In the recent Royal Wedding, the sermon Bishop Michael Curry preached, walked a fine line. Although his message was hampered by it, the message he delivered wasn’t riddled with the social gospel, nor did it replace Jesus as the Gospel.[i]
While I make note of the fact that Michael Curry has no problem with Same-Sex marriage, and I stand in difference of opinion with him on this matter, I take no issue with him here because of it. What I will aim to take issue with is the ideological reasoning that hampers the interpretation of what was espoused by Curry in his sermon.
Other than witnessing his obvious joy in being there, the highlight for me was his emphasis on God’s redemptive love – which is the essential framework of the Gospel. Curry preached that God’s redemptive love is what saves and transforms. Curry was right to centre his message on this.
Curry could have, however, made a clearer distinction between God’s love and human love, thereby avoiding any blurring of the qualitative distinction between God and humanity.
Hence there are caveats to how we should receive, and why we should test the message Michael Curry delivered.
The first caveat is to keep in mind that God’s love cannot be confused with human definitions of love. God communicates to us about love. It is received and up to us to respond to that Word spoken in both God’s command and deed. Second, love cannot define itself whether from the ground up or horizontally between two people, and, third, we must not deify our neighbour by confusing our love for God, with our love for others. A relationship exists between the two, but ‘they are not identical’ (Karl Barth)[ii].
The side point to this is that we must and should maintain a distance between human triumphalism (a display of self-centred – self-sustaining human pride), and God’s free and decisive triumph on our behalf (display of His love which included His humiliation), in Jesus Christ[iii].
In Jesus Christ, God made a way for man and woman, together[iv], to be with Him[v]. This is God’s redemptive love; that He should become one of us to do for us, what we were unable to do for ourselves. Usurping this only entertains the great primal evil that set primitive humanity on its path to total self-annihilation in the first place. As Curry pointed out, God paid the price for our sins.
Tyranny enters the door where man and woman look to themselves, or nature for a redeeming love – a revelation of love – outside God’s redeeming love – His loving act on behalf of creation, as activated and active, in both Covenant and His revelation in Jesus Christ. Love cannot transform anything without the Holiness of God’s grace.
Looking for redeeming love outside God was the great crime of the majority of Christians in Germany, who, in the 1930s, led astray by natural theology, looked to Hitler as a second revelation of God. An heretical toxicity epitomised in the 1935 film ,’Triumph of the Will’ by Nazi sympathizer, Leni Riefenstahl.
The triumph of God is counter to any and all human triumphalism, because the latter seeks to place man on God’s throne and take His power for ourselves. This is a futile attempt to take the Kingdom and boot God out of it. While we can reject God, we cannot reverse what God has already done – atonement for sin; reconciliation with God, salvation. Nor can we reject God without facing the consequences of rejecting His grace towards us. God triumphant means that human triumph exists only in and through God’s triumph[vi].The Moon cannot produce life, the way that the Sun can.
Double-standards and hypocrisy are inconsistent with love. True love walks hand-in-hand with self-limitation; grace with self-denial. Ergo, pride is the enemy of grace.
Take, for example, the many who in 2016 were quick to make a sordid equivalence between American Evangelical support for Donald Trump, and the support of German Christians for Hitler. They failed to show patience (love) and grace, and in turn failed (and still fail) to see the “German Christian” equivalence of their own support for altars draped in rainbow flags; the misuse of Scripture employed to fortify an ideology, the imposition of new cultural laws, the banning of books with the same fierce fanaticism as when ‘student groups at universities across Germany carried out a series of book burnings of works that the students and leading Nazi party members associated with an “un-German spirit.”[vii]; both professional and public punishment for anyone who doesn’t fall in agreement with the party-line.
If we’re to follow the example of Martin Luther King Jnr, as quoted by Michael Curry, those who unreasonably hate on Donald Trump, should be asking themselves, do these words apply to my treatment of the President of the United States? Yet, how many instead thought to themselves “gee, all these rich people – especially Trump, SOOOO need to hear this!! #resist“? Even if Trump has, how many asking this latter question have failed to practice love for God and love for neighbour?
It’s only through God’s love that we come to see ourselves as equals; equally a sinner in the hands of a loving God, who seeks not the death of the sinner, but his and her correction, through both His firm “yes” and gracious “no” to them.
