“I do not know the words to describe my grief”. This is the final line of Mpho Tutu van Furth’s essay ‘Speaking Love to Power’ in The Book Of Queer Prophets published this year. The grief of which she speaks is that caused by relinquishing her license to officiate as a priest in the diocese of Saldanha Bay, South Africa. A very gracious action that saved the Bishop having to withdraw it.
Why did she impose such heart break? Well because she fell in love with and married a woman. Not such a heinous crime in the twenty first century one may think but unfortunately it was a step too far for the Anglican Church.
Paul Pritchard continues: Recently, Father Ian invited me to write a blog focusing on an inspirational person of colour as part of our observance of Black History month. For me, there were two women I was keen to write about, both black, both ordained Anglicans and both members of the LGBTQ+ community. One, Pauli Murray, is dead and has already been written about (see https://stchrysostoms.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/celebrating-pauli-murray-in-lgbt-history-month/), the other, Mpho is very much alive and well. Pauli Murray remained single and so did not face the jeopardy faced by Mpho but still bore the same cross.
When I read Mpho’s essay I wept; not tears of sentiment but tears of pain! The pain I feel I admit is not entirely ultraistic, it is a confusing business as my pain is not just about my empathy with a sister but about being a white middle class western man. You see there is a juxtaposition of being a member of the oppressed whilst having membership, through virtue of my gender and skin colour, of the oppressor’s club.
My pain is for me to deal with but I think it is important to call it out if we are ever going to be able to truly move on and deal with issues of inequality which corner a gifted priest like Mpho Tutu van Furth into surrendering her license in order to be with the woman she loves.
Patriarchal shackles are the backdrop for racism, sexism, homophobia, trans-phobia, snobbishness and many other actions and emotions that exclude. So, we have to search our souls in order to find our own truth, to understand when we have been responsible for perpetuating inequality whether explicitly or complicitly. It is a painful process, but only then can we address it.
At St C’s we are known for and proud of our “inclusiveness” which is laudable and certainly drew me into the fold when I was looking for a worshipping community to be part of. The question is, is this really enough? When I came out in my twenties it was generally accepted that if one encountered ‘tolerance’ that ought to be enough and I know I bought into that as well as buying into the notion in some circumstances of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. I am no longer satisfied with these notions of acceptance as they don’t go far enough. And so it is with inclusiveness.
Inclusiveness is wonderful if it follows equality. In other words, we are all equal as human beings, children of God and included in this place. For Mpho, a black African woman born into a Christian family with parents who fought for equality on many fronts; racial, gender and LGBTQ+, she understood in her home that she was equal whilst at the same time knowing the staggering level of racial inequality born out of colonialism and cemented by apartheid. She also knew that as a woman called to priesthood she followed in the footsteps of the women and men (her Father being one of them) that had fought a long hard fight for the ordination of women in the Anglican church. So what a blow it must have been later on in her life to find herself the victim of inequality for being in love.
In 2013, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said:“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place. “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this. “I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.”
You see, it makes no difference what the issue is. If it concerns inequality, it is wrong! The only way for us to achieve our potential as the people of God is equality. Yes it is important to be inclusive, it is good to be tolerant (of another’s annoying habits for instance) but unless all humans are treated equal, these other adjectives are superlative.
I don’t imagine that Mpho Tutu van Furth would ever consider herself to be better than anyone else, she seems too humble for that but far from being less than equal to others, she is truly awe inspiring. During her college years she raised funds to build schools in South Africa then after college she ran a scholarship fund for refugees from apartheid South-Africa and Namibia, a country racked with civil war. Later on, she ran an after-school programme and summer day camp for children in inner-city Massachusetts. She created and ran the Tutu institute for prayer and pilgrimage and was the inaugural Chief Executive of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, a post she held until 2016 when she moved to the Netherlands to be with her wife.
Of her mission now, Mpho says:-
“I am working to create a world that is good for girls.
For girls to flourish our world must be safe, our environment clean, our planet healthy.
For girls to flourish their voices must be heard, their choices honoured, and their right to bodily integrity affirmed.
When girls flourish the whole world flourishes.”
A hugely impressive CV and one that grows but one that as a result of inequality is tinged with the sadness of rejection. She says, “like every LGBTQIA+ child who has come out of the closet only to be thrown out of the house, I feel bereft. The South African church that was the mother of my faith has disowned me”.
I thank God for The Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, for her inspiring work and faith and I pray for the alleviation of her pain, and ask that we all urgently search our souls to find own equality truth; we may then together be able to call it out and work for a brighter and more equal tomorrow.
The following article on the BBC news website gives a very insightful glimpse of Mpho. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-36462240