Royal Wedding

May 19, 2018

Royal Wedding & Episcopal Love

The royal wedding, in hymn, liturgy, prayers and sermon, in a gorgeous chapel, presented a beautiful picture of Christianity to hundreds of millions of viewers, for which thank God. Also thank Him that the British monarchy and established church, at their best, encapsulate transcendent decency and godly order in an always needful world.

The wedding homily from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church justifiably has earned rave reviews for compelling delivery and a love-soaked message very appropriate for a wedding, royal or otherwise. He was quite soaring in his vision of love’s power:

Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. 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.

Love when understood as divine power is indeed a mighty force for transformation. Curry’s vision of a fully redeemed earth without poverty or war is traditionally understood by the church as an eschatological event consummated by God Himself, not achieved by the power of human love.

A former Chaplain to the Queen offered this critique:

And over against Bishop Curry’s great sales pitch, only a few will hear and consent to be transformed. Only a few will follow and find the pearl of great price. The others will demand utopia on their own terms, and will tragically fall into a dystopia of distress, a world where their longings increase in addictive appetite and the become longings that are never and can never be satisfied.

Yes, Bishop Curry, as St. John wrote, God is love. But unlike you, St. John defines Love and shows us that it is a longing and meeting of longing that travels the way of the cross, the way of renunciation.

Many have acclaimed Curry’s sermon for offering a positive alternative to more conservative Christianity. But these celebrants may forget that Curry’s denomination is literally dying, as are all liberal Protestant communions that share its theology of amorphous love without judgment.

Curry’s sermon used the term “unconditional love,” a phrase developed and popularized by psychologist Carl Rogers, as Methodist theologian Thomas Oden recalled from the 1960s:

At the same time I was writing on the uncharted theme of unconditional acceptance, a theme I found in Carl Rogers. I argued that it was a fitting description of the forgiving God, and that unconditional love corresponded directly with commonly acknowledged assumptions in effective psychotherapy.

Soon I began to hear the phrase unconditional love on the lips of homilists and priests as applied to God… The phrase quickly entered into the common vocabulary of psychological literature, sermons and books, especially for pastoral writers struggling to find ways of making God’s forgiveness plausible…

Carelessly, I had invited pastors and theologians to equate the unconditional positive regard that had proven to be a reliable condition of effective psychotherapy with God’s unconditional forgiving love for humanity.

In doing so, I had absentmindedly and unfortunately disregarded all those powerful biblical admonitions on divine judgment and the need for admonition in pastoral care. Few of these homilists mentioned the wrath of God against sin as Jesus did.

I had drifted toward a Christ without a cross and a conversion without repentance. It still makes me wince to hear sermons today about God’s unconditional love that are not qualified by any admonition concerning the temptation to permissiveness.

There may have been aspects of Curry’s sermon that caused carefully listening traditionalists to wince. Yet the Gospel’s power is such that even kernels of it can save and transform. Let’s hope such kernels, sumptuously wrapped, were transmitted globally by the royal wedding.

15 Responses to Royal Wedding & Episcopal Love

  1. Christoph Klaiber says:

    Well, Curry’s eschatology was chiliastic postmillenialism. You can critisize that as naive and unscriptural. (But keep in mind the old John Wesley put it quite the same way and saw Methodism as beginning of an eschatological movement of the Holy Spirit, which would ultimately transform the world into a Christian world and the kingdom of God).
    But you can’t say Curry didn’t define this love. He did, defined it with christology. First he grounded it in the teaching of Jesus, and then just in the centre of the sermon he pointed us to the cross: That was his point in citing the spiritual “Balm in Gilead”: “If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, just tell the love of Jesus, who died to save us all!” And then he goes on to talk about the cross. OK, he speaks more about liberation through the cross and the global implications of Jesus’ death, not so much about atonement of individual sins. But he speaks about the redemptive power of the Cross, and that in a way, people can understand. And that is much more Christology and Theology of the Cross than in most wedding adresses, be they liberal or evangelical.

  2. Beth Ann Cook says:

    I’m not a fan of TEC or Curry’s theology but I praise God for this sermon. Millions–perhaps billions–heard Jesus Christ crucified. There is a balm in Gilead.

  3. Richard Hyde says:

    Great quote: “I had absentmindedly and unfortunately disregarded all those powerful biblical admonitions on divine judgment and the need for admonition in pastoral care. Few of these homilists mentioned the wrath of God against sin as Jesus did.” You have accurately characterized a lot of sentimentality that issues from liberal pulpits and psychotherapeutic institutes. Indeed, one may wonder what the difference is.

  4. Betty Newman says:

    “Yet the Gospel’s power is such that even kernels of it can save and transform”. Or as we say in the South, “Even a blind hog can find an acorn every once in a while…”

  5. Greg says:

    Me thinks we can overthink this. This was a wedding. He was talking directly to the couple first, then to royalty, and then to the world. What a better topic (Song of Solomon 8:6–14 don’t forget) and what a good way to present a solid Biblical concept without even using I Corinthians 13! (although it was implied) I tend to give fellow preachers the benefit of the doubt on these things, so instead of chastising literally from the cheap seats, as some have done, I’ll just say thank you Bishop Currie for the effort and for reminding us all of God’s love in a way that will be remembered, unlike most of my sermons which are quickly forgotten.

  6. N. Sensustricto says:

    Everything that comes from TEC is b——t.

  7. RevErn says:

    Decent, however does it give support for the celebration and promotion of sin from the pulpit? Light on truth and holiness? Overdose of love n Grace? Final answer: Ye must be born again! Great time and place. God save the Queen. God save not so Great Britain.

  8. Let TEC show some of that love towards the thousands who wish to leave that church and preach against their heretical views on Christ’s teachings.

  9. Let TEC show some of that “love” to the thousands who wish to leave that church and worship a truer vision of Christ and his teachings without have to wade through the state’s judicial process to do so in peace.

  10. Mark Flegel says:

    Unlike many others who heap praises on Bishop Curry’s sermon, I consider the Archbishops readings to the couple from the Book of Common Prayer to be much more to the point of encouraging them to understand and accept the profundity and responsibilities of a Christian marriage. It stressed the importance of family and the responsibilities there of. I could go on, suffice it to say the Archbishop’s words were point on. Bishop Curry’s sermon could be for any audience anywhere. In my mind it was not directed to the wedding couple, not personal. No mention of family, etc. I considered it to be far more humanistic than Christian based. And what was all that about Fire? Was that an intended tangent by the bishop or simply rambling?

  11. Jay Haug says:

    I was pretty positive about his remarks. However, he did not address how love can overcome the conflicts, wounds and misunderstandings that naturally occur in a long marriage. It lacked specifics and examples of the redemptive power of forgiveness.

  12. David Gingrich says:

    “But if you want to be popular, don’t invite the people to renunciation. And Bishop Curry didn’t. But Jesus did.” Wow. Gavin Ashenden’s essay is powerful. Thank you for the link.

    • Diane H Munoz says:

      Thanks for sharing this link- powerful and more clearly presented than anything I’ve read recently. Grateful.

  13. Frank Brown says:

    Dr. Oden’s wise words may be summarized thusly:

    Unconditional love DOES NOT EQUAL unconditional approval.

    If they were equivalent, unanswerable questions abound about God’s wisdom and justice in regard to the cruel crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

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