Desmond Tutu, the once-famous Anglican bishop, made the news when he said yesterday, “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this…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.”
Now I was curious about this; I mean, about his level of earnestness. Everybody in the heat of political passion says stupid things (regular readers will agree), and the bombast required to get your name in the newspaper is increasingly noticeable, so it remains a healthy possibility that Tutu was either blowing off steam or exaggerating for effect. He hasn’t been talked about of late and perhaps he missed those heady days where his every word was weighed and marvelled at.
But while there may be elements of Look-At-Me! in his quote, I think there is another explanation.
The man is a bishop and therefore trained in the idea of Hell. Many modern Anglican theologians don’t believe in it. Not as an actual place where one is parked in the afterlife, but instead as a description of the aches and pains which must be endured here on earth. But if non-existence of Hell is also Tutu’s opinion, then there’s no literal point in saying he’d like to pay it an extended visit.
And then it’s not clear what Tutu’s belief in God is. Wearing of the dog collar is only positively correlated with belief and not certainly predictive of it. If Tutu is on the wrong side of belief, again there is no literal point in his statements.
But he’s on the right side, he must surely know that you cannot dictate to God about what’s right and what wrong. If God has decided, for example, that homosexual acts are a sin, why then they are a sin, even if Tutu (or anybody) doesn’t want them to be. It does not good whatsoever to rail against God. Thus again his statements cannot be taken at their face value.
What we’re left with is circumlocution. I believe what Tutu meant to say, in his literary and not literal manner, is not that he’d like to go to Hell but that he doesn’t believe homosexual (and other sexual) acts are sinful. And he doesn’t think you should think so, either. This is evident from the close of his statement: “I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.”
You cannot have a “campaign” to change what is sinful into what is not. You can have a campaign to change minds or to educate.
Along the same line, it is also possible that his statement not only means he’s “for” non-biological sexuality, but that since he well knows that, according to most interpretations, homosexual acts are indeed sinful, that he doesn’t believe in a God who would make this so. In other words, Tutu may be telling us that he doesn’t believe in the Western/Abrahamic God, either.
Of course, we cannot express an opinion on whether Tutu’s desire will be granted if he’s guessed wrong about the theology, other than to say let’s pray not.