Well, the wedding of the year has come and gone. The pomp and pageantry is starting to fade. And the Australian Republican movement is still trying to console itself after being royally done over yet again. But the thing that everyone seems to still be talking about is that sermon. Maybe I’m showing my age, but it was like a scene straight out of The Blues Brothers – except, mercifully, James Brown didn’t go on as long as Bishop Michael Curry did.
Curry is, without doubt, an excellent communicator with one particular conservative commentator noting that Curry’s sermon ‘has fast become the most talked-about homily (for that is what it actually was) in the history of preaching.’ Some of his more memorable lines were as follows:
This love, this is the way of Jesus. And it’s the game changer…
Imagine our homes and families when this way of love is the way…
Imagine our governments and countries when love is the way…
No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that…
Poverty would become history in such a world as that…
We would learn how to lay our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more…
There would be a new heaven, a new earth, a new world…
All of this is passionate and inspiring stuff—especially in contrast to the British stoicism of the Royal family—but it’s really quite vacuous. Because for all of the repetitions of the word love, Curry never actually defines what he means. And it’s an eternity from what the Bible itself actually teaches. The Beatles sang “All you need is love”, but that didn’t put an end to poverty or bring about world peace. And they claimed to be even more popular than Jesus!
Putting all the alliterations and African-American ‘soul’ theatrics to one side, the content of Curry’s sermon has not only captured, but also divided, public opinion. On the one hand, Miranda Devine quite legitimately pointed out that it was a shrewd ecclesiastical exercise in Leftist identity politics. But on the other hand, Michael Jensen, argued that it was essentially orthodox, even if he did neglect to clearly articulate the most basic of Christian essentials. Whereas David Ould described it as something similar to a ‘car crash’. And then there was hard driving Jeremy Clarkson, who was just grateful that it all eventually came to an end, tweeting:
Clearly, this was a homily that not only divided public opinion but also among those within the Christianity. For instance, there were those, such as Ravi Zacharias, who saw it as being one of the greatest presentations of the Gospel ever given:
The message preached by Bishop Michael Curry was extraordinary. Few speakers in the world can match the eloquence and passion of the African-American preacher. One is riveted to every word. I believe a wounded person and a wounded culture tells of the wounded Saviour the best. The world heard the gospel that day. Thank you, Bishop Curry.
However, not everyone was as effusive in their appreciation or praise. Andrew Goss, Director of Communications at Anglican Church in North America, posted on social media the following—extremely enlightening—warning:
The guy who talked about “love” from that English pulpit is currently litigating Christians with whom he disagrees.
The guy who talks about the “Jesus movement” took the church buildings and defrocked those who stood up for the Gospel.
I wouldn’t expect you to know all this. You saw a charismatic delivery in an English cathedral and you thought it was cool; a sign of progress and multi-culturalism in a global age.
You were being played.
Probably the most insightful critique of all, though, came from the Queen’s own former chaplain, Rev. Dr Gavin Ashenden, who diplomatically summed up the whole oration as ‘Christianity-lite’. Ashenden wrote:
It was a piece de resistance example of the vacuous variety of faith which Richard Niebuhr so forensically described as consisting of, “A God without wrath who brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”
Ashenden’s critique really does get to the very heart of the matter in that Curry’s sermon was a classic presentation of liberal Christianity – ‘liberal’ in the theologically progressive, rather than the politically conservative sense of the term. The American theologian, J Gresham Machen explained it like this:
The modern liberal preacher reverences Jesus; he has the name of Jesus forever on his lips; he speaks of Jesus as the supreme revelation of God; he enters, or tries to enter, into the religious life of Jesus. But he does not stand in a religious relation to Jesus. Jesus for him is an example for faith, not the object of faith. The modern liberal tries to have faith in God like the faith which he supposes Jesus had in God; but he does not have faith in Jesus.
This is Bishop Curry’s modus operandi. As David Roberston observed, Curry is more than happy to talk about Jesus, God and the Bible—55 times in fourteen minutes in fact!—but it’s the essential goodness of ‘mankind’ which is still the focus. In a subsequent article, Ashenden believes that this nothing less than a ‘struggle for the soul of the church’:
There is a civil war raging at the moment in Anglicanism (and elsewhere) between progressive Christianity that takes its priorities from the zeitgeist, the present culture, and a faithful orthodox belief, that keeps faith with what Jesus taught in the Gospels.
Sadly, this is not just the struggle within Anglicanism but, as Miranda Devine points out, the Roman Catholic Church has been progressively taken over by the left as well. What’s more, Greg Sheridan has persuasively argued that the loss of belief in orthodox Christian doctrine is not just a ‘religious’ problem, but one that ‘penetrates to the heart of the civilizational crisis afflicting the West’. This is because as places, such as Europe, continue to deny their religious heritage, abandoning their Christian beliefs, they are ‘being subsumed into debilitating entropy, a disorder of public affairs stemming from a disorder of the soul’.
Tragically, this is precisely what we witnessed is the wedding sermon for Harry and Meghan. It focused on the ethical fruit of Christianity while being ironically divorced from the theological roots which gives it life: the death of Christ for those who are utterly unworthy of His love. And the fact that so few people observed, let alone were concerned about this, demonstrates just how weakened Western civilisation, and especially the Church universal, has become.
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
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