On 26 December 2021, the world woke up to the news of the passing of Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town, prominent anti-apartheid activist, and one of the most iconic and outspoken religious leaders of our times.
In the reports about Tutu’s life and legacy, attention was also paid to his role in promoting the human dignity and rights of sexual minorities. A few years ago, I wrote a short article about this myself for The Conversation, titled “Desmond Tutu’s long history of fighting for lesbian and gay rights“, which got rediscovered and was shared widely this week.
The Conversation article was an abbreviated version of a chapter in the book I co-authored with Ezra Chitando, which was published earlier in 2021, Reimagining Christianity and Sexual Diversity in Africa (African Argument series; London: Hurst & Co / New York: Oxford University Press).
In this chapter, we discuss the background, motivation and thinking that informed Tutu’s progressive stance on issues of sexual diversity, which made him by far the most high-profile African, if not global, religious leader to support the rights of sexual minorities.
For those interested in the topic, I have uploaded the text of this chapter here. I hope it will help readers to learn more about an important aspect of Tutu’s life and legacy.
As we conclude this chapter,
Tutu’s contribution to the debate about sexuality in contemporary Africa is a major one. His prophetic commitment to defending human dignity, equality and justice continues to inspire and set an example to many people across the world. Although other parts of Africa have not experienced apartheid, they have experienced colonialism and the systematic racism inherent to it, thus making Tutu’s equation of racism and homophobia powerful across the continent. Furthermore, with his theology of ubuntu he allows for a conceptualisation of sexual diversity that is meaningful in African contexts and that enhances the human flourishing of gay and lesbian people as part of their communities. Ubuntu is clearly based on values such as hospitality and generosity, built on the foundation of solidarity and shared humanity. Therefore, anything that threatens the health and well-being of even one member of the community (for example, through ostracism, stigma and violence) is contrary to the spirit of ubuntu extolled by Tutu.
Please cite this as: Adriaan van Klinken and Ezra Chitando, ‘Race and Sexuality in a Theology of Ubuntu: Desmond Tutu’, in Reimagining Christianity and Sexual Diversity in Africa, 23-28. London: Hurst & Co.