Book Review: Tutu: Voice of the Voiceless
Posted October 20, 2012on:
Tutu: Voice of the Voiceless by Shirley Du Boulay, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988, 286 pp.
I had seen this book on the shelves of dozens of friends and fellow clergy, and I picked it up somewhere at a used book store at least 10 years ago. It stayed on the “to be read” shelf, but never struck my fancy until now. That’s the justification for why I am reading a 25 year old biography—a book about the life and ministry of Desmond Tutu that concluded just after his election as Archbishop of Capetown, before the election of F.W. de Klerk; before Nelson Mandela had been released from jail; before the start of apartheid’s repeal; before the first non-racial election made Mandela president; before the famous work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This was like “Desmond Tutu: The Early Years.”
That time warp actually added a layer of intrigue to the biography. At the time of its writing, the outcome was uncertain. While Tutu’s Nobel Peace Prize and his election as Archbishop of Capetown were historic events and signs of great progress, South Africa remained an apartheid state, rocked by violent protests and intransigent government. When Du Boulay wrote this biography, no one (including Du Boulay and Tutu himself) could have known that the efforts toward ending apartheid would have been so successful, so quickly. Du Boulay shares in the biography that Tutu proclaims with great faith that apartheid cannot stand forever, that God is on the side of justice and will prevail. However, Tutu must certainly have wondered at the time if such change would come in his lifetime.
This biography paints a picture of Tutu as a man with a destiny. His intellect sets him apart from an early age, and he began his career as a teacher. For the first time, I learned about his early life and pre-ministry career, as well as his wife and family. Du Boulay details his fast journey through a variety of ministerial posts, each one posing new challenges and calling forth even more from him as a leader.
One thing stands out more than anything else: Tutu is always a pastor, in the best sense of the word. He balances his prophetic witness to gospel justice with an abiding concern for the life, joy and suffering of the people he encounters. His staff, the priests under his care as bishop, the people in his parishes—he asks after them and their families, responds to them with messages of care and concern, and preaches the gospel in the way of hope. He uses humor to build rapport, and recognizes the importance of trust and transparency.
I met Archbishop Desmond Tutu very briefly when he gave a lecture at my former congregation. (I escorted him to the restroom, to be honest!) In the few minutes he took my arm, I sensed I was in the presence of a holy man. He was genuine in his appreciation and humor, kindness and interest, humility and faithfulness. Du Boulay’s portrait matches my brief encounter, and makes me think my experience was like that of thousands of others he has spoken to over the years. It may be 25 years old, but it was still worth reading.