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23 May 2013

Desmond Tutu: Unity at all costs

Desmond Tutu: Unity at all costs

Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the Alliance that the Church must be united at all costs, despite its different theologies, belief systems and denominations.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Desmond Tutu alerted global attention to South Africa's dehumanising apartheid policies and after Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first president, Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The archbishop was in London this week to pick up the £1.1 million Templeton Prize on Tuesday, which he was awarded in recognition of his lifelong work in advancing spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness, which have helped to liberate people around the world.

The day before, Archbishop Tutu joined noted thinkers at an open forum at King's College London to discuss the question: what is the essence of being human?

Speaking at the event Anthony C Thiselton, professor of Christian theology emeritus at the University of Nottingham, questioned what it meant to be made in the image of God. "If being in the image of God means representing God then what is it about God that's distinctive that we represent?

"[It is] our relation to the other just as God is related to the world by His own will. It is relationality."

At several points throughout the forum, the experts referred to this relationality, "togetherness", "interdependence" and "community" as parts of the essence of what it is to be human.

During a question and answer session, the Alliance's head of media, Chine Mbubaegbu, asked Archbishop Tutu whether it followed that the Church therefore around the world should be united at all costs, despite deeply-held differences, to which the archbishop replied: "Can I surprise you by giving a one-word answer? Yes!"

The Alliance also attended the prize-giving ceremony the next day at the Guildhall in London, which included performances from Annie Lennox, the London African Gospel Choir and the Eric Whitacre Singers.

The event was also attended by dignitaries from the Anglican church, leaders from other faiths, ambassadors and high commissioners, members of both Houses of Parliament and distinguished individuals and representatives from charities and campaigning groups for Africa.

The Templeton Prize has been the world's largest annual monetary award given to an individual for the past 40 years. Tutu joins a distinguished group of 42 former recipients, including last year's Laureate, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. It celebrates living persons who have made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.

Previous winners have included the Dalai Lama, Billy Graham, John Polkinghorne and Mother Teresa.

Judges noted that Archbishop Tutu's "steadfastness to core Christian principles such as love and forgiveness has broken chains of hurt, pain and all too common instincts for revenge, and instead, has advanced the spiritual liberation of people around the world".

Dr John Templeton Jr, president of the John Templeton Foundation and son of the late prize founder Sir John Templeton, said: "As a leading moral voice for love, peace and justice, Desmond Tutu, in extending hands of a common brotherhood – is one of the world's most revered religious leaders".

In response to the Templeton Prize announcement last month Tutu said: "When you are in a crowd and you stand out from the crowd it's usually because you are being carried on the shoulders of others. I want to acknowledge all the wonderful people who accepted me as their leader at home and so to accept this prize in a representative capacity."