead children, and these statistics hide the mourning and suffering of the mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers of those who have been killed. We become unable to see their dead as we mourn our own. This is what has happened in the cycle of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is what happened in the cycle of violence between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland. This is what happened to the Americans during the bombing of Iraq. I was in America at the time and followed the news reports that spoke at great length about the number of American soldiers that were killed or captured and said practically nothing about the Iraqi soldiers and civilians who had been killed. Perhaps only when we care about each other's dead can we truly learn to live in the same world together without our irrational prejudices and hatreds. Perhaps this will be possible when we eventually realize that God has no enemies, only family.

At home in South Africa I have sometimes said in big meetings where you have different races together. "Raise your hands!" Then I've said, "Move your hands," and "Look at your hands' different colors representing different people. You are the rainbow people of God." The rainbow in the Bible is the sign of peace. The rainbow is the sign of prosperity. In our world we want peace, prosperity, and justice, and we can have it when all the people of God, the rainbow people of God, work together.

The endless divisions that we create between us and that we live and die for, whether they are our religions, our ethnic groups, our nationalities, are so totally irrelevant to God. God just wants us to love each other. Many, however, say that some kinds of love are better than others, condemning the love of gays and lesbians. But whether a man loves a woman or another man, or a woman loves a man or another woman to God it is all love, and God smiles whenever we recognize our need for one another.

Sexism is equally absurd in the eyes of God. Sexism quite literally makes men and women into each other's enemies instead of each other's equals, instead of each other's sisters and brothers. It creates artificial divisions everywhere that tear apart God's family. The Bible is quite clear that the divine image is constitutive of humanity irrespective of gender. I cannot be opposed to racism, in which people are discriminated against as a result of something about which they can do nothing, their skin color, and then accept with equanimity the gross injustice of penalizing others for something else they can do nothing about, their gender. There can be no true liberation that ignores the liberation of women.

Sexism has dogged the church too, as seen over the ordination of women. Theologically, biblically, socially, ecumenically, it is right to ordain women to the priesthood. For Christians, the most radical act that can happen to a person is to become a member of the body of Christ. If gender cannot be a bar to baptism, which makes all Christians representatives of Christ and partakers of his royal priesthood, then gender cannot be a bar to ordination.

Male and females have distinctive gifts, and both acts sets gifts are indispensable for truly human existence. I am sure that the church has lost something valuable in denying ordination to women for so long. There is something uniquely valuable that women and men bring to the ordained ministry, and it has been distorted and defective as long as women have been debarred. Somehow men have been less human for this loss.

Ending sexism and including women fully in every aspect of society not only ends its own great evil, the oppression of women, but also is part of the solution to the rest of the world's problems. Until women are deeply involved in opposing the violence in the world, we are not going to bring it to an end. All women must be equally at the forefront of the movements for social justice. And they also have a special leverage over the men in their lives, who often perpetuate death while women are left creating life. But women can say, "We have enough of this, you men. We've had enough of this business. If you keep going out to fight and kill, we're not going to have anything to do with you."

It is tremendous that women are increasingly taking on positions of leadership, but they must not simply settle for business as usual. They have the potential, if they have the courage, to transform the institutions they are inheriting and to make them more humane and more just. Unleashing the power of women has the potential to transform our world in extraordinary and many as yet unimagined ways. I'm reminded of a bumper sticker that my wife Leah enjoys. It says "A woman who wants to be equal to a man has no ambition."

When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent on recognizing the humanity in others. In real sense we might say that even the supporters of apartheid were victims of the vicious system which they implemented and which they supported so enthusiastically. This is not an example for the morally earnest of ethical indifferentism. No, it flows from our fundamental concept of ubuntu. Out humanity was intertwined. The humanity of the perpetrator of apartheid's atrocities was caught up and bound up in that of his victim whether he liked it or not. In the process of dehumanizing another, in inflicting untold harm and suffering, inexorably the perpetrator was being dehumanized as well.

I used to say that the oppressor was dehumanized as much as, if not more than, the oppressed, and may in the white community believed that it was just another provocative hate mongering slogan by that irresponsible ogre, Tutu. But it was and is the truth. I remember when cabinet minister Jimmy Kruger heartlessly declared that the death in detention of Steve Biko "left him cold." It is not too surprising that, having been involved in a policy as evil and dehumanizing as apartheid, he had lost his sensitivity, his empathy for others' suffering, he eventually had lost a share of his own humanity.

Those who opposed the system could also end up becoming like what they most abhorred. Tragically, those opposing apartheid frequently become brutalized themselves and descended to the same low levels as those they were opposing. But there were those who remarkably were able to maintain their humanity even under the most brutal circumstances.

