More than 600 people gathered at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, in New York City on October 19 for a panel discussion with Nobel Peace laureate and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, and his former press secretary, South African journalist John Allen.
The topic of the discussion centered around Allen's newly released biography about Tutu, "Rabble-Rouser for Peace." Moderated by Dateline NBC correspondent and Trinity Church member, John Hockenberry, the discussion was webcast live and is archived for on-demand streaming at Trinity Church's website.
In recounting his relationship with Tutu, Allen said: "I have never described myself as the Archbishop's spokesperson...always spoke for himself. Anybody who knows him even slightly would be quite clear on whether this person could be manipulated by a white person in the background."
Allen described meeting Tutu in 1976 and being drawn in by his passion and compassion and his extraordinary capacity to reach out and communicate with white South Africans.
He acknowledged Tutu's commitment to nonviolent action during the Apartheid years in South Africa. "You confront violent people without weapons and your confrontation draws out their violence," he said, crediting that approach to what eventually rallied the international community to oppose the South African government.
Tutu talked of his struggle with the South African government and warned Christians to be cautious about designating a religion as being violent. "The Christian faith has been responsible for some of the most horrendous atrocities and we who are Christians ought to be a great deal more modest," he said. He concluded with the Prayer of St. Francis, which he recited in English and then in Swahili.
The Rev. Dr. James Cooper, rector of Trinity Church-St. Paul's Chapel, presented Tutu with a birthday cake on behalf of the congregation. The audience then sang "Happy Birthday" in recognition of the archbishop's 75th birthday earlier this month.
In 1986, after Tutu was elected Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Allen became his press secretary and later accompanied Tutu in 1996 when he became chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In 1998, Allen managed Tutu's office at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta for two years.
Allen also served from 2000 to 2004 as director of communications at Trinity Church, Wall Street, where he was instrumental in assisting the leadership of the parish during and after the terrorist attacks on September 11. He returned to South Africa in 2004 to write the authorized biography of Tutu.
A video stream of the conversation with Archbishop Tutu and John Allen is available here and a separate interview with John Allen is available here.
John Allen will also be speaking at The Cathedral College of Washington National Cathedral on Thursday, October 26.