Across Pacific & Asia
Tutu stresses justice, mercy, humility
in remarks to students

By United Methodist News Service

RIDGECREST, N.C. - An authentic religious life hinges on walking humbly with God, doing justice and loving mercy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told more than 1,300 young people at an ecumenical gathering.

The Nobel laureate addressed students, campus ministers and chaplains from six denominations attending Celebrate III, held Dec. 30-Jan. 3 at a Southern Baptist retreat center near Asheville, N.C. At least 300 United Methodist students from colleges and universities across the country joined their peers in celebrating their common belief in Jesus Christ.

Tutu, an Anglican cleric and 1984 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is the Robert W. Woodruff Visiting Professor of Theology at  Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. He centered his message around the biblical foundation for the four-day gathering, Micah 6:8, which asks, "What does the Lord require of you?" He also discussed the significance each student has in God's plan.

Micah stated that a relationship with God depends on performing acts of justice, mercy and humility. But Tutu suggested a reversal in order, to make walking humbly with God the first prerequisite for an authentic religious existence.

"The true Christian life is impossible unless at its heart beats an engaged spirituality," he said.

Such an "engaged spirituality" will not provide insulation against the harsh realities of life faced by most of the world, he said. However, it will give people sensitivity to God, who will prepare them to work for Him among "the least of these." Tutu told the students that they, like God, must be among those who are hurting, have been diminished and dehumanized. "For what we do to rehabilitate them, to serve them, we are doing as to our Lord himself," he said.

He cited two commandments that give more meaning to Micah 6:8: "Love God, and love thy neighbor." Those guidelines are two sides of one coin, Tutu said. "One on its own is not legal tender, (it) can't be a coin. You need both together simultaneously."

The biblical story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 not only teaches that Christians should share their resources, but it also stresses how God needs human partners for his work, the archbishop said.

"We, without God, cannot; God without us, will not," Tutu said, quoting St. Augustine of Hippo. "The omnipotent becomes impotent and weak; the infinite becomes the restrained, the limited, waiting for our fish, our bread, before God can accomplish whatever miracle God would want to perform."

God often relies on young people to be his friends and workers, Tutu said. He repeated God's words to Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew You." None of the students was created by accident, Tutu said. "You are an indispensable part of God's plan. No one else, not even your identical twin, can love God and serve God as only you can. You are unique."

The Lord puts limits on his omnipotence to ensure that there is always collaboration between human beings and the divine, Tutu said. "God ever waits on God's human partners to provide their particular bread and fish to enable God to do God's work, to perform God's miracles."

Young people from six continents participated in the Celebrate event, which is held every four years. During small group discussions, workshops and other meetings, they discussed issues on their campuses and in the world, and how their faith prepares them to respond. Participants from Liberia and Indonesia described problems in their countries related to civil unrest and poverty. The students also explored where God is leading them as the new millenium approaches.

United Methodist Bishop Kenneth Carder of Nashville, Tenn., told the students that in a time of national crisis precipitated by idolatry and injustice, the prophet Micah opens a window into the very nature of God and the purpose of human life.

Carder agreed with Tutu, noting that justice and mercy depend upon humility before God. The God with whom people are to walk humbly is one who sees the misery of the oppressed, hears the cries of the abused and violated, and knows the suffering of the poor, the bishop said. "Only a persistent walk with this God will lead us toward justice, mercy and humility."

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, told the students they will find peace with God if they give up the junk that distracts them. Without the sin, corruption and the filth that people have in their lives, they can see the beauty of the world in them and around them, he said.

"Without the trash of the outer world, we can start to love kindness," he said. "When we can see the right from wrong, we can begin to do justice. When we are transformed by God's love and we accept his domain, we can walk humbly with our Lord."

Tutu expressed his high regard for young people and said he felt privileged to speak to them. He also thanked them for their help in eradicating apartheid in South Africa.

During the 1980s, the people of South Africa called upon the world community to impose sanctions on the apartheid government, but then-President Ronald Reagan opposed sanctions and "had a policy of so-called constructive engagement," Tutu said. Reagan, he said, was supported in his view by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of England.

On campuses across America, students engaged in demonstrations to force their institutions to divest from South Africa, Tutu said. They helped change the moral climate in the United States to such an extent that Congress eventually passed anti-apartheid legislation, imposing sanctions and mustering a presidential veto override, he said.

"So we owe a lot to young people. Our victory in South Africa was made possible by such dedication and support. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Events such as Celebrate III are "essential for student Christian leaders today," said event co-chairperson Rebecca Helms, a United Methodist and recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The gatherings provide an opportunity to observe what is happening in the student movements of other denominations, she said.

In order for the United Methodist Student Movement to grow and prepare for leadership in the next century, Helms said, "we must learn from ourselves and other denominations. Celebrate III has made this possible."

The event "was a faith-building experience," said Shane Lee, a sophomore at Missouri State University and member of Lebanon (Mo.) United Methodist Church. He was impressed by how people from different denominations joined to worship and enjoy fellowship.

"I've been in numerous Methodist events and taken trips, but this experience has brought me closer to God than ever before," he said.

The conference was sponsored by the Council for Ecumenical Student Christian Ministry, which is a partnership of students and national denominational staff from the United Methodist Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ.  Students from the Catholic Church also participated.

The council, created in 1987, is an affiliate movement of the World Student Christian Federation, which unites student Christian movements from more than 80 countries.


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