2016-06-30

Desmond M. Tutu is Archbishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Cape Town and the recipient of many honors and degrees, including the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize. He chaired South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which made its final report in fall 1998.

May I repeat that our hearts go out to all the people of the United States at this time of grieving and much anguish and loss, praying that God will fill you all with God's grace, comfort, and strength. We condemn unequivocally these and all other acts of terrorism.

Does justice need to precede reconciliation efforts? Or, can one begin a process of reconciliation and forgiveness even as events unfold? Is it too early to forgive the terrorists who attacked the U.S.?

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not cheap. They are costly. After all, they cost God the death of God's Son.

Forgiveness is not to condone or minimize the awfulness of an atrocity or wrong. It is to recognize its ghastliness but to choose to acknowledge the essential humanity of the perpetrator and to give that perpetrator the possibility of making a new beginning. It is an act of much hope and not despair. It is to hope in the essential goodness of people and to have faith in their potential to change. It is to bet on that possibility. Forgiveness is not opposed to justice, especially if it is not punitive justice but restorative justice, justice that does not seek primarily to punish the perpetrator, to hit out, but looks to heal a breach, to restore a social equilibrium that the atrocity or misdeed has disturbed.

In our case in South Africa, the process of reconciliation began long before the perpetrators were brought to book; it began when the victims were able to say, "We don't want to nurse grudges; we do not want to be embittered. We are ready to forgive." So spectacularly embodied in former South African president Nelson Mandela was the magnanimity, the generosity of spirit that helped us to walk the path of reconciliation rather than that of retribution and revenge.

What are you in the U.S. willing to do? Are you willing to consider the possibility of forgiving even when you say that the perpetrators should be brought to justice? Are you willing to believe that even though they are guilty of a diabolical act, they still continue to be children of God, not monsters, not demons, but those with the capacity to change?

Is forgiveness possible at a national level? And if so, how can political leaders support that process?

A nation is made up of individual persons but it also has an ethos, a culture, a tradition, a corporate memory and identity, distinct from those individuals. A nation can do good, can triumph, can fail. A nation can be held accountable for a holocaust, and so a nation must remember national achievements of which it is proud.

It must recall the things that make it hang its head in shame and perhaps be a little less arrogant as it recalls its own anguish, bewilderment, and impotence after September 11. It might then perhaps be led to think how others might have felt in Nagasaki and Hiroshima; how little girls running naked from napalm bombs were feeling; how those whose lands were devastated by smart bombs in Iraq felt. Or those in Nicaragua and the contras; or Chile after their President Allende was assassinated through the machinations of the CIA; or Angola and its civil war with a U.S.-backed Savimbi and Congo still reeling from the U.S.-sponsored assassination of its first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. And when it contemplates all of this, it will want to cry out to be forgiven and, in its turn, to want to forgive.

We were blessed that God gave us Nelson Mandela to lead us at a crucial time in our young history, and all those other leaders, who said "no" to blanket amnesty and to Nuremberg-type trials and "yes" to reconciliation and forgiveness. For they realised that revenge and retribution merely unleash an inexorable cycle of reprisal provoking counter reprisal, so much so that Gandhi once noted that an eye for an eye leaves the world blind.

Leaders can influence the mood of their people; they can make them vengeful or conciliatory; they can pander to their baser instincts or they can hold out a vision of the sublime, of the noble, of the idealistic.

Violence provokes more violence and really solves nothing, as they seem to be finding in the Middle East, in Northern Ireland, in Sri Lanka, and Bosnia. As you have experienced, real security does not come from the barrel of a gun. Despite your massive defense spending, you were vulnerable from within.

How does one reconcile the need for justice and the Christian message to love our enemies?

I hope so much that when the cry is for justice to be done that you in the U.S. will be ready to accept your own standards and values: that someone is presumed to be innocent until they are proven guilty; that there will be sufficient evidence, not just suspicions and hunches; that those who are accused must be found guilty in an open court of law because it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

It will be salutary to recall Oklahoma when initial suspicions pointed fingers at Arab terrorists as likely perpetrators. It is too serious a matter and there is too much at stake for the U.S. not to be able to produce hard, credible evidence that can pass muster. The terrorists will have won an important battle if they cause you to jettison your own high standards. Let the law then take its course.

The love that Jesus enjoins on his followers is not namby-bamby. It is realistic. What Jesus is asking his followers who may have been grievously wounded by the enemy is not that they should like, not that they should have warm feelings for, this enemy but that they should love him or her; should believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that this person guilty of this heinous deed is still a human being (and terms such as "terrorist" tend to depersonalise, to demonise the other), that this hated one is indeed a child of God; and should wish the best for them. It is not something we can accomplish on our own. Remember, Jesus did not demand that we should be merely good. No, he challenged us to be perfect, to seek to emulate the perfection of God, who makes the sun shine on good and bad alike.

We are exhorted to forgive one another even as God in Christ forgave us; we are in the forgiving business whether we like it or not. And we can do this only through God's grace. It is ultimately God at work in us to make us to be like God. Yes, it is a tall order, but that is the love that changes the world, that believes an enemy is a friend waiting to be made.

Is there such a thing as a "just" war?

The just war theory was a recognition that we live in a less-than-perfect world. In an ideal world, there ought to be no war, for war is evil--but it might be the lesser of two evils. It might be better to go to war against Hitler than to allow him to throw babies into gas ovens.

There were criteria to be satisfied before the serious and ugly business is undertaken: Have you exhausted all possible peaceful alternatives? Will you, if war is declared, abide by the conventions governing conflict; namely, that you target only the military?

There is no such thing as collateral damage. The terrorist attacks were particularly reprehensible because they targeted innocent civilians. Collateral damage is a horrible euphemism for killing ordinary mothers and children and fathers and uncles and brothers.

Are you reasonably certain of success and will things be better after the war than before the war? Had these questions been asked then the Gulf War would not have been waged for it failed to satisfy the conditions of a just war. But can any war ever be just again when we have such devastating weapons?

You've said that you believe that human beings were made for goodness, made for love? How then are some people capable of unspeakable evil? How do you accept the existence of evil, and yet still believe in the core goodness of human beings?

God does not give up on anyone, for God looks on each of us as a masterpiece in the making. But God took an incredible risk in creating us not to be automatons but to be decision-making creatures with the freedom to choose to obey or not to obey God, to love or not to love God.


That is why we admire not the macho, the aggressively successful. No, we revere a small, frail woman, Mother Theresa because she was good. The world admires an old man, Nelson Mandela, because he is magnanimous, he is forgiving, he is good. We have an instinct for goodness, our hearts thrill in the presence of goodness for God has made us for himself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. We are a glorious paradox, the finite made for the infinite. And you in the U.S. are some of God's best advertisements, so generous, so caring, so compassionate.

What would you personally want to say to Osama bin Laden? To President Bush?

I would say to Osama bin Laden: "Remember you are a child of God and behave like one." I would like to say to President Bush: "Remember you are a child of God, and behave like one."

Lastly, from your perspective of someone living outside the U.S., why do you think Americans are so hated?

People don't hate the U.S.; too many have suffered from the effects of US foreign policy; that is what they resent.

Dear friends, please remember that ultimately there is no future without forgiveness. God bless you richly.

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