What can preachers learn from Michael Curry?

Aside from Meghan Markle’s dress, perhaps the most talked about feature of Saturday’s Royal Wedding was the sermon by Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church in the US. Curry was a rather sensitive choice as preacher, since he leads the church which, because of its change in its understanding of marriage, is held responsible for tearing apart the Anglican Communion. But as a black American Episcopalian leader, he was something of a natural choice.

If you are a preacher, then I would encourage you to pause every time you hear someone speaking effectively, and spend some time reflecting on what worked well and what you can learn—whether the speaker is a preacher, a politician, or a stand-up comic. We are in the business of communications, and we should take every skill captive in the task we have of communicating Christ. So what can we learn from the impact of Michael Curry? For me, there are three (or perhaps four) things to consider immediately.

The first thing to notice is his use of rhetoric devices, though in quite a natural and conversational way. If you have a moment (or rather, 13 minutes and 47 seconds), then listen again, with pen and paper, and make a note of the rhetorical devices you notice (or you can read the transcript).

The most obvious is repetition of key words and phrases, and the organising of ideas into threes.

There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live.

The best example of this is where he use repetition added to rhyme, and then threw in variation in the third repetition:

There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you, and you know it, when you love and you show it – it actually feels right.

This also illustrates a feature of good rhetoric—summing up the message in a memory saying or apothegm. Jesus does it repeatedly in his teaching as recorded by the evangelists—think of ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will worry about itself. Sufficient to each day is each day’s evil’ (Matt 6.34, my translation) which sums up several paragraphs about not worrying. Curry offers a brilliant and memorable paraphrase of Jesus’ teaching: ‘Love God. Love your neighbors. And while you’re at it, love yourself.’ Do you, as a preacher, spend time working out memorable summaries of your message to include in your sermons?

Another notable feature, often characteristic of black preaching, is setting up expectations (in this case, of repetition in threes) and then breaking your own rules and expectations—also very obvious in the preaching of Martin Luther King. In the second half of the sermon, Curry introduces a series of scenarios where we are invited to ‘Imagine where love is the way…’ He repeats this five times, interjections a mini-exposition, ‘When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive’, and then repeats the phrase in abbreviated form a further seven times. The effect is very powerful for the hearer, as he piles on example after example after example after example…

The relation of this repetition to the whole sermon is also important to notice. The first part of the sermon is quite deliberative, including content from different quotations, and giving us quite a lot to think about. But once Curry has won us over, and established himself as credible to the listener, then we get much less content and much more emotional appeal. He is going what Ron Boyd-Macmillan (in his book Explosive Preaching) calls ‘moving through the gears’, a feature of rhetoric down the centuries. The three elements of rhetoric in the classical context (according to Aristotle) are logos, ethos and pathosLogos is about rational content, and appeals to the mind. Ethos is about the credibility of the speaker, and establishes rapport between speaker and hearer. Finally, pathos is about emotional appeal and connection, where the speaker seeks to motivate the hearer or appeal to the imagination. Curry is very clearly moving through these three stages in his sermon—but in the addendum on fire returns to logos, which is why that section felt odd and (I would argue) should have been dropped.

Within this movement, we can see two further rhetorical distinctives. The first is that he carefully speaks in incomplete sentences, which is true to conversation rather than a scripted speech or sermon—’A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world.’ Along with that, he includes all the way through what appear to be improvisations, where he seems to be thinking aloud, or making it up on the spot. At times perhaps he was: ‘Pierre Teilhard de Chardin—and with this I will sit down, we gotta get you all married—’. But at other times I think the ‘spontaneities’ were planned and rehearsed.

He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn’t… he wasn’t getting anything out of it.

Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.

If you can include apparent spontaneity in your scripted speech, then you will engage people in a conversation, rather than making them feel subject to a lecture.

And of course Curry made classic use of inclusio—ending at the same point he started, but returning to the quotation of Martin Luther King.

Aside from the rhetoric, there is another cluster of issues worth noting for any preacher. The first part of this is what I would call his choreography. It is easier to make use of choreography, or movement, when you are not tied to a lecture. More expositional parts of a sermon (the logos) can be delivered from behind a lectern—but to tell stories you can express your emotional connection by coming out from behind the lectern, leaving your notes behind, and actually closing the physical distance with your audience as you close the emotional distance. But Curry was tied to the lectern (though he didn’t appear to refer much to his notes on his iPad)—and yet look at how animated he was! He made the maximum use of gestures, bodily movement and physical expression—and did all this without knocking over the candles!

This related closely to the sense you had of his passion and belief in what he was saying. Phillips Brookes (the author of O Little Town of Bethlehem) described preaching as ‘Truth expressed through personality’, and Curry offered plenty of personality in the truth claims that he made. Michael Sadgrove, former Dean of Durham Cathedral, offers a very interesting reflection on this:

I said I admired the sermon. I need to be candid. I meant that I found myself envying it. Or rather, envying the gifts and confidence of a preacher who could be so much at ease with his audience that he could preach like this in an environment that would intimidate most of us. I realised that this was what I was feeling when I came across a social media comment from a priest who wrote something like, “today’s sermon sets a challenge for the rest of us preachers tomorrow morning”. Yes, I thought, a lot of us will be feeling that way tonight.

But as I thought about it, I recognised what it was that I was envying. It wasn’t Michael Curry’s content, style, rhetorical ability, performance skills, any of the things I’ve mentioned already. It was simply this: that he had found his voice as a preacher. And this more than anything else is what makes the preacher convincing: that he or she is comfortable in their own homiletical skin. Earlier this week I was discussing preaching with the curate whom I mentor regularly. He asked me when I thought I had found my voice. I replied that I was still finding it and would be till I died, but maybe, after a decade or so of ordained ministry I was beginning to discover what was and wasn’t authentic in my preaching. Maybe.

There are many things to learn from Curry’s rhetorical flair, and the skills of other speakers. But when we learn from them, we have to make them our own, so that the passion we express is our passion, and not some technique we have learned from another. Our preaching voice might not be the same as our voice in other contexts—there is a mistaken quest for ‘authenticity’ which fails to recognise the unique context of preaching. Our preaching voice must be our preaching voice—but it must be our preaching voice.

Did I have any reservations about the sermon? Yes: three. The first was that the final two minutes on ‘fire’ added too many new ideas, returned to logos after he had reached a pathos climax, and simply wasn’t needed. He should have dropped it and stopped at 11 minutes (he claimed this morning on the radio that he was aiming for six or seven minutes!). Secondly, I think the widespread comment on Curry’s effective rhetoric shows both the power and the danger of well-delivered preaching: good delivery should really make the one delivering invisible, so that it is the message which is remembered. Perhaps the occasion made it inevitable, but the contrast between Curry’s passionate engagement and the rather sombre mood of the Dean and the slight nervousness of the Archbishop made us focus on the person of the preacher rather than the content of the message.

And a question remains about the content. Gavin Ashendenthough appreciating the rhetorical skill, criticised the sermon as a misleading marketing of ‘Christianity lite’, though Adrian Hilton disagrees, and cites a wonderful parody of John 2 to make his point.

Jesus, what a missed opportunity. This so-called messiah trundles down to a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and what does he do? A conjuring trick with grapes! Honestly, this pathetic so-called prophet has a captive audience of hundreds just ripe to hear the gospel, and he gives them instead gallons upon gallons of of wine and a distorted messianic message. What kind of inebriating witness is that? He never mentioned sin or repentance once; never mentioned the reality of hell or the need for salvation. “My hour has not yet come,” he bleated. What a feeble excuse is that for not denouncing adultery, drunkenness, greed or gays. And don’t give me all this ‘It revealed his glory’ tosh: it was just messianic mush; it might have convinced a few disciples, but what about the hundreds of lost souls who needed to be convicted of their sin and fall on their knees in repentance and receive him as their personal Lord and Saviour?

But there is a difference. Jesus didn’t need to spell out the message on every occasion, because he was the message, and it would have been enough for him simply to say ‘Follow me’. We are not Jesus, so we do not have that option. I think that the major task of preaching is to close the gap between the word and the world, to communicate what Scripture is saying to people who live in a different culture and context, and who might not have the first clue what Scripture means for them or how it speaks to their situation. I am not sure Curry closed the gap so much as dragged Scripture into contemporary culture, and with that ran the risk of making people think that Scripture was simply confirming what they already knew.

Yes, love between two people can be powerful—so much so, that passionate affairs can destroy promises made to another. It can indeed be be the centre of our world, to the exclusion of other. Curry clearly pointed to a different kind of love, expressed in the death of Jesus, but in doing so he articulated an ‘exemplary’ understanding of atonement. Jesus offered us a good example, which any of us could follow if we chose, and so any of us can effect redemption for ourselves, for our relationships and for our world. Jesus was not unique, it appears, other than in the quality of his example. Ashenden perhaps goes too far in quoting Richard Niebuhr’s critique of liberal theology—but it is worth thinking about:

A God without wrath who brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.

Or, as a commentator on Hilton’s blog expressed it:

“It wasn’t intended to be a sermon of dogmatic theological instruction, for the event was a wedding.” This is actually the heart of the issue. Holy Matrimony is a matter of dogmatic theology, and a wedding homily is absolutely supposed to be aimed at expositing biblical teaching about marriage. Most of what Curry said wasn’t bad, but it relegated the Bible to a Jungian style mythos by which we draw allegorized abstractions to say something common about the human experience. It uses the Bible to make a generic point, but it does not actually expound Scripture. That is the issue.

You might think this is harping on a bit. After all, wasn’t the message striking and engaging—and isn’t it a refreshing change that people could think church—and even preaching—is something that might be attractive and drawn them in? I think it was Ed Miliband who commented ‘It almost made me want to believe in God!’ That is worth a lot.

