Gavin Ashenden applauds his preaching skills, but finds the content lacking
The world is rightly talking about Michael Curry’s wedding sermon. It was as tour de force. He is very good at preaching. But it also offers us all an insight into the dramatic difference between the two kind of Christianity that are at odds with each other in the Anglican Communion.
We will call them for the moment, ‘Christianity-max’, and ‘Christianity-lite’.
Credit where it is due. ‘Christianity-lite’ can be very appealing. It reaches out to where people are hurting and it encourages them. It reaches out to where they are longing for good change, and it promises them that change can come.
It speaks continuously of love and hope. Everyone likes to hear of love and hope.
But it has three serious flaws. It doesn’t define love, and it never delivers on the hope. It isn’t what Jesus preached.
It was of course wonderful to hear a celebration of love in the romantic and erotic context of a wedding (the women commentators kept on saying ‘look how hot Meghan looks in that dress. Showing that it is not only men how objectify and sexualise on sight.)
There is serious theological work to be done here. The two theolgians who have done it best, or perhaps done it at all, are Dante and the English poet, (and member of the Inklings) Charles Williams. They suggest that romantic love is a kind of theophany where for a moment, the lover sees the beloved through the eyes of God, and understands quite how loved they are by their Creator and Redeemer, and commits themselves as lovers to allow their romantic and erotic vision to be transformed beyond itself into agape; a love that overflows the boundaries of conditionality and mutuality.
But Michael Curry did not trouble his world-wide audience with the Christianisation of cupid and eros. He simply accepted cupid and eros, and celebrated how wonderful they were.
Even an amateur theologian might reply to him; ‘wrong gods bishop Curry.’
And then he moved into the political as all progressives do. I suspect it is because they have little experience of the metaphysical, and a simple and immediate way round that is to harness the political to both prove something happens when you get God, and to find a way of making a difference in a way that people might buy into, because we are all so tired of pain and injustice.
And this is the hope that always lets us down. It is the Hebrew prophets who give fire and articulation to this hope. But they see God as delivering political and personal transformation at the end of time; only then will the lion lie down with the lamb; only then will the tears be wiped away from our eyes, and by God himself, not by the army of emoting counsellors of the progressive utopia.
Curry told the world that Harry and Meghan loved each other so much that we would see the ‘end of poverty.’ Of course, this was conditional on everyone loving each other as much as Meghan and Harry; and conditional on no one getting jealous or falling out of love, or getting bored with each other. But he didn’t point that out.
Although that is of course, what happens to almost everyone. And this falling out of love, this passing beyond the gravitational pull of romance and eros happens to all lovers, at some point.
The Gospel according to Hollywood (for that is what it is) directs that you jettison your original love, once they no longer give you what you need, and replace them with another. Cupid is a demanding god happy to sacrifice human beings to the feelings of narcissistic eroticised amorousness he engenders.
Since the condition is not and cannot be kept, Curry misled the people.
Misleading the people in God’s name is not the calling of a Christian bishop, even if as Ed Milliband tweeted, “this bishop almost makes me believe in God.’ Yes, almost. But he didn’t make Milliband believe in God. And if had, it would not anyway have been the Holy God of Israel and the prophets and of His Son Jesus Christ. It would have been the god the romanticised and eroticised self; a lesser god. A counterfeit god.
And even so, if the Christianity-lite message only reaches only the Milliband ‘almost’, it is not an encouraging validation , it is a judgement on its ineffectiveness, despite having been emptied of the heart of its original content.
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.”
“When love is the way — unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way. Then no child would 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 ever flowing brook. Wen love is the way poverty will become history. When love is the way the earth will become a sanctuary.”
This is very much the vision that those who believe in human progress lift from the Bible and start to implement as a political programme, shorn of the rest of the Gospel vision. But the utopian vision that informs the left is only half the story. And the alliance that Christianity-lite makes with the Left is one doomed to failure.
The attraction of Christianity-lite to progressive politics forges a bond between the faith and the Left wing. It is a bond similar to the admiration a duck might have for a bear. The gaze of longing is one that results in the bear eating the duck. The gaze of longing between Christianity lite and the Left, ends up in Stalin or Mao, or the North Koreans turning on the Church and devouring it.
Despite the best efforts of the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, or the Liberation theology in South America, or worker priests in French factories, the kingdom of heaven was swallowed and digested by the leftish regimes.
