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Archbishop's Royal Geographical Society Lecture: If Good Men Do Nothing, Evil Will Prevail...

Archbishop cuts up clerical collar on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe

Wednesday 14th March 2012

The Archbishop joined a human rights activist Ben Freeth from Zimbabwe and Pastor Paul Negrut from Romania to deliver The Royal Geographical Society Lecture on ‘Fighting Justice Under Dictatorship’. The three men told their inspirational stories, and gave an insight into living under dictatorships.

The Archbishop's lecture 'Fighting Injustice Under Dictatorship' follows:-

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”[1]  

I wonder if you know that this was first said not of a dictator – but of a bishop. O dear me!

Lord Acton was reacting to Bishop’s Mandell Creighton’s statement that, “No people do so much harm as those who go about doing good.”[2]   

Nevertheless, in the face of evil, we must strive to do good.  The existence of dictatorship and oppression, wherever it occurs in the world, is an affront to humanity, to the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

The outstanding judge of the past quarter-century Lord Bingham, makes clear in his book, The Rule of Law, that this is not an arid legal doctrine but is the foundation of a fair and just society, a guarantee of responsible government, and an important contribution to economic growth, as well as offering the best means yet devised for securing peace and co-operation.

For me, Justice is only possible when Law, Religion and Morals are inter-mingled.

My position derives from Denning’s famous comment: “Without religion, no morality; without morality, no law."[3]  

Archbishop William Temple, one of my predecessors, said that, “It is axiomatic that love should be the predominant Christian impulse and that the primary form of love in social organisation is Justice.” 

This is summed up in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 10, when a lawyer asked Jesus of Nazareth, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”  He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”  

This precept – love towards God and love towards neighbour – is a precept of religion.  Nevertheless in many affairs of life, love can only find expression through justice, which is God-like.  

Religion, law and morality need to be brought together under the great tent of love.  

And when we see the rejection of these values, the appalling effects of injustice and oppression, we must be stirred to anger and action. But this must be an effective and righteous anger.  Aristotle, in The Nichomachean Ethics, says, “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy.”[4] 

The people we are remembering tonight displayed that righteous and loving anger in their courageous action.

One of my great heroes was the Archbishop of Uganda, Janani Luwum. 

A great bear of a man, full of faith and good humour, who stood up to Amin and was murdered.  

I remember when I first met him, in September 1973. I had been posted as acting Chief Magistrate to Gulu, Northern Uganda. 

This was an area that had suffered greatly from the brutality of Idi Amin’s regime.  Gulu itself had more widows and orphans, at that time, than anywhere in Uganda.  The military purge had been extensive.  A number of townships had been deserted.  People had been brutally murdered and thrown into Murchison Falls.

Janani Luwum, as Bishop of Northern Uganda, based in Gulu, had heard that I had arrived in Gulu and he came to meet me. 

Back at his Bishop’s residence, he asked me to become the Chancellor of his diocese and to assist him in alleviating the plight of many refugees from the Sudan.  “We must be Christ to these people: Come and be our Advocate, and take up their cases.”

He always strongly believed that it was the abdication of power which had resulted in giving in to other powers in the country, who were too ready to flex their muscles: from the World Bank and Tribalism, to Idi Amin. The Church had the urgent task of developing the disciplines of exercising power because these are not automatic. 

But abdication of the exercise of power was not a moral option.  Abdication was as much an abuse of power as was the use of power to oppress others. 

Janani Luwum’s favourite Beatitude in this regard was Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure, the clean, in heart, for they shall see God.” 

This was the standard by which we should measure ourselves:

Blessed are those whose motives are absolutely unmixed, whose minds are utterly sincere, who are completely and totally single-minded, able to focus clearly on what is good.   

It was this clear focus and unswerving commitment to what was just which made him such a troublesome thorn in Amin’s side.  And eventually, as a result of Janani Luwum’s unswerving stance, Amin had him arrested and murdered. 

