Black folklore has it that, descending from African Portuguese heritage, Princess Sophie Charlotte married King George III of England in 1761 to become the first Black Queen of England and Ireland. But in living memory, British monarchy has been lily white. So, when a mixed-heritage racialised-as-black Meghan Markle – born to an African-American mother and Dutch-Irish father – marries Caucasian Prince Harry, sixth in line to the British monarchy, the stage is set for extraordinary things.
And the Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church wasn’t going to let this opportunity go to waste.
A descendant of enslaved African ancestors, he had been handed the opportunity to preach about the virtue of love to an estimated audience of two billion – including the British monarchy, which was in no small way implicated in the history of African enslavement and exploitation.
As a preacher, I envied Bishop Curry’s opportunity. And I was also curious: how would he play it?
Ordained over 40 years ago, the Bishop is highly skilled in the art of the black preacher: the use of the body, rhythmic repetitions, call and response to convey his theological message. He used it to powerful effect.
Taking his text from a love poem in the Song of Solomon that is rarely read in churches, his intention was to persuade us that “There is power in love”.
What Peterson shares with Pelagius
Time and again we heard him emphasise the power of love; love is the balm in Gilead that his enslaved ancestors sang about as a rebuke to their enslavers; love is not self-serving but self-sacrificing; love is the way; sacrificial love is redemptive; the discovery that harnessed love is as powerful as harnessed fire could change the course of human history; imagine a world of love rooted in the source of love – God.
It was an erudite, theological tour de force. It brought as witnesses Old and New Testament references, popular historical figures such as Martin Luther King and arcane ones such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
But there was more going on too. Let us not underestimate the political dimensions of his sermon. He clearly relished this opportunity to preach truth to colonial power. The bride and groom were the mere catalyst.
And rumour has it that someone else was playing politics too. It has been suggested that it wasn’t Harry and Meghan who chose Curry to preach, but the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Episcopal Church is, after all, part of the Anglican Communion. It is also one of very few churches in the Communion to accept same-sex marriage. It’s the radical part of the family.
Bishop Curry is an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage too. And the Anglican Communion is in a bit of a mess over same-sex marriage. Could it have been the Archbishop’s idea, perhaps, to encourage a black American preacher supportive of this new world thinking to tell two billion citizens of the world that “all kinds of love” is of God because God is love?
Such a wedding would be the perfect opportunity to encourage progressive change in the Communion. This diverse modern couple aren’t simply of the establishment – they are the establishment. And they are about to freshen it up.
Inevitably, conservative Evangelicals and Pentecostals have gone on the offensive. Attempting to discredit Curry’s progressive, theo-political ideas, they have charged him with misappropriating scripture, tearing love from its ethical moorings. Some have been quick to point out that he didn’t mention “man and wife” once in the 14-minute sermon. But might they be over-reacting?
Moved by the Spirit: the phenomenal rise of Pentecostalism
What is undeniable is that Bishop Curry is an outstanding preacher who gave an excellent account of himself last Saturday on a stage that would be intimidating for many a preacher (even if he did over-run).
What is also undeniable is that love of God and of neighbour is at the heart of the Christian message, and when such a stunning preacher as Bishop Curry plies his craft, even royalty should tune in. Those who go to bed hungry tonight will thank Bishop Curry for reminding two billion of us last Saturday, rich and poor, that there is power in love. And that when love is the way, poverty will be history and no child will go to bed hungry.
Let us imagine and work towards a world like that.