These caveats apply to both those who are criticising and praising Michael Curry. Removing love from the context of God’s redemptive love removes the context of love from its rightful place. To leave out God; thus ejecting the theology of his talk about love, rips the heart out of the message. Akin to the same poor decision of screenwriters, who decided that their silver-screen adaptation of P.D James’, ‘Children of Men, didn’t need the theological backbone, which held her brilliant dystopian novel together. What is left is an empty shell, with the same lame laughable substance as is found in ‘Idiocracy’.
In sum, God is at the centre of love because God is love. Curry could have been more careful with his words, so as to avoid God’s redemptive love being misinterpreted as man’s redemptive love; so as to avoid sound bites being used to fortify an ideology that theology doesn’t fortify, but in fact confronts.
That, God is at the centre of salvation, means that God is the centre of redemptive love. Love alone doesn’t save us, the Creator acting in love towards his creature does. Man is ultimately not capable of redemption by his own means – love therefore does not save us unless it is anchored in God’s love (loving act) for us; we can’t save ourselves. Just as much as we cannot undo what God has done for us, even though his decisive act (for us) can be and is rejected by man and woman.
If I were to give an imediate response to Michael Curry’s choice of sermon, preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle, I would be tempted to view it as heretical. Cultural Marxist LGBT activism preached from the pulpit and not the Gospel. I won’t say that because what Curry preached wasn’t a ”love is love” sermon.
I liked Michael Curry’s sermon because of the emphasis on God’s redemptive love. Curry did what he does, and preached from the ideological stronghold that frames his theology, no one should be surprised by it. To his credit, Curry didn’t abuse his platform, when so many others who are chained by the prevailing ideology might have. The sermon certainly had all the buzzwords that the Left love to talk about[vii]. Ideas that they cannot properly define or impose, without either devouring each other, or inhumanely and unjustly breaking with God’s redemptive love, in order to achieve their own version of it. Thus, Michael Curry’s sermon comes with necessary caveats.
In the end this event wasn’t about Michael Curry, or his sermon. It was about the joining together of the (now) Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan Windsor. It was a celebration of freedom in fellowship between man and woman; where man and woman become husband and wife. In an age where that is being regularly attacked, we shouldn’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.
Congratulations to the Royal newly weds.
I left out addressing Michael Curry’s “we need to discover love, like we did fire”, because it’s an whole other post: a) that’s nuts – Love already exists b) if anything Love needs to be rediscovered, and reasserted, not redefined c) the hidden presupposition behind his fire rant, is that “LGBT love” is the only real love that exists – e.g.: the false notion that prior to SSM, love didn’t really exist (which is complete nonsense) d) this is snare because love is love is essentially a lie.
References, not otherwise linked:
[i] I’ve written about the problem with the asinine “love is love” slogan, here; and I’ve painstakingly pointed out the tyranny of ideology once it muzzles theological critique, here. So I see no need to restate myself outside reaffirming my commitment to what I’d publicly addressed on the subject since 2014.
[ii] Barth, K. 1960 Jesus, Man for Other Men, C.D. 3:2 p.216 (see also C.D. 1:2 pp, 388-454)
[iii] Barth: ‘Where humanity stands only to gain, God stands only to lose. And because the eternal divine decision (predestination) is identified with the election of Jesus Christ, its twofold content is that God wills to lose in order that man and woman may gain. There is a sure and certain salvation for humanity, and a sure and certain risk for God.’ (The election of Jesus Christ, ,CD II/II:162)
[iv] Barth: ‘In introducing the creation of woman, [God] did not put woman on the same level as the animals. He ascribed to her in advance the highest humanity…from the very outset solitary man is denied every other possibility of an appropriate helpmeet (partner). With the creation of woman, God expected man to confirm and maintain his true humanity by the exclusion of every other possibility. [True humanity is lived out, man for woman, woman for man]’ (Karl Barth, Creation & Covenant C.D 3:1:294)
[v] Barth: ‘With the creation of woman God expected man to confirm and maintain his true humanity by the exclusion of every other possibility [of a partner].’ (CD. 3:1 p.294)
[vi] John Calvin: ‘Any man or woman [in the Church or any who claim to be in/of the Church] who enthusiastically praises themselves is a fool and an idiot. The true foundation of Christian modesty is not to be self-complacent. [As Cyprian said, we have because God gives. We must not glory in anything, because God is the source of everything.]’ (On 1 Corinthians 4. The words in parenthesis are my paraphrased version).
[vii] 1933 Book Burnings, United States Holocaust Museum sourced, May 21, 2018 from https://www.ushmm.org/collections/bibliography/1933-book-burnings
[viii] liberation, “love” and power.
Photo credit: Andrew Seaman on Unsplash