But it is not every day that you get to preach to two billion people—so it is worth getting the content, and not just the communication, right.

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118 thoughts on “What can preachers learn from Michael Curry?”

  1. Helpful analysis Ian!

    I note your points on the return to logos at the end of the sermon …

    But it is the pathos and ethos that, rightly or wrongly, have stayed with most people.

    As “mood music” it sent a positive (soothing?) message to the world.

    Let’s not try to imitate (or destroy) it – but rather learn from it – to be faithful and engaging; and like our master to be full of “grace and truth”

  2. Hi Ian,

    I suppose that, in the context of the expected pomp and circumstance of the Royal Wedding, it was to be expected that audiences would be won over by the refreshing novelty of both the gospel choir’s rendition of the popular Ben E. King hit and Michael Curry’s animated style of delivery, which typifies black preaching.

    For me, as a black man, there was little novelty in this sermon. It’s a style of delivery with which I’m familiar, since I grew up hearing it from black preachers and politicians alike. Channeling MLK oratory was often a device used as a badge to bolster authenticity and credibility in both the congregation and wider community.

    Whatever people make of the sermon itself, Michael Curry can’t be faulted for a lack of preparation (which must have included memorisation, so he could concentrate on emotional impact) or inability to seize the moment which was before him.

    Yet, the backdrop to his masterful oratory is that, under his leadership, TEC USA remains in a membership nose-dive.

    That’s because nothing in his sermon suggested that the wondrous selfless, sacrificial love of which He preached would beyond anyone’s grasp, absent our complete surrender to the risen Christ, who underwent crucifixion to atone for the very sins that resist love.

    Yet some say: Oh, but it was a *wedding* sermon, so no need.

    Yeah, right!

    • Great points. I did however think that the preparation, which was good, left something to be desired – he was the one who ”said ‘lastly’ [just over half way through: ‘with this I will sit down’]and lasted” rather than the one who ”said ‘finally’ and finished”. The deliberately extempore style meant that certain sentences and phrases actually looked unplanned and off the cuff.

    • Hi David,

      You mention TEC USA’s membership nose dive – but what is the evidence that the sole reason for this is the theology you object to? C of E membership is heading downwards too…but more importantly, why are numbers a criterion in any case?

      In friendship, Blair

      • David’s implication was surely that it is Curry’s leadership in general, (perhaps demonstrated by the lack of substance in his Gospel message?) and not any specific theological issue that is causing the rapid fall in TEC membership, a fall that while mirrored in the CofE is nothing like the same scale.

        Even among the comments that have explicitly mentioned Curry’s views on same sex marriage (and there are plenty) I don’t think a single person has claimed that as the ‘sole’ reason.

        Play fair with the questions 😉

        • I’ve just realised the irony in my comment, and so have to laugh at it. You didn’t mention SSM either, and so I apologise Blair, even if it was the subtext of what you meant?

      • Hi Blair,

        It stands to reason that few hearers will be motivated to engage in regular fellowship with Episcopalian or any other group of Christ followers, when the ‘gospel’ preached by such a group to encourage a ‘selfless’ love which is not declared impossible without surrender to Christ in His uniquely supreme status as the Son of God and sole Redeemer from divine judgement.

        You ask: “why are numbers a criterion in any case?”

        Well, that’s a question I’d pose to every revisionist who has claimed that the Church’s traditional theology, by inducing harmful guilt, is damaging to its mission.

        Ergo, on this basis, they assert that a reversal of these beliefs would remedy mission, the second mark of which is to “teach, baptise and nurture *new* believers”.

        It’s no good for revisionists to declare that the Church’s severe loss of missional impact is *significantly* attributable to orthodox Christian beliefs (about sin, righteousness and judgment), only to question whether TEC USA’s failure to improve its missional impact is *solely* attributable to its divergence from orthodox Christian beliefs (about sin, righteousness and judgment).

        That’s just cherry-picking outcomes.

        • Hi David,

          You say you’d pose the numbers question to “every revisionist” who has argued as you’ve sketched above; but I was asking you the question, and I don’t think I’ve set forth the kind of argument you outline…

          In friendship, Blair

        • Hi Blair,

          You asked ‘why are numbers *a* criterion in any case?’, not ‘why should numbers be a criterion in any case?

          The revisionist insistence that orthodox theology is harming mission explains why numbers is *a *criterion. I was not asserting that numbers should be a criterion.

          • Hi again David,

            You weren’t asserting that numbers should be a criterion – but surely your original comment at the least assumes they are, whether they should be or not, without justifying the assumption.

            In friendship, Blair

          • Hi Blair,

            No, my comment only assumed that *if* the repeated charges made by the revisionists were true: that orthodox teaching causes significant harm to mission (which includes teaching, baptising and nurturing new believers) and if revising orthodox teaching would undo that harm to mission. then this would be evidenced by a consequent reduction of its decline.

            The inability of TEC USA’s leadership to reverse decline shows that, despite that wonderful display of rhetoric, they are missionally impotent by their own standards.

            However, if revising orthodox teaching produces no evidence of significant improvement in missional impact, then you should be telling other revisionists to drop their repeated charges the harm to mission caused by orthodox teaching.

            Of course, they might also suggest that it will take several generations to reverse the loss of missional impact which they largely attribute to certain aspects of orthodox teaching.

            Of course, when it suits, the same revisionists will also consider the significant growth in missional impact among other churches, which hold to orthodox teaching, to be largely attributable to other factors (style of services, marketing prowess, etc.)

            At some point, they (and you) should recognise that they really can’t have it both ways. They certainly can’t project as fact their repeated conjectures about the missional impact orthodox teaching.

          • Evening David,

            thanks for your full explanation. I must say i don’t think it was obvious that that was your assumption, from reading your original comment. The key part of that was:

            “Yet, the backdrop to his masterful oratory is that, under his leadership, TEC USA remains in a membership nose-dive.

            “That’s because nothing in his sermon suggested that the wondrous selfless, sacrificial love of which He preached would [be] beyond anyone’s grasp, absent our complete surrender to the risen Christ, who underwent crucifixion to atone for the very sins that resist love.”

            I take the point in your most recent comment about being consistent and not having it both ways, but surely that applies to all of us in this, not only “revisionists”?

            You write, “They [“other revisionists”] certainly can’t project as fact their repeated conjectures about the missional impact [of] orthodox teaching”. Indeed – but I’m not sure I’ve ever used such an argument myself, so wonder why this is in a comment addressed to me. It also seems to me that you and the “revisionists” you refer to, are mirroring each other’s criticisms – ‘clinging to traditional teaching causes decline’…’revising the teaching is what’s causing decline’ – and I wonder how much light this is generating.

            in friendship, Blair

        • Hi Blair,

          My statements about Michael Curry weren’t directed at you. So, in an exchange between us on a public blog, I’m under no obligation to confine my responses regarding such statements to address no more than the scope of your own beliefs and arguments.

          BTW, my position isn’t a mirror, i.e. that ‘revising the teaching is what’s causing decline’. Instead, it’s that ‘revising the teaching won’t reverse decline’…And it hasn’t!

  3. This is a really helpful reflection, Ian. There is certainly something to learn from the bishop’s style, though, as you say, we need to be cautious about the content.

  4. AS you say, impressive rhetoric. But what is the difference between his sermon and the Beatles ‘All you need is love.’? The Love of God needs to be defined by the cross which was missing in his talk except as an example.

  5. A few thoughts.

    First, I thought the best commentary and reflection on the sermon that I’ve read came from Gavin Ashenden. If anything, he’s rather more critical than I think nessecary, especially compared to your more diplomatic self, but I felt he rightly focused on the absence of ‘christological substance’ which I think should be the main critique, as thi is being held up by many as a ‘gospel message’. What we got was certainly a powerful and memorable exhortation to love, rooted in scripture, yet largely devoid of it’s sacrificial and salvific anchoring points. Link: https://ashenden.org/2018/05/19/michael-curry-the-royal-wedding-a-star-turn-offers-the-world-christianity-lite/

    Second, I really liked Mark Stibbe’s comment on the Facebook post (echoed above on some level by David Shepherd) about the poeticism, lyricism and value of this distinctively African-American rhetorical style. It’s not an area I’m well qualified comment on, given that I’m pretty naive about it, but I think in a discussion about what preachers can learn from Michael Curry we should pay more dues to the origins of his style, and I’d be interested in hearing more….

    Third, and most importantly perhaps, is simply reflection on conversations I’ve had since, almost all of which have been positive. Many of my non-Christian friends and acquaintances have expressed surprise and delight in hearing such ‘life’ in a sermon (as my neighbor put it), and I enjoyed having the opportunity to say in response that there is life in Jesus Christ and His church, and maybe they should come and find out more.

    So I may have my personal critique, but I cannot deny the overwhelmingly positive response. Such a public event, with such a memorable (if flawed) sermon, should be put to good use in our evangelism and witness.

    • Sorry Ian, I saw that you had quoted Neibhur, but had missed your reference to Ashenden before it. You can remove my link as you referenced it above.

      I agree with you though, it’s one of the areas I think Ashenden is a little too polemical, but I don’t think it undermines his otherwise strong criticism.

  6. Helpful post, Ian.

    I, too, was struck by the rhetorical delivery of the sermon. Curry is a gifted speaker and preachers could—apart from time-keeping!—learn a great deal from him.

    Having read a number of the evangelical criticisms of the address, I think many of them were nit-picking. I have happily preached many sermons in which I never mentioned the cross, for instance.

