Why Bishop Curry’s Royal Wedding Message is a Game Changer

The head of the Episcopal Church channeled Martin Luther King, Jr. with his fiery presentation of the modern Jesus Movement and the power of love

May 19, 2018 · 6 min read

Y’all, I’m tired of the headlines. I’m worn down by the tragedies and the lies. I’m socially isolated in the real world while I’m smiling all over the place in the virtual one. I’m cynical about displays of wealth and pomp and circumstance on a planet so topsy-turvy with inequality. Every day, I wring my hands and yearn endlessly––for peace, healing, and connection.

But I watched a video of the Royal Wedding just now, and I’ve got to tell you, I heard the Good News today.

Before I explain why Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry to American actress Meghan Markle holds the key to creating positive change around the globe, I want you to understand where I’m coming from.

During our lifetimes in America, religion has often been often used as a tool of division and hate. I grew up as an Episcopalian in a smallish Southern U.S. city, and although my childhood was idyllic in many ways, outside of my own church and inner circle I witnessed how religion was being used to manipulate and separate people based on fear and judgment rather than acceptance and love.

I was approached by adults in public several times throughout my later childhood and was told I was going to hell if I didn’t wear skirts instead pants. Or if I listened to “the devil’s music” instead of the local religious radio station. The very first time I was allowed to walk around the mall by myself for a few minutes (I must have been ten or eleven), two people purportedly affiliated with a “university” in town cornered me on a bench in the mall and peppered me with questions about my purchases (I think my Record Bar bag contained some 45s including Chic, Sugar Hill Gang, and Blondie), and told me all the reasons I was going to hell. Sometimes friendly acquaintances and street pastors with bullhorns would hand out pamphlets called tracts, with cartoons depicting the comical torture and death of souls who hadn’t been saved. Some people used a bible as a weapon and a whipping switch rather than an inspiration or companion for living. Women couldn’t hold leadership roles in certain churches, and black people were expected to worship only on their side of town. Although I experienced far too much hell-talk by various factions in my hometown, these attitudes about religion were NOT taught to me by my parents or my Montessori school teachers who hailed from New Zealand and Sri Lanka, and certainly not by the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Curry’s message this morning got me thinking about how grateful I am for my loving family and for their decision to join the Episcopal Church when I was a baby. While many churches are defined by what they refuse, what they dismiss, and what they cast away, I like to think this church is defined by what it accepts. People have asked me all of the time: What does the Episcopal Church stand for? If it doesn’t exclude the LGBTQ community, doesn’t shun divorcees, doesn’t condemn other faiths, doesn’t reject refugees, and instead works on race relations, welcomes women to the highest ranks, and believes in the sanctity of life along with the need to dismantle the death penalty and provide medical interventions to save the lives of pregnant women who have been raped, experienced incest or are at risk of death, then how can it be “Christian”? I could find a list of bible verses over which to argue, but instead, I’ll just say this: Episcopalians believe in love.

In a week filled with horrific school shootings and hateful political ads, I am grateful for the Episcopal Church’s Bishop Michael Curry and his boundaryless message about the redemptive power of love .

This morning inside St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in England, he brought the modern Jesus Movement to the world with biblical and historical context, a waving of hands, and fiery oration reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches. He looked out across a sea of fascinators and priceless suits, and asked us to imagine a world where love is not only the answer, but where love is the way. He said, “Don’t underestimate the power of love, and don’t over-sentimentalize it.” His words cleared a path for us to come together, to believe in redemption and forgiveness, and to be united across borders––in love. In an era of hate, his message was radical:

Bishop Curry said: “Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive. When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an everflowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down, down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.”

In the pews, Oprah kept cool; Elton John tried to hide his emotion; and David Beckham giggled and beamed as if he might fall out into the spirit. The groom, Harry, wiped his cheeks and nose (where was the royal hankie?), and the bride, Meghan, never took her wide gaze off the preacher, as if she were thinking, “I am present, this is part of who I am as an American. I will never again forget this feeling––of acceptance, of a past wiped clean, of a future bright, of my role to influence and to enhance, of my responsibility to God and to love.” That may not be accurate, of course, but we should never dismiss the possibilities in the twinkle of an eye.

I’m not in church every Sunday. I’ve struggled with the meaning of faith at a time when truth is subjective and the biggest bullies on every screen claim to be the biggest Christians, too. I am a Southerner who left the South years ago to escape the shadow of racism and backwardness only to realize that the darkness of human nature and my own misconceptions and regionalism would follow me to the streets of Manhattan and beyond. I returned home to try to make things better. To find common ground. In the past two years, amidst family health issues, the war on my field of journalism, the chaos of the world, the surrealism of the global political forum, and a hell of a lot of soul-searching, I still continue to believe in the power of love. And in spite of being told by two strangers decades ago that I’d go to hell for loving popular music, music has continued to lead me to God in lyrics that celebrate love: The Beatles’ All You Need is Love, Stevie Wonder’s Love’s in Need of Love Today, U2’s Love is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way, and Marvin Gaye’s God is Love are just a few examples.

I know that nothing feels authentic in the world right now, and rhetoric ––whether it’s a preacher on TV or my writing this essay––can seem empty. But I also know that the doors of the Episcopal Church and many other kinds of houses of worship and community organizations are open for you and for me whenever we decide to show up. But we don’t have to be inside the four walls of an institution to share simple acts of love and kindness every day. Hearing Bishop Curry’s sermon on love reminds us that the earth is small and we are all neighbors and family. Your brother and sister are within reach. Love them.

Kristi York Wooten

Written by

I write about music, human rights, and global health for publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and others.

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