A Conversation with Archbishop Desmond Tutu


As a progressive Presbyterian Minister in a conservative part of the country, I have worked hard to build bridges between people who don’t agree with each other, especially when it comes to the welcome and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the church. That’s one of the many reasons I have long admired the leadership and ministry of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. When I read his recent letter of support to my church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), over our vote to allow the ordination of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, I felt blessed. I particularly cherished these words:

“It is incumbent upon all of God’s children to speak out against injustice. It is sometimes equally important to speak in solidarity when justice has been done. For that reason I am writing to affirm my belief that in making room in your constitution for gay and lesbian Christians to be ordained as church leaders, you have accomplished an act of justice.”

After reading Archbishop Tutu’s letter I was moved by the Holy Spirit to reach out to try and continue this important conversation. I could only imagine how busy the Archbishop is, so when I asked him to join me in the regular conversation series I host on my blog, I was surprised and deeply humbled when he agreed to my request.

Below are the five questions from our conversation together. I hope you find the joy in Archbishop Tutu’s wisdom that I did.


How do you explain the connection between the good news of Jesus Christ and the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the kingdom of God?

Do you recall what Jesus said predicting His death on the Cross in the Fourth Gospel? Let me remind you, He said,’ I if I be lifted up will draw all to me.’ Note that he did not say, ‘I will draw some..’ and note how St. Paul was insistent that the church as the body of Christ embraced all, that there was now neither male nor female, free nor slave, Jew nor Gentile, all very sharply distinct groups, all were united in the body of Christ. All stood condemned as sinners and all in need of redemption, and all by the grace of God having been redeemed. All were God’s children without distinction. All were recipients of God’s love, without exception because each one was created in the image of this God. Differences of race, of gender, etc. including sexual orientation were of no moment. All were held in the embrace of a love that would not let us go.


Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
Romans 8:5…Whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us. That’s fantastic. I don’t have to impress God. God already loves me before I have done anything to deserve it. I can luxuriate in this love that will not let me go whatever. I am precious in this God’s sight.


Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings, especially when it comes to embracing the full humanity of our brothers and sisters?

Archbishop Trevor Huddleston who influenced many many and got Hugh Masekela his first trumpet from Louis Satchmo Armstrong. After my mother, he was the greatest influence in my life. For him, a white man, all including us blacks were persons of infinite worth because all were created in the image of God. That was dynamite in a situation of claimed racist superiority such as apartheid South Africa.


In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters in the church?

The account of creation, in which God created human beings, all human beings in the divine image. So that there really is only one race, the human race. And then those who became Christians formed one body whatever other differences might characterize them, e.g. ethnicity, gender, etc.

What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?

I think we should try to show that exclusion impoverishes us and inclusion enriches us all. When our Anglican Church here in South Africa voted to ordain women as priests and bishops we discovered how we had been horrendously impoverished by the previous exclusion. We have been wonderfully enriched by the inclusion of women. Equally we would be and are impoverished where we exclude persons from the life of the church and society based on their sexual orientation. Many of those who would be excluded are wonderfully gifted persons. We are the poorer for excluding them. I know from personal experience. When I was incumbent Archbishop two of my chaplains were gay. The one went on to be Dean of Cape Town and the other a diocesan bishop, both hugely gifted.

You can read more about Archbishop Tutu’s wonderful humanitarian work by visiting his website, www.tutu.org


Reverend Janet Edwards

2 Responses
  • Rihard Baldwin Cook on November 19, 2011

    Thanks for this inspiring post. I will share it.

  • Janet Edwards on November 22, 2011

    Dear Mr. Cook,

    You are very welcome and thanks back to you for sharing Archbishop Tutu’s thoughts with others.

    His wide embrace is the Gospel personified for sure. It was an awesome joy to be in touch with him. I especially appreciate his acknowledgement of how impoverished the church is when we exclude any child of God from sharing their full gifts.

    Peace, Janet

Comment on this post