    Thinking back on the experience of listening to the sermon, I remember being moved by Curry’s oratory, but feeling misgivings gradually rising to the surface as he continued. Curry’s message was largely a sort of natural theology of love (I am curious to see what my Barthian friends made of it!). It was also a eulogizing of love, rather than an address to a couple in the process of wedding their lives together to teach them how to love.

    And our need to learn how to love, our need to practice love as a discipline, our need to discern love, were all absent or only weakly present in Curry’s address. For instance, although he doesn’t limit love to its romantic forms, when Curry concretizes love, it tends to be in the experience of falling in love. Yet falling in love is a terribly unreliable guide to what love actually is.

    Our society tends to share this sort of natural theology of love, with precisely the same weaknesses—a focus on being in love and on feelings. People all believe that love will change the world and glorify the experience of being in love. However, we struggle to shoulder the weight of love as a weighty commitment that involves the sacrifice of our positive feelings and desires. People love weddings as they increasingly celebrate romantic and feeling-based love. They are much less keen about marriage and divorce at a high rate, because marriage isn’t so much about feeling-based love in the long term.

    The push for same-sex marriage was mostly about this natural theology of love, about a love which is easily discerned, focused on feelings, and which lays few if any obligations or restrictions upon us. Yet marriage is a discipline and training ground of love, something far more apparent in the introduction to the ceremony, which highlighted the fact that marriage exists for the sake of children and their raising, chastity, and faithful companionship. That sort of love isn’t easy and takes decades to discern and to prove. It also isn’t particularly popular in our society, as it shows, for instance, that the ‘love’ between two men isn’t the sort of love that is apt for marriage and that feelings aren’t proof enough of love.

    The disappointing thing is that, in his wedding address, Bishop Curry focused upon the romantic and feeling-driven love that brought the couple to the wedding, while saying little about the difficult decades of learning true marital love that they stand on the brink of, in which the afterglow of their romance will be insufficient to sustain them. Meghan already has had one failed marriage and has a tough challenge ahead of her. Harry is a child of a divorced couple, in a family with a number of failed marriages. They have undertaken a difficult venture together and they need all of the encouragement, support, and strengthening people can give them. However, they are unlikely to get this from wedding addresses that aren’t robustly forward-looking, preparing couples for the practice of marital union for the rest of their lives. Approaching weddings as if they were primarily the public recognition and validation of a couple’s romantic love isn’t enough.

    • Thanks–yes, I would agree with you that it was rather extraordinary not to address the challenges ahead. A mention of 1 Cor 13 might not have gone amiss!

    • Thank you Ian and Alastair for this discussion. As you mentioned Alastair, I thought the Preface to the ceremony was a real high point, with its more holistic exposition of marriage. I also expected there would be more lambasting of how it described marriage (particularly as something that occurs between a husband and wife, for the purpose of being formed in holiness) than I have seen.

    • Spot on Alistair. ‘Natural theology of love’ – I couldn’t have put it better myself. To that extent I think Gavin Ashenden was right – love was not identified by Bishop Curry as having been defined by God in Christ. To be honest I think it might have been more refreshing (and no doubt more controversial) to focus instead on fidelity. Of course, love as defined by God’s giving of His Son on the cross ‘even while we were still sinners’ is closely related to fidelity/faithfulness. That is a sacrificial love, a love that gives gratuitously and unconditionally for the good of the other, a love that never gives up, but always remains faithful. It is much more demanding than the sentimental/romantic love that Bishop Curry spoke of, but much more practical and truthful too. Just one provocative question though – isn’t the idea that “marriage exists for the sake of children” an example of natural theology. Paul didn’t have a lot to say about child rearing for instance…

    • Did you not hear the part about slaves in the ante-bellum south? Sounded pretty concrete, non-romantic example of love to me.

      Oh, and congratulations on finding an excuse out of nowhere to be toxic about gay men.

        • No – I try never to label well-researched, rational arguments as toxic.

          Only irrational, poorly researched ones which stigmatise whole groups of people.

          • But study of the 3 topics ‘is homosexuality inborn?’, ‘is homosexuality notably subject to fluidity?’, ‘is homosexuality regularly the result of circumstances and events?’ leads to nothing like the position you are generalising about. Which additional studies are you relying on here? Not that (in addition) you can fail to interact with the ones that people are already aware of.

    • Hi Alistair,

      I think you’re right about some critiques of Bp Curry’s sermon, but that it’s somewhat inaccurate for you to say he focused only on romantic love. Having read the transcript, there are a number of uses of sacrificial and redemptive as adjectives for love in his sermon – it does not read as a focus on romance given the references to slavery.

      Also, why do you put “love between men” with love in inverted commas?

      In friendship, Blair

  7. On the John 2 parody:
    How lame to use the Wedding at Cana as an example of Jesus not preaching the Gospel:
    John 2 is part of the Gospel and full of Gospel symbolism. To read it as an account of a historic event and then use that alone as an argument (form silence even) of what Jesus would have us preach at weddings is an abuse of the Gospel. The humour of the parody doesn’t excuse this.

    And to apply this as a rebuttal of Gavin Ashenden’s observations is even more lame, failing to take seriously what is a serious observation about the preaching of ‘a different gospel’: the one of Snow White and Shrek and Fiona (Shrek II) in which ‘love’ has ‘power’ that can break the evil spells and change the world for the better- and Jesus is just another example to add to the Disney Gospel.

    Evidently, Gavin’s observations are not just about the sermon but about the meaning of what has happened and what this tells us of Justin Welby and what’s happening in the Church of England (which I could see as an onlooker and found underlined in Gavin Ashenden’s observations and wise discernment). You have taken a different approach – and I suspect after considerable reflection!

    • But I think that is where Gavin’s analysis is weakest. The invitation of Curry is of no significance whatever. Our Communion is impaired, but it is not broken, and formally there is simply no reason not to invite him—and as a black American episcopalian there could not have been a more appropriate person.

      Gavin is only right if you think that we should not be in Communion with TEC…but that is not the situation.

      • I’m interested that you feel his invitation was of no significance whatsoever, Ian. I certainly agree that as far as the wedding was concerned he was a perfect choice. It’s just that I am losing my confidence in exactly where Justin Welby is coming from. In the beginning I was excited to have a fellow charismatic there. But his vague responses on matters of teaching, his refusal to reinstate the reputation of George Bell and now this invitation to someone who holds to a clear aberration of Christian teaching on marriage has really undermined my respect for him. When I read how strong the responses to erroneous teachers were by Paul say in Galatians and Philippians or John in 2 John, I’m uneasy about how this potential schism is being managed. I appreciate how easy it is to get on a doctrinal high horse and lose graciousness when divisions occur in the church. However, I know the GAFCON people are really unhappy about all this too.

        • ‘The invitation of Curry is of no significance whatever’

          I’m sorry, Ian, but I find that an extraordinary statement. The Church of England and the Anglican Communion of which it is a part is a church for which its whole existence depends on the revelation of truth from God Almighty. And the guarding of that truth is the first duty of its leadership, which it holds most dear on behalf of all church members. Confusion about doctrine, failure to teach, uphold and declare it whenever circumstances require, allowing or encouraging heretical innovation, are all most serious personal and corporate failings of the leadership.

          And surely choice of the Presiding Bishop from a church which is in impaired communion with the rest of the Anglican Communion because of its doctrine of marriage is highly significant when it comes to preaching at a Royal Wedding which is going to be broadcast across the world. Even the simplest human sensitivity to the signals that sends out across the Communion would cause any intelligent person to avoid such a contentious choice – unless of course there’s a deliberate and cynical manoeuvring of the church politics intended.

        • Peter perhaps I should qualify that. When I say ‘no significance whatsoever’ what I mean is that the choice of someone to speak at the Royal wedding is not a significant signal of a change in Church of England doctrine, or the Anglican Communion.

          I noted with interest that at Archbishops’ Council last week, in his report on the Communion (which Justin gives at every meeting) he noted matter-of-factly that GAFCON will attract 2,000 people and 500 bishops from around the Communion. He is well aware of this; he does not describe it as a threat; and I think he would want to keep in communication with the movement.

          • the choice of someone to speak at the Royal wedding is not a significant signal of a change in Church of England doctrine, or the Anglican Communion

            Forgive me, I’m not an Anglican, so I may be missing the nuances, but it seems to me that what it is a significant signal of is that Welby will not conscience ever actually breaking communion with the ECUSA, no matter what the ECUSA may do liturgically or in terms of ordinations in the future. After all, you can’t invite someone to speak at the royal wedding and then shortly afterwards say you are no longer in communion with them, especially over some view it was clear they held at the time you invited them, especially over a view which to the general public is not at all problematic. If you did that you’d just look spiteful and silly.

            It’s true this isn’t a change as (as I understand it) this is current policy, but sometimes a firm declaration that, despite objections, the current course is to be held come what may, can be as significant as a change, can’t it?

      • It could be thought that of all countries USA or Canada or Scotland or New Zealand(…) might be at the bottom of the list to be invited in normal circumstances; but these circumstances are not normal because in this case a US national is getting married. In addition, the choice would have been congenial to the couple even if not positively instigated by them.

        Gavin A’s points about
        (a) TEC not modelling love and non-divisiveness and about
        (b) the 2 families in question demonstrating that romantic love at weddings is (contrary to any impression given by the sermon) not enough in itself
        are ‘to the point’.

  8. What a good piece Ian!

    I’m not a great fan of royal weddings and didn’t hear Michael Curry’s sermon until long after, when all the hype had erupted. But Gavin Ashenden’s response was spot on: Justin Welby’s shockingly cynical manipulation of the opportunity afforded by the royal wedding (and then the content of the sermon) really demanded exactly the kind of devastating analysis which he delivered. And it was brave. But I’m never quite sure when Cranmer’s posts exactly represent his own personal views and when they’re meant to provoke a jolly good discussion!

