From the Givenchy gown to the gospel choir, Saturday’s royal wedding had something for everyone. But one of the most memorable moments at St. George’s Chapel came from Bishop Michael Curry, who preached the sermon at the heart of the ceremony. Curry is the head of the American Episcopal Church, a denomination that is related to the Church of England. But Curry is also a black preacher from Chicago, and his style—energetic, urgent, and with touches of repetition for emphasis—appeared to make some members of the royal family uncomfortable. He also made an immediate impression on viewers at home:
But Curry’s delivery style was not the only thing that made his sermon a departure from royal tradition. It was also a subtly radical piece of theology.
Yes, Curry quoted the Bible, a theologian, and the lyrics to a few old songs. But that doesn’t quite capture the subversiveness of his message. Curry opened and closed his sermon with quotes from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love,” he began. “And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.”
The scripture he quoted included the Old Testament prophet Amos, a favorite passage of King’s: “Let justice roll down like a mighty stream, and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.” The lyrics he chose included the black American spiritual “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” which he introduced by noting that slaves in the American South had sung it “even in the midst their captivity.” The official transcript of Curry’s sermon does not include the mention of slavery, suggesting he was riffing just a bit—not unusual for a preacher, but notable considering Curry riffed in the direction of referencing slavery in front of the queen, not to mention hundreds of wealthy British dignitaries, some of whose family fortunes surely were built on the backs of enslaved people.
The scholars he referenced included the 20th-century Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whom the Vatican has long held at arm’s length. Curry also quoted Charles Marsh, a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia. “Jesus had founded the most revolutionary movement in human history,” Curry quotes Marsh writing, “a movement built on the unconditional love of God for the world and the mandate to live that love.” The quote comes from Marsh’s 2005 book, The Beloved Community, which traces the influence of faith on the Civil Rights movement and argues that the spiritual underpinnings of that movement can serve as a source of moral energy today.
Marsh’s book is essentially an argument for the enduring power of progressive Christianity. So was Curry’s sermon, whose central argument was the world-transforming power of love. On the surface, this is pretty standard fodder for a wedding homily, of course. But Curry explicitly defined “love” as something much larger than romantic attachment. “Imagine our governments and countries when love is the way,” he told the crowd, as he approached the sermon’s climax. “No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that. Poverty would become history in such a world as that. The Earth would be as a sanctuary in such a world as that.” This is a core tenet of the kind of robust mainline Christianity that many people will have been introduced to for the first time on Saturday: both a call to faith and a call to action. Seeing that message delivered so forthrightly to millions of people enjoying the silly pomp and extravagance of a royal wedding was bracing. If it left you hungry for more, go to church.