His martyrdom was a defining moment for me.  The day he died I resolved to be ordained, instead of returning to Uganda as a Reader in the Church of Uganda.  I said, “Amin kills a brother and we replace him at once.  I will be his replacement as a minister of the Gospel.”  

I was deeply moved to be present at the service when his statue was unveiled on the West front of Westminster Abbey as one of the 20th century Christian martyrs.  

Present at the service was a young woman I had helped when Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered; at that time she was just eight years old. After the service she presented me with this cross. At the back, it has the words of Oscar Romero, "Peace will flower when Love and Justce pervade our environment."

It is vital that we remember and honour those who fight for justice on behalf of the oppressed. For a society that loses its memory becomes senile. 

The names of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are familiar to all, whilst the martyrs of the Church such as Oscar Romero and Janini Luwum show us that following the teachings of Christ in the service of others may even cost our own life.  

How far away do such figures seem from those Christians ridiculed by the psychologists and sociologists for using their faith as a crutch.  Faith is not a crutch to lean on; it is the very act of leaning.  

It’s said that the arrival of Rameses’ statue in London in 1816 prompted the poet Shelley to write, Ozymandias about the remains of the statue of a mighty emperor:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

 Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

 Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

 Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

 The lone and level sands stretch far away.” 

An ancient tyrant.  Nothing of him now, except a shattered, unpleasant memory.  Eventually, that is how all dictators will end up when they have bitten the dust.

The vainglorious banners, statues and images of Hitler, Saddam Hussein and Gaddaffi, all in time adorn the gutter. Their vanity and misuse of power blinded them to the value and worth of human beings.

For human beings are of infinite worth intrinsically and human rights accrue to each one precisely and only because they are a human person. 

And from a religious perspective, if you treat yourself or others treat you as anything less than a stand-in for God, then it isn’t just wrong, it isn’t just evil, it isn’t just painful: it’s blasphemy. It is like spitting in the face of God. Put less religiously, it is like spitting in the face of humanity.  The face of your brother, your sister.

And that’s why we who are believers in God have no choice about our response; for injustice and oppression deny God’s creation; so not to resist injustice would be to disobey what God has called us to be. 

How far should we go in opposing tyranny?  On June 5th, 1989 in Tiananmen Square, a young man took his life in his hands by daring a tank column to run him down.  

In Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi has been equally brave but more cautious – virtually under house arrest from 1990 when her party won the election, but was denied power.  Now it seems the waiting may have paid off.  

The German Pastor, Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), was an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last 7 years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

He is best remembered for these words:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me. [5]

Another Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went further.  He took part in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, was caught and executed.

In all we do, we must face the challenging task of building a more just world, with the kind of courage shown by those we remember and honour tonight.  

In particular, I wish to salute Ben Freeth and his late Father-in-Law, Mike Campbell, for their courage in standing up to Robert Mugabe and his brutal regime. A dictator who has despoiled his country of its prosperity, who has impoverished, bullied, and butchered his own people, and who is still there.  

I pray that his present collaboration with the Chinese does not result in the surrender of the minerals and fertile land of Zimbabwe, which could restore that ravaged country.

Mugabe’s war of attrition against the Anglican Church continues – but it is his total disregard for the rule of law, his exploitation of power for personal gain, and the continued brutality of his regime, which offend most of all.  

In a way it was an easy thing to cut up my clerical collar on the Andrew Marr television show. I think of the hundreds of thousands who have suffered, the many who have been tortured, and the many who have died, even since then.  

The people of Zimbabwe have paid a high price. May God hear our prayer for peace and justice in that beautiful land.   May the present ‘basket-case’ become once again the breadbasket of Southern Africa. Please God come and free your people from slavery.

 Please Lord! Come quickly.


[1].     Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 3 April 1887, recorded in Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton (1904), Vol I, p.372

[2].     Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton (1904), Vol II, p.503

[3]     The Changing Law (1953)Baron Alfred Denning

[4] The Nichomachean Ethics, IV.6; The Virtue Concerned with Anger, (OUP e-book 15 Jul 2009) (paraphrase) Aristotle



[5] Martin Niemöller post-war lectures

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