    But on content of the sermon I’d like to offer the following thought; well it’s an analogy really.

    I enjoy rambling; and I use Ordnance Survey maps. Just imagine setting off through a Pennine village only to discover you’ve forgotten your map (and your GPS!). By great fortune there’s a village shop selling maps, but not the genuine OS maps. The shopkeeper tells you they’re fine (and they are beautifully produced), they clearly show this area of the Pennines, lots of walkers buy them, and they’re considerably cheaper than the real thing. You buy one.

    Only when you’re far up in the hills do you realise why they were cheap: the printing run didn’t work properly. The ink comes and goes; footpaths, contours, mires and precipices aren’t all fully marked. And what you don’t know is that the path you’re on is heading straight for a treacherous mire, and the essential hard right turn to avoid the mire goes up a steep hill (Gibbet Hill) and along a rocky ridge – but it’s not shown.

    I think Michael Curry’s salesmanship was excellent (if you’re swayed by that kind of rhetoric – and he did lose focus by going on too long). But I think he was selling the cheap map. And I’m horribly afraid that he was invited to do just that.

  9. I have disagree about the final two minutes and Fire. Fire was mentioned to get the love burning!!! It was not only to ignite this beautiful couple’s marriage, but also to get the people invited to start spreading love.

  10. These were my first thoughts, posted elsewhere, after hearing the sermon on the day:
    Listened to it while driving the car and was left with a couple of thoughts.
    1 While he mentioned Jesus, the main message equated human love with the love of God.
    2 Love is God, then replaces God is love.
    3 This was emphasised by the re-imagining Lennon’s “Imagine” And the Beatles, All you need is love.
    4 not sure where fire fitted in, though I was being propelled by it in the car. But I’m not minded to listen to it again.
    5 I was pleased that this was a marvelous celebration of a man and woman marriage.
    6 Imagine what a poor foretaste all the lavish celebration is when compared to the celebration in the banquet at the marriage of Christ and His Bride.
    7 Imagine, imagine, imagine.

    Some further thoughts since then: I didn’t watch the delivery, but I’m still not minded to listen to it again, or read it, as it would be too easy to fall into captious comments, nit-picking.
    1 Style – while it may be uncommon in the CoE it is not uncommon in other streams of Christianity. It certainly wasn’t a theological lecture, thankfully. Yes, it did have a bounce to it. Or as someone said; life.
    2 Content – Jesus is not merely the Supreme Exemplar of sacrificial love – though the emphasis on the sacrificial aspect was speedily swamped by the imaginings of what followed. And, actually, Jesus did get something from it -glory, joy, us, sharing His inheritance, an ascended Kingdom to bring his bride to a consumated marriage. with Him.
    3 These are comments on (or rather tests for) false teaching from D Martyn Lloyd Jones (emphasis is mine and apologies for capitals as I don’t know ):
    3.1 adding to the truth, addition to Christ
    3.2 emphasising one thing in particular and giving great prominence to it
    3.2 teaching is to be tested by the teaching of the New Testament, NOT by feelings, not by experience, not by results, not by what other people are saying and doing. Here the test is the New Testament teaching.
    3.3 always take trouble to read about their (teachings) origins
    (these are notes from MLJ written sermon False Teaching -1965, yes as long ago as that)
    This is from MLJ who said that preaching is “logic on fire”.
    4 Who or what are people talking about? Who is getting the glory?

  11. Ian, you write well about rhetoric and preaching. Where I think you falls down is in your critiques, particularly the second two points.

    Your second point is that the person obscured (or at least effaced) the message. I think this is to forget that all preaching is both incarnational and exemplary. Bishop Michael Curry, the words he spoke, the rhetoric he used, the gestures he made, all made the sermon what it was. That is why preaching is different from teaching (a much overlooked distinction among Evangelicals); the medium incarnates the message. Preaching is of course about Christ, but preaching, especially evangelistic preaching, is also about the person. Billy Graham, J John and Michael Curry are all cut from the same cloth, and all bring their personality, temperament and culture to the table.

    On the third point – that Curry preaches an ‘exemplarist’ atonement theory – I think that you fall into the trap of wanting it all in one go. It’s interesting to me how off-putting substitutionary atonement theories are – I’d never dream of preaching one at a wedding – unless there is the time to unpack them. Exemplarist atonement theories are true (if not the whole story) and pack a theological, emotional and rhetorical punch. The problem is that too many Reformed and Evangelical theologians want to claim that without substitution there is no gospel, whereas exemplarist atonement theories are, at the very least, a preparatio evangelica. Perfectly appropriate – ideally so in a wedding sermon (and let’s not forget that the couple are both baptised, so are entitled to be treated as Christians).

    Ian’s critique is that Curry brought Scripture to the judgement table of the world, and that this is not to do what a preacher should. However, both rhetorically and homiletically, it lifted the congregation to glimpse a new world, the biblical world of Revelation 21. Scripture sometimes works in this way, implicitly rather than explicitly, because the word, pace Barth, is a witness to the Word, and is not the end of the matter.

    • I think evangelicals don’t distinguish between preaching and teaching—because the difference is (in my view) impossible to sustain. There is certainly no distinction in the language used in the NT, which talks of teaching, training, preaching and proclamation in overlapping and interchangeable ways. I am not sure there is any theological basis for distinguishing the two either.

      The opposite of an exemplary model of atonement is not simply a ‘substitutionary’ one, and I don’t think I anywhere suggests that Curry should have got theological in that sense in a wedding sermon—I certainly wouldn’t. All he needed to say was that, yes, there is power in sacrificial and self-giving love—but that this power is something we do not have in ourselves. We need God’s help and God’s love to enable our own poor imitation of his great example. Without that, what he has in effect told people is that they can be redemptive themselves of themselves, their relationship and their world by means of loving others—with or without the help of God. It wouldn’t have taken much to change that—but I think it is probably outside Curry’s own theological position.

      (Not sure why I am addressed in the third person in the last para. Was this copied from somewhere else?)

      • Thanks. Whatever the lack of clarity in the NT there’s a developed tradition of distinction between the two and in my experience a tendency to prefer ‘teaching’ over ‘preaching’ in evangelicalism that reduces the ecclesial gathering to a classroom.

        Sorry about the use of third person in the post: I shared what I think is a strong article on FB with my own comments, but omitted to correct the use of the third person in the final paragraph.

        • Well, the word ‘disciple’ is a word that simply means a learner, devoted to transforming learning from a teacher in community and in relationship. It feels as though you are using the term ‘classroom’ in a derogatory way; I think it is hard to get away from the idea (in the NT and Christian theology) that the meeting of Jesus followers, gathering weekly for worship, should be a primary place of learning the faith together. I am not sure what ‘preaching’ should achieve which is so distinct from this.

          And my comments on his personality do illustrate the danger with doing something rather startling and unexpected in a particular context. This goes well beyond the ’embodying’ of the message. (Only Jesus was incarnate; we don’t ‘incarnate’ anything even if we do embody some things.)

          One other observation: Revelation 21 is as much about exclusion as it is about inclusion, and there is a fascinating interplay—even a dialectic—between these two ideas. If we are going to preach eschatological hope pointing people to this reality, then we will need to mention both—as Jesus does consistently in the gospels.

    • So Simon B,
      I do not think Ian P’s critique of the content fall down. It is where it stands up, tall. Where is the good news in the exemplary theory of atonement? It is where I fall down, flat on my face, where I do not and never will measure up. How do you measure -up? And why conflate, reduce all theories to one unattainable one of works. It did, however, fit in with, around the main point(s) he was making. Which came first? His pre-determined message or scripture in his preparation, nothwithstanding scripture was read and cited to match his theme, including Song of Songs. (could he not have used that a launchpad for the Divine Groom, Christ, and what He did to make those He loves, His bride -loves them to death – along the lines of Martin Luther, on the other side of the cross and resurrection Christ says “all I have is yours” in the divine exchange, from pauper to underserved bride Princess.
      And yes, it wouldn’t be put quite like that! But as others have said much could have been said.

      Wesley’s “Love Divine, all loves excelling” cannot be diminished by such a narrow “theory.” Why did Jesus die? Just who is He anyway? Could not the reality of Love Supreme of God in Christ Jesus, in his death, resurrection, and ascension have been astonishingly, jaw-droppingly, preached with fire and offered, that we may come to know the Supreme Lover, the true Groom.

      And God’s love only ever HOLY-LOVE – pure, perfect, uncontaminated, that left the glory and realms of heaven to make us holy, a pure spotless bride. The love we all need.
      If I remember correctly, Love Divine… was sung at the wedding of Prince William.

  12. Thanks Ian

    To have an African American in full rhetorical flow was great – who doesn’t love good engaging oratory, a set piece done well.

    And I liked the shock value of this dynamic event in the context of such a formal traditional and stiff ceremony where many attendants are sat uncomfortably.

    And to have millions of people around the world now talking about preaching, church etc is surely good n’est-ce pas?

    However, I have to ask: what did he actually say? Substance wise it was little more than the words of the 1980’s charity pop song: ‘We are the world’ – “we are one big family and the truth you know love is all we need.”….

    The only substantial reference to Jesus conveyed the Liberal notion of the cross as exemplary love rather than atonement for sin.

    I think he was widely lauded because of his engaging style, ‘how’ he said what he said, but not ‘what’ he said. People on such occasions might expect a rather beige Bishop with beige thoughts (never to be said of Bp Chartres) but they had no beige but a rhetoric kaleidoscope.

    But there with all the passion and style there was little substance. The African American Pentecostal style moved many with oratorical power – but his Liberal content had little power.

