Bishop Michael Curry: from royal wedding to White House protest

The current bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, had quite the busy week. Last Saturday he spoke, dare I say entertained, during the royal wedding of Prince Harry and his biracial American bride, Meghan Markle. His sermon performance left most of the extended royal family and stodgy British guests at times both startled and bemused. It is safe to say Harry and Meghan’s wedding was like no other royal wedding. This was not Harry’s brother’s wedding.

I readily admit I love royal weddings. The formal ceremonies are, well, majestic. Meghan Markle brought the real world of 2018 into her ceremony. She’s a divorced actress with a history of liberal social justice warrior activism. Her choice of Bishop Curry, the first African American to serve in this capacity, signaled her desire to leave her mark on the royal family. As with every aspect of our American lives today, it seems, Markle brought politics into her wedding.

Bishop Curry’s message was as you would expect for a wedding with a focus on love but it also heavily focused on politics. His style of in-your-face politics was a big detour from a traditional formal wedding.

“Imagine governments and nations where love is the way,” Most Rev. Curry said. “Imagine this tired old world when love is the way — when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive! … When love is the way, poverty will become history.” He cited Martin Luther King, Jr. explicitly several times, and alluded to the same passages in Amos — “let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” — that King famously cited.

Curry has a history of political activism. So, just a few days out from his wedding appearance, he was at the White House protesting President Trump. Curry led a candlelight vigil service to protest “a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership.” In Trump’s America, left-wing activists enjoy promoting the narrative of a new wave of racism in Trump’s governance.

“It’s like somebody woke up Jim Crow,” Curry told CNN in an interview before the Thursday evening service, “and said let’s not just segregate Americans over race, let’s separate people along religious and political and class lines, too.”

The bishop insisted his activism is non-partisan, declining to criticize President Donald Trump by name. “We are not here to point fingers,” he said before the service, “we are here to lend a helping hand.”

Likewise, the Rev. Jim Wallis, a veteran evangelical activist and key organizer of the “Reclaiming Jesus” movement behind Thursday’s event, insisted that Jesus, not Trump, was the group’s central focus.

Still Curry and the other Christian leaders at Thursday’s service are clearly unhappy with the political status quo, particularly what they see as the rise in white nationalism, sexism and political language that “debases” the “most vulnerable children of God,” including immigrants and refugees.

Jim Crow? That is so deeply offensive to those of us old enough to remember our lives in the deep South and actually seeing signs that read “Whites Only” in windows and at water fountains. Today’s America is so far removed from those days that this kind of extreme speech is simply a theatrical gesture. It’s just wrong. This is divisive talk, not unifying.

The candlelight vigil was a part of events held “to draw attention to a sharply worded statement” issued by past and present Christian leaders.

In its 2,321 words, the statement never mentions Trump by name, but its aim is clear: to urge Christians who have aligned with the administration to reconsider their political alliances.

“We believe two things are at stake: the soul of the nation, and the integrity of faith,” the statement reads. “It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else — nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography — our identity in Christ precedes every other identity.”

So, the left has a new hero in Bishop Curry. The religious left wants to take back the narrative from the religious right. Curry is carefully wording his protests, er, vigils and hoping to fill the pews with a renewed lefty political appeal.

Judging from the event Thursday, which had been scheduled long before the royal wedding, Curry thinks he can thread a pretty thin needle. Every religion poll shows that Americans pulling back from affiliated life are often fed up with what they see as too much mixing of partisan politics and faith. But often that’s the GOP they’re talking about, polls show. Now Curry and a host of popular progressive Christian clergy want to march up to the White House, preach about lies and blocked refugees and white supremacy, and draw a neat line saying it’s not “political.”

Anyone using the word “march,” was quickly corrected by Curry or his staff. Yet even if the program and speakers never used the word “Trump,” the president and the negative forces unleashed by the 2016 election were all over the hour-long service.

The events Thursday spun out of the work of a group of top progressive Christian clergy, including Curry.

Mike McCurry, former press secretary to Bill Clinton, acknowledged the message is political from the left.

Mike McCurry, who served as President Bill Clinton’s press secretary and now runs the Center for Public Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary, said he thought the Obama presidency years saw a dip in activism because the left controlled the White House and took on the mind-set of insider.

The election of Trump has pumped huge energy into the religious left, with a lot of agreement that topics like protecting immigrants and the environment and fighting white supremacy are core expressions of Christian justice.

Yes. Funny how the eight years of Barack Obama brought silence from America’s Christian left. Not political at all? Right.