There was no end to slavery, it remains with us today morphed under our noses into gargantuan rackets of prostitution and women trafficked as sex slaves.. Humans did not improve. They did not auto-transform. No Bishop Curry, the end of poverty is not closer after Meghan and Harry’s nuptials. But then if you had read the whole Gospel, you would have found Jesus telling you that.
It would have been more Christian to warn the world and lament that “the poor will always be with us”. But that doesn’t have quite the same attraction as a sound bite. It brings us though to where Chrisitianity-lite differs from Christianity-max.
Jesus taught the poor will always be with us. He taught that the politics of this world will not change. They will get sometime much worse, and sometimes only a little worse. He taught that his followers needed to tell about and invite people into the Kingdom of Heaven, not a non-existent political utopia,
But the place where ‘max’ differs from Curry’s lite was at the crossroads of repentance. The god that Curry preached was a god who gives romance and erotic love and neighbourly generosity without any conditions attached.
But Jesus said there were conditions attached. And they were the surrender of the ego, the plucking out of eyes that offended, the cutting off of hands that grasped in the wrong direction; it was conditional on repentance.,
At the crossroads, Jesus commands us to turn back, in order to find the narrow path that is Gods way into the kingdom that we missed because it was to narrow, or we avoided because it was too steep.
“Turn back oh man,” as the musical Godspell more accurately has it. “Forget thy foolish ways.”
But there were no crossroads in Christianity-lite; only the promise of political, economic, ecological utopia over the horizon, if only more people would fall in love like Meghan and Harry.
Not true, Bishop Curry an ‘untruth’ in fact, and a most serious distortion of the teaching of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Untruth does not serve Him.
Only when the ego is surrendered; only when romance and eros are dethroned; only when a person has reached the end of their natural tether, can the Lord God be invited in, and the process of personal transformation begin.
Yes, no doubt, if enough people turn in repentance to Jesus, we might see improved societies. We did following the Wesleyan revival. We did following the Tractarian revival. But Bishop Curry did not choose to add the condition ‘if enough persons turn to Jesus.’
Of course, as the Daily Mail and other media outlets trumpeted, Bishop Curry is a famous advocate for homosexuality and transgenderism. Of course he is, because if there is no requirement for repentance, then the neo-marxist preference for those at the bottom of power structures mean that irrespective of the sexual ethics of the New Testament, homosexual love and gender dysphoria need special promotion and protection.
They do indeed , if you implement the vision of a world re-educated according to the dynamics of the reversal of power, which is at the heart of the neo-Marxist project.
But the Marxist power ethic that favours minorities is not found in the mouth of Jesus.
In the mouth of Jesus we find a call for repentance and an aiming to the highest ethics of sexual morality.
Before Jesus in the Law and the Prophets, and after Him in St Paul and the Apostolic Church, we find them articulated in detail. Homosexual sex, biologically sterile as it is, along with sex outside hetersexual marriage, is to be avoided in order to be pure in the eyes of God; and there is the warning that only those who are pure can see or apprehend God; a circularity which should not be lost on those promoting biological and spiritual disorder.
Identity politics is the opposite of Christianity-max. For in Jesus there are no qualifying adjectives. There is no group in Jesus. Only a reconciled humanity shorn of its tribes, either or colour, gender or power, as St Paul so powerfully evokdes in Galatians 3; a text that is wilfully twisted by the identity politics people.
And for those who fail to achieve the highest level of morality? There is forgiveness and help – but only conditional on repentance.
By depriving the world audience of the promise that lies at the heart of God’s invitation to turn, Bishop Curry deprived them of the very transformation he was selling them.
Why do those refuse to go along with the zeitgeist court unpopularity and misunderstanding about personal ethics and identity? Because that is what Jesus taught.
And over against Bishop Curry’s great sale 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.
But if you want to be popular, don’t invite the people to renunciation. And Bishop Curry didn’t. But Jesus did.
There are two kinds of Anglicanism practised in the world today. One that contains the cross and repentance and touches and transforms sexual desire, and one that doesn’t.
People who don’t intend to change their ways prefer the one that doesn’t.
That was the one that Bishop Curry offered them. And it went down a storm because bishop Curry is a great preacher. And it will change nothing; because it wasn’t Christianity. It was ‘Christianity-lite’.