    This was not a practical pastoral message to the newly weds and all other couples doing life together- nor was it a prophetic MLK moment challenging the powers & inspiring decisive action – nor was Christ presented to be cherished – but it was a brilliant presentation of a rather bland message.

  13. I thought it was good but obviously liberal theology to anyone who knows about these things. It didn’t say anything that was wrong but could have said more, and that would have been helpful in places. But good as far as it went, imagining the power of love to transform and some of its connections to God and Christ.

    I agree with Ian that the choice of preacher was sensitive but almost inevitable given the occasion. In that sense most unfortunate and I completely sympathise with Gavin Ashenden’s response.

  14. I thought it was mostly good while listening to it – but on reflection it had less good after-effects.

    He spoke as though ‘love is love’ which is the most oft-rebutted fallacy. There are several quite different things referred to by the English word ‘love’; liberals (and this is not honest) use love-A TrojanHorse-like to smuggle in love-B in an inappropriate context.

    The kind of ‘love’ he commended (Harry’s & Meghan’s) bears little relation to the Great Commandments.

    There is a reason why Jesus didn’t add ‘and while you’re about it, love yourself’ and M Curry did – even granted that there is a kind of self love that is a very good thing.

    It is not true that if lots of people have romantic love (which is actually in danger of becoming self-absorbed and detracting from love of God as Gavin A pointed out) there will be an end to war. This is not even close to true.

    It is not good to say how good the couple’s present initial state is without pointing them forward to the next one(s).

    Love-as-fire and the fact that fire is put to best and most powerful use when contained – an excellent preaching point.

    Quoting Teilhard is always dangerous. Mysticism is inevitably speculative; speculation can easily be hubristic and ill-grounded. Do people quote him because he used to be flavour of the month in their formative years (but is inevitably very much of his time)? Or because they are operating at the level of intelligent laypersons who rightly want their theology to be scientifically grounded? Teilhard is only one of thousands of distinguished scientists, one of thousands who are also Christians. The integration of scientific and spiritual knowledge is an excellent end to have in view, but against what higher benchmark can anyone test the possible insights gained during that quest?

  15. Fire:
    As this sermon was on the day before Pentecost, perhaps there may (or more appropriately should) have been a reference to the mini -Pentecost tongues of fire- see Alastair Roberts, Youtube video.
    Or maybe this :
    “Get on fire for God and men will come and see you burn.”
    ? John Wesley

  16. Wow – I get the distinct impression people would have been happier if Bp Michael had read out the whole of Barth’s Dogmatics. In German.

    Most of the comments come across as carping and looking for something to criticise because they don’t like his inclusive stance. (I am not including here comments on fire section which are about technique).

    • ‘There’s much to learn from here..let’s do so and raise our game. Amazing to have people around the world talking about this. But of course there were some serious theological issues here which are worth recognising (and I haven’t mentioned that Curry’s liberalism has destroyed his church)’.

      If that is carping, then I’m a trout.

      • Ian, by comments I meant the comments thread.

        But actually I think this is an example of rhetorical issues at work. People have attacked the sermon’s content because of who Bp Michael is – ethos. If a conservative evangelical preacher had preached the exact same sermon, I am unconvinced we would have any of this discussion.

        And it is telling that the criticism has to focus on what’s not there, rather than what was there (and in some cases ignoring what was there).

        In the space of eight minutes (actually 13, but we’ve all been there…) he managed to bring in that God is love, that God loves us, that Jesus died to save us, that we are called to love God and love our neighbour, and that this love is not just romantic, but something that can make a difference in an oppressive a situation as enduring slavery.

        If there are serious theological issues with that, then I’m a duck-billed platypus.

        • Would concede a question about emphasis?

          Even if Curry did manage to fit all those things in, would you accept the emphasis clearly still fell most strongly on the latter (loving others as a means to change the world, will ‘love’ being somewhat vague), and not on Jesus, as the pattern and pinnacle of what that love looks like?

          Perhaps the fairer criticism is that Curry was simply overconfident, trying to make a wedding sermon a Gospel message (with reference to fire/pentecost), but sadly falling short of really nailing either?

          I don’t know.

        • JT,
          I had no idea who Curry was before the event and didn’t watch the ceremony, but merely heard the sermon live on the radio, so had no idea of what he looked like, and made comments what he said and sounded like – an American accent with a passionate delivery. I still don’t know much about him, but I trust what I have subsequently learned from Ian Paul and others about the effect he has had on TEC.
          There is still no content, in what you have quoted, just well used Christian language. “Died to save us”. from and for what? It seems from everything that has been written above in the original IP piece and comments even words like redemption are not explained. And the speed of delivery was such that, as I said above, it gave the impression that they were dropped off in passing to get to the main theme, thrust. Such is the current commonality of use of language, even soccer players are able to self-redeem or atone for their mistakes when they score an own goal, by scoring one for their own side. Surely then it is a small step that covers a huge amount of ground to emphasise, that humanity can redeem itself through human love which is the take-home message I was left with.
          It just doesn’t wash. In more ways than one.

          • JT,
            And to make it clear, this was Curry’s, motive, goal, theme, for the sermon.
            Bishop Curry Explains His Gospel

            “Asked on CNN what he (Bishop Curry) was motivated by in writing the sermon, he said: ‘if we could just harness the real power of love we could actually change and transform this world. That is was what was driving me. I’m convinced this is the case. That is really what Jesus of Nazareth was getting at and was willing to die for.’

            He added: ‘At its root this love is a sacrificial way that seeks the good and wellbeing of others sometimes even over and above one’s own self interest.”
            This was posted today on David Roberston’s blog, where he also comments on Adrian Hilton’s continued comments.

            The critiques of the sermon in Ian Paul’s original piece and the comments above have not been off beam.

    • Jonathan – have a dip into Barth’s reflection on marriage in Church Dogmatics 3.4:
      rhetorical, poetical, theological, and beautiful:

      ….Love does not question; it gives an answer. Love does not think; it knows. Love does not hesitate; it acts. Love does not fall into raptures; it is ready to undertake responsibilities. Love puts behind it all the Ifs and Buts, all the conditions, reservations, obscurities and uncertainties that may arise between a man and a woman. Love is not only affinity and attraction; it is union. Love makes these two persons indispensable to each other. Love compels them to be with each other….

        • hah – well, I think its beautiful and Barth on good form – and as you known Jesus surrounds it and inspires it and exemplifies it – and to be accurate Barth refers to God on pages either side ….. but maybe ur right, we need to read the first four volumes on the Revelation of God and the last 4 on the Reconciliation of God to read his 4 ethics tombs in context 😉

    • The all-too-general word ‘inclusive’ is either meaningless or a Trojan horse unless we are suggesting (incorrectly) that including disabled people in a fellowship is the same sort of thing as agreeing that people are born homosexual.

  17. Thanks, Ian, for the very helpful post.

    Yes, I can learn much about preaching from those with whom I have significant differences. I struggle with the theme of his message–love, love, love when the church he leads continues to harm many dioceses and parishes all over the USA. A friend who is a life-long Episcopalian put it this way on her Facebook page:

    “Bishop Curry delivered a beautiful message of love at the royal wedding, but doesn’t model that love message in his leadership with the Episcopal church. Bishop Curry, where is the love in leading a church to steal millions of dollars of property from your brothers and sisters in Christ; where is the love towards those of us who want religious freedom to follow the Gospel according Christ. Where is your love here in the US, Bishop?”

    Yes I can learn from Bishop Curry but it is made much more difficult when his actions overwhelm his very eloquent words.

  18. Let’s not lose track of the fact that Bp Curry took the love of God in Christ to a billion or more people who have been turned away from the church by ideas of substitutionary atonement, exclusion, and fear of sexuality. Bp. Curry spoke with passion rooted in that love. Christianity has been reinterpreted many, many times in its history. The gospel reading from John for Pentecost includes: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Apparently, many of us still can’t bear some the the things Christ would have us hear.

    • Alan – when you refer to the many things the Spirit has to say to us do you believe that is in addition or contradiction to what he has already said and inspired in the apostolic witness? Certainly other Episcopalians appear to have held to such a fiction as former presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold in an interview Dec28th 1997 to Philadelphia Enquirer stated: “Broadly speaking the Episcopal church is in conflict with Scripture. The only way to justify it is to say, well, Jesus talks about the Spirit guiding the Church and guiding believers and bringing to their awareness things they cannot deal with yet.” “So one would have to say that the mind of Christ operative in the church over time…has led the church to in effect contradict the words of the Gospel.”
      do you believe the Spirit at work now contradicts the Spirit at work inspiring Apostolic sacred writ? J

      • I certainly believe that we still have a lot to learn about ourselves, the world we live in, and about Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. We understand sin, I believe, in different ways than we did a couple of millenia ago. We certainly have a different idea about the justice of God. We now believe, for example, that wearing two types of fabric is not an abomination, but that racism is. I even have been known to eat shrimp and pork on occasion. ?

        • So, we are treated here to a paraphrase of the shop-worn knock-down rhetorical questions: ‘Do you wear mixed fibres, or do you eat shell-fish?’

          The only appropriate response would be to ask in a similar rhetorical vein: ‘Is it ever okay to commit incest (Lev. 6-18)? Or to have sexual relations with your neighbour’s wife (Lev. 18:20)? Or to sacrifice one’s children to idols (Lev. 18:21)? Or to commit bestiality (Lev. 18:23)?”

          On this basis, it’s clear that to single out for exemption the Lev. 18:22 prohibition is an unwarranted special pleading on behalf of same-sex couples.

