Archbishop Desmond Tutu


A great man, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, died this morning. Back in the early nineties, I had the immense pleasure of accepting an invitation from Prof. Rev. Andrew Linzey to hear the Archbishop speak. A tiny man in stature yet dwarfing all of us in that auditorium in his compassion and love for humanity. Essentially his message was this – ‘they took everything from us, but they could not take away our bibles and that was our greatest weapon.’

I was not a Christian at the time, but I have often reflected that this was the first time that I became conscious of a spiritual awaking in my own life. I had been active in denouncing apartheidism and eschewed all things South African in my personal commitment to stop its spread; much the same as I do now with Chinese goods and the genocide taking place against the Uyghurs. This was the same method of separation that I had taken 15 years earlier, from the meat producing industry and its inherent cruelty to animals.

Many of you will know the Archbishop’s work for the suffering black Africans but few if any of you will know that he also linked the evil inherent in that suffering with the suffering of animals. I shall therefore reproduce part of his Foreword to Prof Linsey’s book The Global Guide to Animal Protection, to enlighten you on his thoughts on animal suffering and its inherent injustice.

Extending Justice and Compassion.

‘I have spent my life fighting discrimination and injustice, whether the victims are blacks, women, or gays and lesbians. No human being should be the target of prejudice or the object of vilification or be denied his or her basic rights. I could not have lived with myself, as a Christian and a bishop, if I had looked the other way. But the business of fighting injustice is like fighting a multiheaded hydra. As one form of injustice appears to be vanquished, another takes its place. Even if the path of progress seems interminably long, we can content ourselves with the sense that injustices to other human beings are at least on the agenda, or mostly so.

But there are other issues of justice – not only for human beings but also for the world’s other sentient creatures. The matter of the abuse and cruelty we inflict on other animals has to fight for our attention in what sometimes seems an already overfull moral agenda. It is vital, however, that these instances of injustice not be overlooked. I have seen firsthand how injustice gets overlooked when the victims are powerless of vulnerable, when they have no one to speak up for them and no means of representing themselves to a high authority. Animals are in precisely that position. Unless we are mindful of their interest and speak out loudly on their behalf, abuse and cruelty go unchallenged.

Religious traditions do not, by and large, have a good record on animals. It has taken Christian churches some nineteen hundred years to recognize the immorality of slavery and even longer to recognize that women should not be treated as second-class citizens. Animals have invariably occupied a rather low, sometimes nonexistent place on the moral agenda of the churches. But things are now, slowly but surely, beginning to change…increasing numbers of people are gradually beginning to adopt more thoughtful and compassionate attitudes towards animals.

In many ways, it is odd that my fellow Christians have failed to see the issue of how we treat animals as a Gospel issue. After all, animals are also God’s creatures. Christians believe that the world is God’s creation. It is a kind of theological folly to suppose that God has made the entire world just for human beings, or to suppose that God is interested in only one of the millions of species that inhabit God’s good earth. Our dominion over animals is not supposed to be despotism. We are made in the Image of God, yes, but God – in whose image we are made – is holy, loving and just. We do not honor God by abusing other sentient creatures.

If it is true that we are the most exalted species in creations, it is equally true that we can be the most debased and sinful. This realization should give us pause. So much of our maltreatment of animals stems from a kind of spiritual blindness, a kind of hubris, in which we foolishly suppose that our own welfare is God’s sole concern. In fact, God’s creation is entrusted to our care and under our protection. There is something Christ-like about caring for suffering creatures, whether they are humans or animals.

Even when faced with urgent human problems we should not overlook the issue of justice to animals. In fact, as increasing amount of evidence shows that there is a link between cruelty to animals and cruelty to weaker human beings…All of us have an interest in the creation of a cruelty-free world. Churches should lead the way by making clear that all cruelty – to other animals as well as human beings – is an affront to civilized living and a sin before God…’

The world has lost a great man today. A man totally devoted to speaking the truth to power, no matter how that power is represented. The world and its inhabitants cannot afford to lose such people. My own work offers similar arguments to that above, and I am deeply saddened at his passing.

Dr. Christina Nellist.