Nelson Mandela said that “Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless.” Tutu speaks with such moral clarity and generosity of spirit because he also speaks for a capacious God who created all people in God’s image and loves us all, yet has a special love for the marginalized.
The biblical story is in part one of displacement, exile, and pilgrimage. But there must be a settled location from which to be displaced and from which to go on pilgrimage. Biblical faith is, after all, incarnational: Jesus came to a specific place and time. Though sent out to the world, the apostles went to particular places like Antioch, Corinth, and Rome.
During his only visit to America, theologian Karl Barth in 1962 visited three prisons: Bridewell House of Correction in Chicago, San Quentin in California, and Rikers Island in New York. He called Bridewell “Dante’s inferno on earth” and said it was a contradiction of the wonderful message on the Statue of Liberty. Barth wondered aloud why theologians weren’t denouncing the deplorable conditions in American prisons, calling out Reinhold Niebuhr in particular (Jessica DeCou, “The First Community: Barth’s American Prison Tours,” in Karl Barth and the Making of Evangelical Theology, Eerdmans).