Tutu and Tearfund
Tearfund replies to concerns
In the Autumn issue of Tear Times, the magazine of the relief charity Tearfund, the organisation advertised that they had asked Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at a conference supported by them on Saturday September 6 in London.
EN was contacted and had conversations with a few evangelicals who felt very uneasy about this and asked us to write and ask Tearfund some questions.
Subsequently the BBC reported the following: ‘Archbishop Desmond Tutu has accused the Anglican church of allowing its “obsession” with homosexuality to come before real action on world poverty. “God is weeping” to see such a focus on sexuality and the Church is “quite rightly” seen by many as irrelevant on the issue of poverty, he said. It may be good to “accept that we agree to differ” on the gay issue, he said. Archbishop Tutu was in London to address a conference organised by the Christian charity Tearfund.’
Below we publish EN’s letter to Tearfund and their response.
EN’s letter of enquiry
For the attention of Matthew Frost or Graham Fairbairn:
This is not the kind of letter I find easy to write. Please would you help me.
I am the editor of a monthly Christian newspaper Evangelicals Now. Recently I have had conversations with two people concerning Tearfund’s invitation to ask Desmond Tutu to speak at your conference ‘Who is my Neighbour?’ which takes place next Saturday. Both people expressed deep concern as to what this says about the theological/evangelical position of Tearfund.
Archbishop Tutu’s views on many subjects are very unorthodox, to say the least, and certainly not evangelical in the accepted sense of the word. An idea of what he stands for can be read in an interview on his book God has a Dream on the website Beliefnet (http://www.beliefnet.com/story/143/story_14326_2.html). Here are some quotes:
God’s dream is that you and I and all of us will realise that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion. In God’s family, there are no outsiders, no enemies. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist, Hutu and Tutsi, Pakistani and Indian — all belong. When we start to live as brothers and sisters and to recognise our interdependence, we become fully human.
This dream can be found throughout the Bible and has been repeated by all of God’s prophets right down to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.
Asked the question ‘Is your book relevant to non-Christians or people of no religious faith?’, his reply was:
I believe so very much. Because love is universal. I mean, you don’t have to believe in God to know that loving is better than hating. We are trying to remind them that all of us are fundamentally good. The aberration is the bad person. God is not upset that Gandhi was not a Christian, because God is not a Christian! All of God’s children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God. No faith contains the whole truth about God. And certainly Christians don’t have a corner on God. All of us belong to God. Even the non-believer is precious to God. And one simply tries to remind them that they are made for transcendence. They are made for goodness.
The question my enquirers raised was, ‘Does Tearfund’s inviting Desmond Tutu mean that they agree with his views?’ If Tearfund does not agree with all his views, is it prepared to make clear to its supporters what it is Tearfund agrees with and what it disagrees with in respect to the Archbishop’s views?
Someone has said to me if Tearfund is not going to stand for evangelical truth, what is the point in supporting them rather than Christian Aid, for example?
Please would you give me a statement for publication in Evangelicals Now concerning this issue. I realise this may put you in a difficult situation, and I am sorry to cause you more work, but I believe that Tearfund does need to come up with an answer.
Yours in Christ,
Dr John Benton,
Editor, Evangelicals Now
Dear Dr. Benton,
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your enquiry relating to the presence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the ‘Who is my neighbour?’ conference held in London on September 6.
As you know Tearfund was started 40 years ago by the Evangelical Alliance as a way for evangelical Christians to respond to the needs in the world. To this day we remain a profoundly evangelical organisation committed to those same biblical principles that have been with us since the beginning. Following the lead of John Stott, Elaine Storkey and Rene Padilla (all of whom have been or are currently our presidents) we use the phrase ‘integral mission’ to hold together the saving work of Christ and the compassionate work of Christ which continues through his church in the world today.
On some specific issues, we understand that Archbishop Desmond Tutu does not have the same understanding of God’s mission in the world as we do. At the same time we have deep respect for the stand that he has made against injustice and the voice he has been for the world’s poor. During the conference, he spoke powerfully, calling churches to be the hands, feet, eyes and ears of Jesus in the fight against local and global poverty.
Tearfund invited the Archbishop to share a platform with other church leaders in the context of the important debate for the church of ‘Who is my neighbour?’. Lynn Hybels, the Rev. Nicky Gumbel and Pastor Agu Irukwu were the other keynote speakers backed up by myself and the Tearfund team. The Archbishop made an important contribution, drawing on his years of experience and sacrifice in leading the Anglican church in South Africa. The other leaders made equally powerful contributions from their experience and perspectives.
Our evangelical identity is core to Tearfund. It is embedded in our statement of faith and runs through our policies and practice. This clarity about who we are enables us, from time to time, to make common cause on specific issues with those who would not share all of our beliefs. Occasionally this has included political and national leaders, development agencies and governments, for example our work as part of the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005. On this particular occasion we invited the Archbishop to bring a particular message for a particular audience within the context of a wider evangelical conference.
Once again we do appreciate the fact that you came to ask us for our response.