          There’s also a clear contrast in the differing rationales given by God for demanding adherence to Levitical dietary laws (consecration – Lev. 11:43, 44) when compared to sexual prohibitions (refusing to adopt the defiling customs which provoked God’s eviction of the Canaanites – Lev. 18:26 – 30)

          There’s also little doubt that the arsenokoites neologism in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10
          is a compounding shorthand for the LXX Levitical prohibition (Lev. 18:22 – arsenos ou…koite)

          • Hi again David,

            ….but Lev 18:22 isn’t about same-sex couples – it’s a prohibition of anal sex between men. If you wish to apply it more broadly, what’s your basis for doing so?

            In friendship, Blair

          • Blair, I didn’t know that that was the case.

            (1) Not lying with a man as with a woman could just mean ‘sleeping with’.

            (2) Engaging in AS with a man is not comparable anatomy-wise to normal sexual intercourse and therefore the word ‘as’ would be inapposite.

          • Hi Blair,

            By the same token, the prohibition of adultery (Ex. 20:14; Lev. 18:20) doesn’t explicitly prohibit the ‘roving eye’.

            So, if Jesus wishes us to apply this more broadly (Matt. 5:28), what’s His basis for doing so?

          • Hi David,

            I take the point but don’t think the parallel works. The ‘roving eye’ is a key part of, or prelude to, adultery; anal sex between men is not a key part of sex between women.

            In friendship, Blair

          • Hi Blair,

            Actually, the parallel does work because Jesus’ declaration refers explicitly to men.

            Ergo, to be consistent, you would have to maintain equally that all women are excluded from the Christ’s explicit declaration that ‘anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’.

            As you ask, ‘If you wish to apply it more broadly, what’s your basis for doing so?’

          • Hello David,

            I see your point but still disagree.

            In the case of adultery, clearly switching the genders can work with no problem: a woman can look covetously at another’s husband. But in the case of penetrative sex between men, there isn’t an equivalent act that two women could perform. I wonder if it’s also of any note that the next verse, Lev 18:23, is explicitly aimed at both sexes where 18:22 isn’t.

            Also, if a ban on sex between women can be inferred from the Levitical text, why did the rabbis create their own interdiction? Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s ‘Wrestling with God and men’, which I’ve mentioned before on here, sketches this (chapter 4: it might be readable on Google Books) and the distinction between a biblical and a rabbinic prohibition, the former obviously carrying more weight.

            Lastly for now, Gareth Moore OP in ‘The body in context’ does a close reading of Matthew 5:27-28 and notes that it closely echoes the Septuagint version of Exodus 20:17; the Greek verb is epithumeo, usually rendered as ‘covet’ when translating the decalogue (as you doubtless know…sorry, I’m not meaning to patronise here). That suggests that desire in a broader sense – including but not limited to sexual desire – is in view here, in contrast to Lev 18:22 which prohibits a specific act.

            In friendship, Blair

          • So what if, as you say: a woman can look covetously at another’s husband? That may well be her prelude to adultery, according to your modern definition, but we’re not talking about modern definitions, are we?

            If Lev. 18:22 proscribes a specific act (AS), then equally Lev. 18:20 proscribes a specific act (male perpetration of adultery).

            If the rationale behind Matt. 5:27-28 is based on Ex. 20:17 which generally prohibits covetousness (cf. Rom. 7:7), then this prohibition is applicable to any divergence from the enduring archetypes which God has instigated and affirmed through revelation.

            And that includes any divergence from the God-given male-female monogamy archetype in Genesis.

          • Hi again David,

            I’m slightly bemused by your most recent comment – please bear with me.

            I don’t entirely understand your first paragraph as I thought we were discussing how text/s are to be applied, not definitions…?

            Re your second paragraph: but there’s a general proscription of adultery at Ex. 20:14 (which you made reference to above), so I’m not sure what the significance of your point here is.

            I confess I don’t follow the logic of your last paragraphs – how, without begging the question, do you broaden things all the way out to prohibiting “any divergence from the enduring archetypes which God has instigated and affirmed through revelation”?

            in friendship, Blair

          • Hi Blair,

            Certainly, a woman can look covetously on another’s husband as a prelude to illicit sex. However, in Israelite law, the term for adultery was confined to illicit intercourse of a married or betrothed woman with any other man than her husband. (This term contrasts significantly with the modern definition of adultery).

            And that’s why, despite Ex. 20:14, Deut. 22:22, Lev. 20:10 and Prov. 6:32, all focus on the male perpetrator. Even Ex. 20:17 does the same: ‘…You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…’

            In Matt. 5:27,28, Jesus broadens the prohibition to encompass the intent, but still relates it to the male perpetrator of adultery, declaring that it involves “committing adultery in his heart”.

            Of course, common sense would tell you that, whether capable of the male penetrative role or not, it’s wrong for anyone to violate the principle established by Jesus: that ‘it was not so from the beginning’.

            And that applies to any divergence (including all forms of same-sex sex) from what was ‘so from the beginning’, which, as I described, God has instigated and affirmed through revelation.

            Now, I’m equally bemused by your responses here, so, perhaps, we should call it quits, eh?

          • Hello David,

            thanks for clarifying – hoping my brain is less fogged this evening. This really isn’t meant as death by tedium even if it might be starting to feel like that to you…!

            But…I am still maintaining that the parallel you’re seeking to draw, doesn’t really work. In the case of adultery, “whether capable of the male penetrative role or not” is not entirely the point; strictly legal definitions apart, a person can cheat on/betray their partner with many acts beside penetrative sex. Whereas Lev. 18:22, 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 (mentioned in your original comment) all refer to a specific, penetrative act; I don’t see how it’s possible simply to reverse the sexes in “And with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman”.

            Also, what about the point that if Lev. 18:22 can be read to include sex between women, why did the rabbis devise their own prohibition of lesbian sex? (Similarly, assuming Paul in Romans 1 is definitely referring to sex between women, isn’t his reference otiose, if you are right?).

            Moreover, it seems to me that you’re advocating a position that can’t be grounded exegetically – what exegesis of Lev. 18:22, 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 could there be that would read them as referring to lesbian sex?

            in friendship, Blair (still in pedant’s corner….)

          • Hi Blair,

            You wrote: ‘strictly legal definitions apart, a person can cheat on/betray their partner with many acts beside penetrative sex

            But surely, that’s the central point. In the case of adultery, you’re maintaining that the strictly legal definition (i.e. illicit intercourse of a married or betrothed woman with any other man than her husband and as evidenced by constant reference to the male perpetrator) can be set aside to include “many acts beside penetrative sex”.

            Ergo, women are not only capable of such acts, apart from the penetrative role, but are as capable of covetousness as men.

            On the other hand, you maintain that, beyond just being perpetrated by males, mishkeve ishshah can only “refer to a specific, penetrative act”. It is by that strict definition that, of course, it cannot include “many other acts besides penetrative sex”.

            You also wrote: ‘I don’t see how it’s possible simply to reverse the sexes in “And with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman”.

            However, the view that this verse refers to a specific, penetrative act is very much disputed by respected scholars, such as Robert Holmstedt https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/the-grammar-of-leviticus-18-22/#comment-329739.

            So, as the OT legal definition of adultery can be expanded to include “many acts beside penetrative sex” perpetrated by the male or female as a violation of ‘what was so from the beginning’, the same is true of Lev. 18:22.

            Unless you can provide conclusive evidence that Lev. 18:22 refers to a specific, penetrative act, your counter-argument remains, at best, unproven.

          • Hello David,

            thanks for your further response and also for your clear summary of what I wrote. I doubt very much that you’ll think the following amounts to conclusive evidence, but still, here goes…

            i) briefly, I would note that the comment by Robert Holmstedt that you link to, doesn’t seem to me to dispute the point as vigorously as you suggest. I’m guessing the relevant part is his third paragraph:
            ‘I agree that given the options, the context in all of the examples you’ve cited suggests the [sic] that “lying-of-woman” and “lying-of-man” are probably best taken as “sex with a woman” and “sex with a man”.’ That sounds fairly tentative to me – but that’s a minor point.

            ii) drawing on Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s ‘Wrestling with God and men’ (Uni of Wisconsin Press, 2004), which I’ve mentioned before on here – Greenberg gives the literal translation of Lev. 18:22 which I quoted above, which runs “‘and with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman – it is abhorrent’. On “the lyings of a woman”, having said that this phrase doesn’t appear anywhere else in Scripture, he continues

            “a parallel phrase sheds some light. The phrase ‘the lyings of a male’ (mishkav zakhar) is found in the Book of Numbers. Women who know ‘the lying of a male’ are experienced in intercourse. The ‘lying of a male’ is apparently what a woman experiences in intercourse, that is, the penetration of the vagina. If this phrase is the reverse of our phrase in Leviticus, then we have found a possible meaning. The ‘lyings of a woman’ (mishkeve ishah) would mean what a man experiences in intercourse with a woman, that is, the engulfment of the penis” (p80).

            Greenberg is referring to Numbers 31 where having experienced ‘mishkav zakhar’ means a woman is no longer a virgin; the parallel with ‘mishkeve ishah’ points to penetration as the meaning.

            iii) Gareth Moore OP: in ‘A question of truth’ (London: Continuum, 2003), Moore writes –
            “The act indicated by ‘lie with’ is almost certainly sexual penetration. This is strongly suggested by texts such as Genesis 19:30-6, where the daughters of Lot lie with (the same verb is used as in Leviticus 18:22) their drunken father and become pregnant as a result” (p78). Moore goes on to sketch the similarities between the language of Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 18:23 and sums up:
            “The evident fact that verse 23 is concerned with sexual penetration – by a man in 23a and of a woman in 23b – together with the similarity of vocabulary between 23a and 22, as well as the close proximity of these two laws, suggests very strongly that what is being forbidden in verse 22 is not just any sexual contact between men, but the sexual penetration of one man by another, anal intercourse. The connection between 22 and 23a suggests, too, that it is the one who ‘lies’ who penetrates” (p79).

            iv) Moore notes that Saul M Olyan, in a journal article from 1994 (in ‘Journal of the History of Sexuality’, 5(2)) comes to the same conclusion via a different route.

            v) As you’re aware Thomas Renz wrote the main article, and many of the comments, in the thread you linked to. On his blog (23/1/15) he gave a shortish commentary on Olyan’s article and on Jerome T Walsh’s response to it (from 2001). Renz’s conclusion:
            “In sum, Olyan’s philological analysis can be questioned but his conclusion that Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 ban all male couplings involving anal penetration appears to be sound.”

