Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s legacy demonstrates the combined power of faith and human rights


The Dalai Lama said this about his dear friend:

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu devoted himself entirely to the service of his brothers and sisters for the greater common good. He was a true humanitarian and a committed defender of human rights, ”wrote the Tibetan spiritual leader in a letter of condolence to the archbishop’s daughter.

Tutu was a legendary freedom fighter, an icon whose determined efforts to abolish the apartheid system in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and later his appointment as chairman of the Truth Commission and reconciliation of this country. He died on December 26.

As many people around the world have joined with South Africans in mourning the loss of a transformative leader, Archbishop Tutu’s legacy is a reminder of the promise religious traditions offer to advance and defend human rights for all.

“Religious leaders play a crucial role either in the defense of human rights, peace and security, or, unfortunately, in their attack,” said the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. male Michelle Bachelet, at a United Nations World Summit on Religion, Peace and Security in 2019.

By emphasizing the potential of religious communities, the UN has developed a “Faith for Rights” framework that defines shared values ​​that bind religious communities to broader human rights. The global agency even launched a toolkit last year to help people understand how religion can be an asset in preserving human dignity and equality, as well as identify ways to guard against its abuse. by those who would use it for political ends by division and fear of “the Other”.

“Human rights and religion need each other. While the universality of human rights may require a secular presentation, the real power of the human rights movement comes from its inherent religious dimensions, ”wrote Larry Cox, former Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International USA, for the OpenGlobalRights website .

Yet religion often has a bad reputation, somewhat justified considering the oppression and abuses that have been (and still are) committed by some adherents under the false cloak of religiosity. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the faithful have much to offer when it comes to advancing peace and justice in our communities.

Writing in The New York Times, author Michael Eric Dyson notes that Tutu’s commitment to the “politics of forgiveness” is not often part of contemporary social movements that are “fueled by retribution as opposed to restorative justice. “.

“This is the kind of justice that seeks to bridge the gap between humanity and cruelty. It is the kind of justice that aims to bring offending people back into the fold of the community by trying to restore some sense of ethical connection and moral belonging. “

Indeed, society has a lot to gain from aspiring to such principles. In 2016, a youth was accused of vandalizing a Muslim church, synagogue and community center with hateful slurs. The Reverend Anthony Bailey, pastor of Parkdale United Church in Ottawa, and the late Rabbi Reuven Bulka have suggested alternatives to punishment.

“As Christians we talk about forgiveness,” Bailey said at the time. “What we do is forgive the person, not forgive the act. And what it means is that we keep the hope that the person is redeemable, the person can change and be transformed.

Transformation is made even more possible through interfaith cooperation and alliance. The Jewish Uyghur Freedom Movement, for example, created a Passover Haggadah for Uyghur Freedom to facilitate understanding among Jewish communities of the genocide currently committed against the Uyghurs and others in the Xinjiang / East Turkestan region by the Chinese government.

“In our fragile and crowded world, we can only survive together. In the end, we can only be truly free together. We can only be human together, ”Tutu wrote.

What is faith if not the belief that a better world for all is possible?

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