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June 16, 1999






Tutu's lectures encourage
'awkward questions'

___By Adelle Banks
___Religion News Service
___ATLANTA--All eyes are on the energetic man in the front of the lecture hall, a preacher-turned-teacher who often shares his theological views in short sleeves and khaki pants instead of a fancy clerical robe.
___"All, all are God's children and none, none is ever to be dismissed as rubbish," Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared in his weekly "God and Us" class at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. "And that's why you have to be so passionate in your opposition to injustice of any kind."
___For the students, time in the classroom with Tutu is less about head knowledge and
tututeach
RETIRED ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU gestures as he makes a point to his class, "God and Us," at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. The Anglican cleric from South Africa has spent the past year teaching at the school. (RNS photo by Michael A. Schwarz
more about matters of the spirit.
___"This is not so academic," said Joyce Reynolds, a 37-year-old student pursuing her master's degree in theological studies. "To me, it's spiritual food. ... He doesn't lecture. He gives a sermon."
___Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to rid South Africa of apartheid, is taking a break from the rigors of working to overcome the societal ills of his homeland by sharing the lessons he's learned with U.S. graduate students at the United Methodist-related school.
___"I keep saying to the students here at the end of my course, I hope that they will be supple," Tutu said in an interview, jokingly adding that he spelled out the word to ensure they didn't misunderstand his thick South African accent and think he said "subtle" instead.
___"You wouldn't be rigid. You wouldn't be doctrinaire, dogmatic, caught up in the conventional but you should be able to ride with the punches, be able to adjust and be ready ... to take in new facts and not be scared."
___It was the rigid, separatist system of apartheid, in which a white minority ruled over a black majority, that forced Tutu to move away from his original vocation as a teacher into the priesthood.
___Now, the 67-year-old cleric has returned to the classroom, opening each session with prayer and moving on to teach about "engaged spirituality" and "explosive Scriptures."
___For example, in his first class after Easter, he pointed to the fourth chapter of Luke in which Jesus speaks of "preaching the good news to the poor and ... the setting free of those in prison."
___"It is thrilling to have the Bible, especially in situations of oppression and injustice," he said, his silver cross dangling in front of his white shirt splashed with touches of blue and green.
___In fact, he said, the former government in his native land erred when it decided that banning books such as those about the French and American revolutions was enough to prevent the spread of "subversive ideas" to the country's majority race.
___"We used to say ha-ha-ha, you're too late," he told his students, who laughed along with him. "The book you should have banned long ago ... is the Bible."
___Now, Tutu uses his theological perspective and his personal experience in South Africa to give new ideas to American students who will soon take their places in the pulpits and classrooms of this country.
___"They tend to want to have the right answers, which they can learn up by rote and almost have second-hand answers," he said in the interview. "And I say, 'No, I want you to be people who have questioning minds, who want to ask awkward questions.'"
___ Members of the class say they will walk away from the two-hour sessions convinced by Tutu they should move beyond traditional thinking.
___ Black and white students alike say their personal theology has grown more inclusive after spending a semester in Tutu's weekly class.
___ "I felt like I was very inclusive, but I found from the class that I wasn't as inclusive as I thought I was," said Debbie Fambro, 36, of Marietta, Ga., a white woman who recalled declining a teaching position in a "less desirable," predominantly black neighborhood.
___ Georgia Retta Gaston, a 54-year-old student from St. Petersburg, Fla., said she can apply what she's learned about forgiveness to growing up during segregation.
___ "It has brought to my attention the need for forgiveness and how this is an ongoing process," said Gaston, who is black. "We grow in forgiveness as we grow in God's love. ... It made me realize there were still some feelings I was dealing with."
___Tutu's lessons touch on various aspects of his beliefs-- from practical Christian living to the forgiveness of God.
___He urged his students to begin tithing, or giving at least 10 percent of their earnings to the church, if they haven't done so already.
___"You are not being taxed by the church," he said. "It is your way of saying, 'Thank you God, thank you.' That is the motive for giving: 'God you have given me so much.'"
___Sometimes he reduces his speech to barely a whisper as he reveals what he views as the "incredible" aspects of God.
___"It's mind-boggling to know that God knows everything ... about me that I have shared with no one else, not with my wife, not with my father-confessor," he said. "God loves me, and God accepts me, and ... God accepts me even more than I accept myself because I am ashamed of so much about me, but God loves everything about me, my light and my darkness, my righteousness and my sin. All of me, God embraces."
___ After attending his classes for more than two months, some students say Tutu has evolved for them from a saintlike status to a real-life role model.
___"He's not a different kind of person than the rest of us," said Jillinda Weaver, 26, a teacher's assistant for Tutu's class from Spartanburg, S.C. "So what we should be doing to help people to be emancipated and so forth is not any less than him because he's just a real person who did what we all should be doing."
___Tutu will spend a second year at Emory, teaching one class each semester and continuing to write during the 1999-2000 academic year. Greatly in demand on the lecture circuit, he's almost completely booked through the summer of 2000. He's currently working on a book about his experience as chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which completed its final report last fall.
___ Some students have had an up-close vision of Tutu's models of forgiveness as he shares some of the excrutiating testimony from the commission, which detailed race-based atrocities that occurred in South Africa between 1960 and 1994, when President Nelson Mandela was inaugurated.
___In a smaller class, "Transfiguration, Forgiveness and Reconciliation," Tutu has applied those models to discussions with a dozen students about violence and ethnic strife that have torn apart regions across the globe.
___"Our tendency is to hold grudges and to not be able to get outside the experiences of our own pain," said Christopher Libby, 31, the teacher's assistant for the transfiguration class. "He helps to imagine different possibilities than we often see or want to see."
___Several students said Tutu's influence will affect their prayers for the world, their community involvement and the lessons they intend to pass on to future congregants and students.
___Douglas Powe Jr., a 34-year-old teacher's assistant who helps grade the papers of the 175 students in Tutu's larger class, said the South African minister has deepened his theology so that he can now imagine a society that does not always solve its problems by tutu2cutouttypeaggression. Powe, in turn, will teach that lesson at Emory's Youth Theology Institute when he leads a class on evil this summer.
___"One of the things that I definitely will use is his concept of ... everyone having intrinsic value," said Powe, a Canton, Ohio, native who was named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
___Tutu's time on campus has proved to be pastoral as well as professorial. Some students say his words have touched them in personal ways. One who has worked for justice for the disabled says she feels encouraged to do more; another, a widow and mother, said her self-esteem has been boosted by his words reminding people to work for the widowed, the orphaned and others who are oppressed.
___Dawn Anderson, 46, a former registered nurse from Miami, said Tutu's firsthand experience with oppression has made her wonder if she has been an unwitting oppressor.
___"When we're more aware of behavior, we can stop it," said Anderson, a white woman who said she's benefited from the class far more than she expected. "I thought two hours a week of edification, but he's definitely challenged me."
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