            If these arguments are valid, I would like to suggest that there are implications for our reading of 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and 1 Tim. 10…

            in friendship, Blair

          • Hi Blair,

            Thanks for your reply.

            1. In contrast with Joseph T. Walsh, Holmstedt maintains that

            While, on his blog, Thomas Renz described Olyan’s conclusion as sound, you should be aware that, in that comment thread, Joseph T. Walsh remarked:
            ‘Neither Renz nor I have insisted that our respective interpretations are the only ones possible of the passages in question. He and I differ on which interpretation is philologically more likely, but we both recognize that each interpretation is grammatically possible. In my JBL article I presented my reading as reasonable and plausible, not as the only possible one. I did not attempt to calibrate probabilities. I simply wanted to present a reasonable defense for *an* alternative reading, thereby opening a previously closed question.

            Renz also maintains a distinction between grammatical and rhetorical explorations of meaning, when he wrote: ‘I would distinguish between our interpretation of the grammar (syntax) and our interpretation of the text (rhetoric). While I think that the traditional interpretation of the syntax (“as one beds a woman”) is a whole lot more likely, I do not think that the reading “as a woman beds one” proposed in your JBL essay is syntactically impossible.’

            So, as I said, “Unless you can provide conclusive evidence that Lev. 18:22 refers to a specific, penetrative act, your counter-argument remains, at best, unproven.”

            2. Stephen Greenberg and Moore make grammatically valid comparisons. However, (as Renz explained) rhetorical interpretation needs to complement this.

            So, explored rhetorically, the phrase is a metonym for a breadth of sexual activity, including actual coitus (cf. a modern sexual idiom, like, ‘they’ve stopped sleeping together’).

            3. Even if it makes sense for to interpret Lev. 18:22 per se as an OT injunction prohibiting free Israelite men from engaging with each other in an act which specifically symbolised female subjugation, it would not make sense for St. Paul to perpetuate this Pentateuchal view of dominant and submissive roles in sex among his Gentile converts.

        • Skin pigmentation, of itself, is morally inert, sexuality isn’t nor is God’s Justice and holiness.

          God is opposed to religious assimilation, syncretism with worldviews.

          Usurping the prohibitions from Leviticus mentioned by David Shepherd may be next on the sexual dietary menu that we can now all eat with impunity and immunity.

          Bishop Curry’s sermon could have played equally well to a marriage between father and daughter, two brothers, mother and son, unconditional, sacrificial love between resue dog (trained to woof approval at the right moment) and rescued human. There are prohibited degrees for marriage for good reasons.
          And, lest we forget, marriage is Holy Matrimony.
          It may be a slippery slope argument, but it doesn’t mean we are not on one.

          • Well down it I would say…

            From Today’s Church Times (May 25). An extract…

            Sir, — Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon was full of surprises, but reviews by those in Sydney church circles expose the ugly underbelly of a war against inclusive values.

            The Anglican diocese of Sydney, the Anglican Church League, Australian Christian lobby, and Freedom for Faith represent the flipside of Bishop Curry’s internationally broadcast message of breaking down barriers and promoting acceptance.

            The most shocking aspect of his address is that it could not be heard from a pulpit in Sydney. In much of Australia, and in many parts of the world, the celebrated American preacher is on the banned list for his positive position on Marriage equality.

            Australians cannot pretend that we are singing from the hymn sheet that was used in Windsor. The gift that the royal couple gave to the world didn’t arrive in a gold carriage, but through a microphone, like leaflets dropped into occupied territory.

            PO Box 682, Albury NSW 2640

    • There’s large inaccuracy here.

      A billion or more people have been turned away from the church for the same reason? Most people are not even looking to enter the church, and even those who are are very diverse!

      Substitutionary atonement – this is an issue that is true or untrue on its own merits, not based on how people-pleasing it is! Nothing in the world could suddenly become true on *that* basis.

      As for ‘the things that Christ would have us hear’:
      -what gives you the right to say what those things are? You would not allow that right to many others.
      -why would theyjust so happen to correspond with preoccupations of a distant culture precisely 20 centuries later? What about nearer cultures? What about other historical periods?
      -why are they so distant from anything the real Christ actually said?

  19. After William and Kate’s wedding all the press (and other) comment was about Pippa Middleton’s bottom.
    After Harry and Meghan’s it was about the sermon.

    Nuff said.

  20. Mike – your point stands of course, for millions on millions to be engaged with this preaching, if not the substance, is a remarkable cultural moment and one which forces us to examine our own preaching.

    I think Ian’s post is largely positive and he says we need to up our game – preaching is not simply to be about impartation of Content (and much of this thread has been about how good/sound/Biblical/appropriate his content was), but preaching is an Event – an unmistakable happening that leaves an imprint. And this was certainly that.

    • Steady, steady on, Simon. Whatever next? A few shouted “amens”, “hallelujahs”, in response to an essay.? In the CoE? Enthusiasm for the Good News is over the top. is it not? Scholars on ice or fools on fire? As Gordon Fee has said, the church needs scholars on fire.
      Tim Keller has often said, preaching is not impartation of good information, nor good advice, but of Good News… on every occasion, where people are changed on the spot, (even if momentarily).
      He has also frequently said that the gospel is for believers as well as unbelievers, whereas, evangelicals often think it is only for unbelievers and after conversion, it is not necessary and all we need to do is try harder.

  21. Brilliant and practical post, Ian. I saw a well-meaning article on fb along the lines of ‘If you enjoyed the sermon, go to church next Sunday’, and I found myself thinking ‘For God’s sake don’t!’ You’ll be disappointed, until more and more preachers learn to find their voice and speak with passion and conviction as ++Michael did. Your analysis has helped preachers to think about how we do it. PS Why O why O why are colleges and courses still teaching students to write and preach from full scripts – one of the greatest death-knells to passionate preaching imho.

    • Thanks John. ‘Why O why O why are colleges and courses still teaching students to write and preach from full scripts’. Be assured that in my nearly ten years teaching I never did!

      • I agree Ian – why oh why indeed? 27 years ago they did the same at my college!

        Perhaps its because the teachers in colleges generally are not preachers – they lecture from full notes and that’s their mode (earlier you made a point that teaching and preaching in the NT are essentially the same but I dont agree). I write out full notes of 3500 words to teach a lecture – I use partial notes of 1800 to preach for the same amount of time – and even then am free to discard them as I’m led.

  22. Coming from a different tradition, I had no idea who Curry was, and simply found myself slightly edgy as I listened to the sermon. It sounded great, the oratory was wonderful, but something seemed, just slightly, not quite right. For daring to say so in other forums I’ve reaped the inevitable criticisms, prompting me to note that there’s a new rule on Facebook this week:

    “The only permitted opinion about the royal wedding sermon is unqualified positivity.”

    It has been interesting to read here many of the concerns that stirred within me before any conversation with others.

    However, it’s interesting that nobody seems to have mentioned Curry’s comments about “all God’s children” and that “God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.” That’s the opposite of what the Bible teaches. Jesus gave us “the right to become children of God” by believing in him. He said that people needed a beginning for a spiritual life and so “must be born again”, which Peter later repeated. Paul wrote about us being “adopted” into God’s family, and the Holy Spirit enabling us to call God “Father” (just as Jesus instructed).

    If people go away from this sermon with the mistaken idea that they are *already* God’s children (the good bishop said so), then the task of evangelism becomes harder, and the motiation for spiritual seeking becomes lower (because “I’m already okay, I’m in the family”).

    • However, it’s interesting that nobody seems to have mentioned Curry’s comments about “all God’s children” and that “God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.”

      That is interesting, I hadn’t registered that latter part. I took Curry’s talk of brothers and sisters to be partly a reference to MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, and partly a common stylistic choice; to invoke family (brotherhood/sisterhood especially) as a means of demonstrating shared connection, rather than a theological point about Christian identity.

      Consider Martin Luther King’s words,

      “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

      I’m not sure that many (or any) will have read the theology of adoption into either Curry or King, despite the fact both me use the term in the context of equality of all people God. Interesting though.


  23. Fascinating to read all these responses (and responses to responses) following Curry’s sermon. Just three obsevations. First, in a setting as traditonal as could be imagined he captivated people: what he said was said attractively and engagingly. With Michael Sadgrove I’m just a tiny bit envious.
    Secondly, he spoke about God and referred to Jesus and the Bible frequently so that no one could doubt where he at least claimed his sources were. No one culd be left in any doubt that this was a sermon which rooted itself in the Christian tradition, or at least, one version of it. (By the way, does a sermon at a wedding have to be ‘expository’ as has been suggested? It’s an interesting category to explore but it doesn’t seem to be an obviously mandatory one.) And thirdly, he could have emphasised far more the costliness of love, the impossible challenge of learning to love or the cost of living within the fire of God’s love – but hey, there’s only so much you can do in one sermon and he, like the rest of us, is still learning. A lot of the criticisms seem to have an edge of negativity about them, which seems unnecessary. Instead of that, let’s be very thankful that on the grand stage the Church of England, with the help of ECUSA, made a pretty good job of it. Perfection will take a bit longer.

