He became the first black person to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa on September 7, 1986.
Tutu believes the treatment of Palestinians by the Jewish state of Israel is a form of apartheid (). He has repeatedly called upon the Israeli government to respect the human dignity of the Palestinian people, whether Muslim or Christian.
He has also criticised human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, calling Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe a "caricature of an African dictator", and criticising the South African government's policy of quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe.
Commenting days after the August 5, 2003 The Episcopal Church gay bishop ordination, Desmond Tutu said that he does not see what "all the fuss" is about: "For us [the Anglican Church in South Africa] that doesn't make a difference, the sexual orientation."