William Shatner, whose career careened into brilliance when he played Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series, has of late become a TV commercial icon. Those of us who watched him in his sci-fi years wonder about this, but work is work after all. And, advertising is big business. Who are we to comment?
In contrast, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, nobel laureate and prominent member of The Elders, a group of global humanitarian leaders,
recently made a public video endorsing a product. The product in question is a song that can be downloaded on ITunes, Freedom for Palestine, by FreedomOneWorld. The Archbishop’s move is unusual, to say the least. Why would a clergyperson endorse a product? Is this a descent into advertising? Listen to Desmond Tutu’s remarks and see for yourself how the Archbishop uses his fame in championing human rights to come to the aid of Palestine. The Archbishop recognizes the work of artists throughout history in shaping public opinion by opening up public discourse and putting issues on the front burner. His comment is made, not for a fee, or for any kind of fame or glory, or to be employed, but because the Archbishop believes that the cause of human rights is worth coming out of retirement for.
The endorsement is not in contrast to his career, but in the context of it. Throughout his life, he has worked to reconcile oppressed and oppressor, to recognize and live the South African concept of Ubuntu, that each of us is a human being because of our shared and common humanity, and to recognize that the only way to freedom for one is for all to be free. Thus, his support of freedom for Palestine is expressly so that true liberation can come not only to Palestine but also to Israel. Only with justice available to all can peace that lasts be achieved.
On the other side of the issue, the song is being called propaganda by Glenn Beck, who issued an impassioned call to “anyone with talent” to respond to this threat. Beck is feeling threatened because the video is being endorsed by many artists and, most significantly, because it is being played and endorsed by “churches, yes, churches.”
Churches. We are called to engagement in the moral and the ethical, and this does not lead to quietism but to activity in the sphere of the world. As Mike Nicol wrote (in his biography of Tutu on page 19 of Believe. The Words and Inspiration of Desmond Tutu), ” in the 1980s during South African apartheid, Tutu “was not a political priest, rather a priest driven to politics” by the situation in which God had placed him. In endorsing the music video, Tutu is endorsing a Gospel rhythm of life in which God endorses, not occupation, but common human rights; not oppression, but our need for reconciliation; and not despair that leads to war, but the hope that eventually we will all see that “I am because we are.”
So check out the music video and see what you think.