Malusi Mpumlwana was a young enthusiastic activist and close associate of Steve Biko in the crucial Black Consciousness Movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was involved with others in vital community development and health projects with impoverished and often demoralized rural communities. As a result, he and his wife were under strict surveillance and constantly harassed by the ubiquitous security police. They were frequently being held in detention without trial and at the time of my story involving him he was serving a five-year banning order in his Eastern Cape township. When a person was banned, not only were they literally under house arrest, they could not speak publicly or meet with any more than one other person at a time. He had somehow given the security police the slip and had come to Johannesburg and was with me in my office, where I was serving as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. He said that during his frequent stints in detention, when the security police routinely tortured him, he used to think, "These are God's children and yet they are behaving like animals. They need us to help them recover the humanity they have lost." In the end, our struggle had to be successful with such remarkable young people.

All South Africans were less whole than we would have been without apartheid. Those whites who were privileged lost out as they became more uncaring, less compassionate, less humane, and therefore less human; for this universe has been constructed in such a way that unless we live in accordance with its moral laws we will pay the price for it. One such law is that we are bound together in what the Bible calls "the bundle of life." As we have seen, our humanity is caught up in that of all others. We are sisters and brothers of one another whether we like it or not, and each one of us is a precious individual. It bears repeating that our worth does not depend on things such as our ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or on our status whether political, social, economic, or educational. These are all extrinsic. And inevitably and inexorably, those who behave in ways that go against this "bundle of life" cannot escape the consequences of their contravention of the laws of the universe. Even our enemies are bound up in this bundle of life with us and we must therefore embrace them.

HOW THEN DO we embrace our enemies? How do we get rid of the hatchet forever instead of just burying it for a time and digging it up later? True enduring peace, between countries, within a country, within a community, within a family, requires real reconciliation between former enemies and even between loved ones who have struggled with one another.

How could anyone really think that true reconciliation could avoid a proper confrontation? When a husband and wife or two friends have quarreled, if they merely seek to gloss over their differences or metaphorically paper over the cracks, they must not be surprised that in next to no time they are at it again, hammer and tongs, perhaps more violently than before because they have tried to heal their ailment lightly.

True reconciliation is based on forgiveness, and forgiveness is based on true confession, and confession is based on penitence, on contrition, on sorrow for what you have done. We know that when a husband and wife have quarreled, one of them must be ready to say the most difficult words in any language, "I'm sorry" and other must be ready to forgive for there to be a future for their relationship. This is true between parents and children, between siblings, between neighbors and between friends. Equally, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation in the lives of nations are not just airy-fairy religious and spiritual things, nebulous and unrealistic. They are the stuff of practical politics.

Those who forget the past, as many have pointed out, are doomed to repeat it. Just in terms of human psychology, we in South Africa knew that to have blanket amnesty where no disclosure is made would not deal with our past. It is not dealing with the past to say glibly, "Let bygones be bygones," for then they will never be bygones. How can you forgive if you do not know what or whom to forgive? When you do know what or whom to forgive, the process of requesting and receiving forgiveness is healing and transformative for all involved.

Even for the perpetrators, an easy and light cure will not be effective in going into the roots, into the depths of their psyches. It is actually how human beings operate when we say that guilt, even unacknowledged guilt, has a negative effect on the guilty. One day it will come out in some form or another. We must be radical. We must go to the root, remove that which is festering, cleanse and cauterized, and then a new beginning is a possibility.

Forgiveness gives us the capacity to make a new start. That is power, the rationale, of confession and forgiveness. It is to say, "I have fallen but I am not going to remain there. Please forgive me." And forgiveness is the grace by which you enable the other person to get up, and get up with dignity, to begin anew. Not to forgive leads to bitterness and hatred, which, just like self-hatred and self-contempt, gnaw away at the vitals of one's being. Whether hatred is projected out or projected in, it is always corrosive of the human spirit.

We have all experienced how much better we feel after apologies are made and accepted, but even still it is so hard for us to say that we are sorry. I often find it difficult to say these words to my wife in the intimacy and love of my bedroom. How much more difficult it is to say these words to our friends, our neighbors, and our coworkers. Asking for forgiveness requires that we take responsibility for our part in the rupture that has occurred in the relationship. We can always make excuses for ourselves and find justifications for our actions, however contorted, but we know that these keep us locked in the prison of blame and shame.

In the story of Adam and Eve, the Bible reminds us of how easy it is to blame others. When God confronted Adam about eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam was less than forthcoming in accepting responsibility. Instead he shifted the blame to Eve, and when God turned to Eve, she too tried to pass the buck to the serpent. (The poor serpent had no one left to blame.) So we should thus not be surprised at how reluctant most people are to acknowledge their responsibility and to say they are sorry. So we are behaving true to our ancestors when we blame everyone and everything except ourselves. It is the everyday heroic act that says, "It's my fault, I'm sorry." But without these simple words, forgiveness is much more difficult.

