Desmond Tutu, the South African Anglican bishop and theologian known for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist, died on Sunday, December 26, 2021. In honor of his life, here are 15 impactful Desmond Tutu quotes for us to reflect on:


1. “If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”


2. “I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid.”


3. “I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.”


4. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”


5. “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”


6. “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”


7. “God is not upset that Gandhi was not a Christian, because God is not a Christian! All of God’s children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God.”


8. “Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.”


9. “All the United States, it is a society that is split like to the bottom, that had very poor people in the country that is one of the wealthiest countries.”


10. “Universal education is not only a moral imperative but an economic necessity, to pave the way toward making many more nations self-sufficient and self-sustaining.”


11. “Children are a wonderful gift. They have an extraordinary capacity to see into the heart of things and to expose sham and humbug for what they are.”


12. “My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I’m sick or in good health, whether I’m in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am.”


13. “Be nice to whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity.”


14. “God’s love is too great to be confined to any one side of a conflict or to any one religion.”


15. “Before Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962, he was an angry, relatively young man. He founded the ANC’s military wing. When he was released, he surprised everyone because he was talking about reconciliation and forgiveness and not about revenge.”


Some of these quotes may have made you feel uncomfortable. I would encourage you to take time to reflect, pray, and be curious about them. If you ask me, it’s a great way to honor the life and works of the late Desmond Tutu.


-Written by Kyle Fox, BSPC Marketing and Communications Manager

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  1. Betty Lou Stull January 6, 2022 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    These are memorable quotations from a great man. They are worthy of our reflection.

  2. Nancy Hobe January 6, 2022 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    I liked them all, but 7 and 13 are my favorites.

  3. Betty Lou Stull January 6, 2022 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Agreed, Nancy. I would add 15. Transformation can occur even in prison!

  4. Darnell Heywood January 6, 2022 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    Thank you for posting this. I have been hungry for more reflection and time to think about Desmond Tutu. This is my second time reading them today.

  5. beth malchus January 6, 2022 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    T and I saw him in Columbus. I remembered how down to earth he was even though I saw him as a rock star…..

    I am so glad Pizza and Prose read The Book on Joy. ″ ‘How are we?’ This understanding sees that someone else’s achievements or happiness is a very real way our own. So rejoicing in others’ good fortune really brings a lot of positive benefits.” I come back to this quote a lot…

  6. Debbie January 8, 2022 at 10:49 am - Reply

    I began my New Year with a prayer by Tutu from his African Prayer Book. He calls me forward.

    Disturb us, Lord
    when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
    when our dreams have come true
    because we dreamed too little,
    because we sailed too close to the shore.
    Disturb us, Lord
    when with the abundance of things we possess,
    we have lost our thirst for the water of life
    when, having fallen in love with time,
    we have ceased to dream of eternity
    and in our efforts to build a new earth,
    we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.
    Stir us, Lord
    to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
    where storms show your mastery,
    where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

    In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
    and invited the brave to follow. Amen

  7. Rosemary Tolliver January 9, 2022 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    And I’m back… I was curious to see what other Broadstreeters might say about these, and I’m grateful for all the comments above. The older I get, the bigger God gets — and Desmond Tutu has given us words for some of the stuff in my head and heart.

  8. Lynn Coons January 12, 2022 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    Kyle, I just saw this blog and I’m most grateful for it! Tutu expresses many things that I have come to believe with age. Our God is so much bigger than we humans can fathom! One question though with regard to 9. I’m struggling with the language. I think I get the gist of the quote, but it’s not we’ll-written. Might there be some words missing?

  9. Martha Campbell January 19, 2022 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    Many years ago I was active in Presbyterian Women when they had Triennial Meetings at one or another of the state universities. Desmond Tutu who was in the midst of his anti apartheid work actually agreed to come to that meeting at Purdue University. Amazingly I found myself walking outside during a break and beside me was Desmond Tutu. I have no idea what I said to him, but he was congenial and responsive. I hope he grasped that I was 100% supportive.
    P.S. Presbyterian Women were a powerhouse back then.

  10. Barbara Richter November 20, 2022 at 10:49 am - Reply

    I was at the Triennial of Presbyterian Women the year Desmond Tutu spoke. It was a powerful experience and felt blessed being there. I was there also when Madeline L’Engle was our keynote speaker. It was another moving and powerful triennial. Does anyone remember what years each occurred?

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