In the early 1990s, bloodshed was commonplace in South Africa. The tumultuous period of negotiations to end apartheid was marked by almost daily violence. At the many public funeral services for victims of massacres, a bespectacled, impish man was often found behind the pulpit: Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In 1992, after the Boipatong massacre that killed 45 people, Tutu was able to defuse the outrage of the thousands of mourners in a township soccer stadium. Instead of whipping the audience into a justifiable fury, he led the crowd in songs, singing with the people as they declared their love of God and themselves as a community.
Tutu, who died this past Sunday, became known for his gracious, effective leadership in the face of agonizing horrors and injustices.
When Nelson Mandela became president, he appointed Tutu to lead the truth commission that sought to create racial reconciliation in the bitterly divided nation. While listening to testimony after testimony of the numerous murders and tortures, the archbishop often wept. And yet, as the commission published its findings and held many accountable for human rights violations, Tutu said, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.”
Despite the terrors that his people had suffered for decades, Tutu knew that the only way for his nation to heal was to forgive. He later expanded on this difficult concept, saying:
“Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering—remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
Tutu lived what he believed, and his life leaves us with a powerful reminder: Forgiveness is not weakness or passivity. It’s our only way forward.
Excerpt from this week’s Story Matters.
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These two boys had a very merry Christmas. All of the trappings of Christmas—the lights, the trees, the stockings, the songs—are much more fun to me now that I have these little dudes. It is clichéd, but their wonder at the little things of the season makes my heart continually glad.