We never rush to expose our vulnerability or our sinfulness. But if the process of forgiveness is to succeed, acceptance of responsibility by the culprit is vital. Acknowledgment of the truth and of having wronged someone is important in healing the breach. If a husband and wife have quarreled without the wrongdoer acknowledging his or her fault by confessing, so exposing the cause of the rift, then they will be in for a rude shock. Let's say a husband in this situation comes home with a bunch of flowers and the couple pretends all is in order. It won't be long, even before the flowers have wilted, that the couple will be at it again. They have not dealt with their pain and bitterness adequately. They have glossed over their differences, for they have failed to stare truth in the face for fear of a possible bruising confrontation. But in the end the bruises will be far grater when the fight finally comes.

Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones is not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking, but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end dealing with the real situation helps to bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.

If the wrongdoer has come to the point of realizing his wrong, then one hopes there will be contrition, or at least some remorse or sorrow. This should lead him to confess the wrong he had done and ask for forgiveness. It obviously requires a fair measure of humility. But what happens when such contrition or confession is lacking? Must the victim be dependent on these before she can forgive? There is no question that such a confession is a very great help to the one who wants to forgive, but it is not absolutely indispensable. Jesus did not wait until those who were nailing him to the Cross had asked for forgiveness. He was ready, as they drove in the nails, to pray to his Father to forgive them, and he even provided an excuse for what they were doing. If the victim could forgive only when culprit confessed, then the victim would be locked into the culprits whim, locked into victimhood, whatever her own attitude or intention. That would be palpably unjust.

In the act of forgiveness we are declaring our faith in the future of a relationship and in the capacity of the wrongdoer to change. We are saying here is a chance to make a new beginning. According to Jesus, we should be ready to do this not just once, not just seven times, but seventy times seven, with out limit, provided, it seems Jesus says, your brother or sister who has wronged you is ready to come and confess the wrong he or she has committed yet again. Because we are not infallible, because we will hurt especially the ones we love by some wrong, we will always need a process of forgiveness and reconciliation to deal with those unfortunate yet all too human breaches in relationships. They are an inescapable characteristic of the human condition.

Once the wrongdoer has confessed and the victim has forgiven, it does not mean that is the end of the process. Most frequently, the wrong has affected the victim in tangible, material ways. Apartheid provided the whites with enormous benefits and privileges, leaving its victims deprived and exploited. If someone steals my pen and then asks me to forgive him, unless he returns my pen the sincerity of his contrition and confession will be considered nil. Confession, forgiveness, and reparation, wherever feasible, form part of a continuum.

We have had a jurisprudence, a penology in Africa that was not retributive but restorative. In the traditional setting, when people quarreled the main intention was not to punish the miscreant but to restore good relations. For Africa is concerned, or has traditionally been concerned, about the wholeness of relationship. That is something we need in our world, a world that is polarized, a world that is fragmented, a world that destroys people. It is also something we need in our families and friendships, for restoration heals and makes whole while retribution only wounds and divides us from one another.

Only together, hand in hand, as God's family and not as one another's enemy, can we ever hope to end the vicious cycle of revenge and retribution. This is the only hope for us and for making God's dream a reality. Because God truly only has us.

Please Note: This excerpt appears by special permission of the author and publisher and may not be presented elsewhere without permission of the copyright holders.
About Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

About the Book God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has long been admired throughout the world for the heroism and grace he presented while encouraging countless South Africans in their struggle for human rights. In his most soul-searching book, he shares the spiritual message that guided him through those troubled times.

The name Desmond Tutu resonates richly with people all across the world. While his vigorous anti-apartheid activism in his native South Africa first propelled him into the glare of international news media, today he is revered as a “moral voice” and someone who speaks with gravitas on a range of issues. While he is an Anglican Archbishop emeritus and thus unflinching in his religious beliefs, Tutu also places great value on religious inclusiveness and interfaith dialogue.

About the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation:

The Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation's vision is of a world committed to peace. It is born of the South African experience and inspired by the life and work of Desmond Tutu. Their mission is to nurture peace by promoting ethical, visionary, and values-based human development.

During apartheid, Desmond Tutu kept hope alive in the hearts and minds of millions of South Africans. He shared his powerful vision that justice would come, freedom was unstoppable and one-day all South Africans would be free.

The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre will be a landmark institution primarily aimed at using the experience of the South African people and the example of Desmond Tutu to inspire a new generation of visionary peace builders. Its focus is to teach the extraordinary principles - practiced by ordinary people - that were able to guide South Africa from a legacy of violence to a cooperative peace.

The objective is not to memorialize one of South Africa's most famous sons, but to convert his unique leadership into the kinds of practices, approaches and tools that any individual can use to improve society through his or her own personal contribution.

The Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation (U.S.) and the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust (SA) work together to raise funds throughout the world for the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town, South Africa.

Donate securely online to further the vision.

©2004 Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation
205 East 64th Street, Suite 404
New York, NY 10021
Tel: 212-750-5504
Fax: 212-371-2776

Copyright 2004 The University of South Florida and The Africana Heritage Project. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. For more information, contact the Africana Heritage Project via e-mail.