  24. Curry’s motives, goals, aims, aim theme for the sermon – to make it clear:
    Bishop Curry Explains His Gospel

    “Asked on CNN what he (Bishop Curry) was motivated by in writing the sermon, he said: ‘if we could just harness the real power of love we could actually change and transform this world. That is was what was driving me. I’m convinced this is the case. That is really what Jesus of Nazareth was getting at and was willing to die for.’

    He added: ‘At its root this love is a sacrificial way that seeks the good and wellbeing of others sometimes even over and above one’s own self interest.”
    This was posted today on David Roberston’s blog, where he also comments on Adrian Hilton’s continued comments.

    The critiques of the sermon in Ian Paul’s original piece and the comments above have not been off beam.

    • Bp Curry in his sermon:
      ‘…you just tell the love of Jesus, how he died to save us all.’
      ‘He died to save us all.’

      David Robertson on what Bp Curry meant:
      ‘Jesus did not die to save us’.

      This critique certainly seems off-beam.

      • To be fair to both, I think Curry would say that Jesus died to show us what sacrificial love was like, and to give as a (possibly unparalleled) example—but that he death did not effect anything as such.

        Robertson says, Jesus death effected something, and that believing that is essential to orthodox understandings of Jesus’ death and resurrection (which also didn’t feature).

        That is where the difference is—and I think it is a real difference.

        • Sacrifices (e.g. animal sacrifices) were because of sin. In Bp Curry’s presentation, how is Jesus’s death ‘sacrificial’ if he is just dying
          -for no reason
          -to solve no problem
          -to bring about no benefit?

          How is merely *dying* a loving act?

        • Hi Ian,

          Have you checked that that’s actually what Michael Curry’s position is, as distinct from your account of it? His sermon mentioned the slave song, There is a balm in Gilead, which includes the line about Jesus dying to save us all… I can’t help thinking you’re mischaracterising his view.

          In friendship, Blair

          • Yes – but
            ‘save’ from what?
            ‘save’ in what sense?
            why did people need saving in the first place?
            An undefined ‘save’ has no meaning.

  25. “referred to Jesus and the Bible frequently”…. I don’t see this in the transcript….four mentions of scripture. One of them (Letter of John) I’d say was out of true context.

    There are things to learn (though not merely copy) from his presentational style. But is the content any more than the Beatles’song, ‘All you need is love’?

    I don’t see what there was to point out our need for Jesus as the saviour from the failings of human love. Jesus as the exemplar we are called to follow can clearly be added in a salvific context opportunity… but his moment to say that has gone. Does he believe it? I dont know.

  26. This is one of the most helpful responses I’ve read, measured and reasonable, celebrating the positives without missing legitimate questions over content. It is heart warming to hear such moving themes preached from scripture with passion and conviction to such a vast audience. But would you agree that it is a little premature to celebrate this sermon as evidence that Anglicans all proclaim the NT gospel, notwithstanding our differences? Perhaps we would need to hear something from Bishop Michael about themes like reconciliation with God or eternal life before reaching that conclusion? God’s unconditional love transforming society is not necessarily the same as God’s undeserved love saving us from death. Whether or not he was right to omit those themes on this occasion, wouldn’t we need to hear them articulated, before declaring that this is the gospel? Do his published works shed more light?

  27. JT,
    1 I repeat the comment I made earlier in the comments box above, to you as it still stands.
    I’m not here to defend David Robertson, as he is more than robust enough to do that himself,
    but you have seemingly disingenuously quoted him out of context. Why don’t you post that comment on his site?
    2 the whole gist, thrust, of the sermon, was as I commented to you above which seems to need repetition:
    “I had no idea who Curry was before the event and didn’t watch the ceremony, but merely heard the sermon live on the radio, so had no idea of what he looked like, and made comments what he said and sounded like – an American accent with a passionate delivery. I still don’t know much about him, but I trust what I have subsequently learned from Ian Paul and others about the effect he has had on TEC.
    There is still no content, in what you have quoted, just well used Christian language. “Died to save us”. from and for what? It seems from everything that has been written above in the original IP piece and comments even words like redemption are not explained. And the speed of delivery was such that, as I said above, it gave the impression that they were dropped off in passing to get to the main theme, thrust. Such is the current commonality of use of language, even soccer players are able to self-redeem or atone for their mistakes when they score an own goal, by scoring one for their own side. Surely then it is a small step that covers a huge amount of ground to emphasise, that humanity can redeem itself through human love which is the take-home message I was left with.
    It just doesn’t wash. In more ways than one.
    3 To extend the soccer illustration – a player may chop down an opposing player, to stop him/her scoring into an open goal, and get sent off and it is said by a pundit that, “he took one for the team”. Is that the type of saving love for his team we are talking about? Guest, David Beckham, may have recognised that.
    4 If you are a vicar, what does vicarious mean? It is at the root of employment law in the law of Torts, where an employer pays the penalty for acts and omissions of an employee, stands in the place of the employee. Is that what we are talking about?
    5 As Ian Paul said originally the sermon revealed an exemplary theory of atonement, not substitutionary, good news. I was there, hammering in the nails. Where were you?
    6 By the way, what do you think it means, that Jesus died to save us all?
    7 This is no in-house Anglican discussion, it is germane to the whole of Christianity, and it’s spread.
    It is cross-shaped – crucial. And as Christopher said above, it is either reality or isn’t. Is it not a theory.
    8 Much more could be said and will be, but I’ll end with this from Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones;
    “Stop talking about all these things that are held to be absolute essentials if I am to be a complete Christian. I do not want them. “God forbid that I should glory”, I will make my boast in nothing and in no one, nor in any special teaching “except in the Lord Jesus Christ” and Him alone. He is enough, because of Him “the world has been crucified to me and I am crucified unto the world”.
    Let me put it plainly, I will not make my boast, I will not glory, even in my orthodoxy, for even that can be a snare if I make a god of it. I will glory only in that Blessed Person Himself by whom this great thing has been done, with whom I died, with whom I have been buried, with whom I am dead to sin and alive unto God, with whom I have risen, with whom I am seated in the heavenly places, by whom and by whom alone the world is crucified unto me and I am crucified unto the world. Anything that wants to come into the centre instead of Him I shall reject. Knowing the apostolic message concerning Jesus Christ in all its directness, its simplicity and its glory, God forbid that any one of us should add anything to it. Let us rejoice in Him and in all His fulness and in Him alone.”
    (Based on Galatians and from his written sermon “False Teaching)
    9 Is that what “died to save us all”means to you, to any of us?

  28. I really enjoyed reading this commentary on Curry’s sermon, and I learned a lot about sermon-craft through your analysis. Thank you. I thought your points on the use of rhetoric were the strongest parts of the essay, and I agree that the final two minutes (though they do drive home the efficacy of the energy or fire of love and enlarge on that metaphor) was not needed.

    I prefer to think of the choice of Bp. Michael Curry as a brave rather than a sensitive choice, even a choice that demonstrates faith. Weddings are a time when families come together. We have doctrinal differences. Can we still come together? The characterization that the Episcopal Church USA be “held responsible for tearing apart the Anglican Communion” seems not only harsh, but also one sided, and could be re-framed in a more generous and inclusive light. This inclusiveness is a faith that says, we are all valued, even when we disagree.

    I thought Curry’s message to be very Biblical. A few thoughts:
    -many references to fire so near to Pentecost. Fire is basic. It’s one metaphor we should all be able to access. Likewise, Love. I thought this was a Pentecost-themed sermon: get over your fear, and, powered by Love, get out there and do some healing.
    -using the Song of Solomon text. Perfect for his message that not only is there Power in Love, but that that Power has concrete applications to bettering the lives of many, no matter how despairing (for example, even slaves took heart). “Set me as a seal” is a good reference to the protective and healing nature of marriage/partnership, a refuge from the world that allows us to find our better natures and renew ourselves to do the work of being in the world. Also the “flame of the Lord” in Song of Sol is a repetition of the Pentecost theme of flames of fire, or the energy of Love.
    -repetition of “Love is the way” could be seen as a direct reference to Psalm 1 (this theology is repeated through the Psalter, in my experience), an instructional Way of Life.
    -touching on Atonement as self-emptying and sacrificial. This speaks of what lies ahead not only in marriage, but in life. Giving of oneself is redemptive.

    I found this sermon, which effectively said “use your love as a power (through supporting each other) to make this world a better place,” to be positive and encouraging, more so than 1 Cor. 13 with the admonition to “be patient and kind.” This sermon had fire and empowerment. It’s a message which all of us can hear, whether partnered or not–that we all can effect the world around us, and that we can continue to uphold God’s message in the world by staying connected to Love. “Look on Him and be radiant.” Ps. 34:5.

    I did not catch the inclusio the first time I heard the sermon, but I think there may be several (if there are several, is it still an inclusio?), including the following: Prayer of/petition for God’s Love at the beginning and end; old world/new creation theme (could be a reference to 2 Cor 5:17) at beginning and end; also he may have repeated the fire theme at the beginning and end, too. While I like your idea of King’s speech being the inclusio, I wonder if Bp. Curry had a bigger inclusio in mind: God’s Love.

    On a day when all the world was watching, I thought this sermon did well to tell the real meaning/power/gift of marriage and of Love, even through all the pomp and circumstance. This sermon was for the couple, but it was for us all, even (and especially) the rich and famous onlookers.

    Thanks for posting. Your ideas provoked my thoughts, and caused me to listen a second and third time. Like a good sermon, my life is the richer for it. Thank you. Peace.

  29. I’m not a clergyman and I never preach, and I get the sense that most commentators here are clergymen and preachers , so I hesitate to offer any advice on preaching.

    However as someone who has sat through a lot of sermons can I make a friendly and humble request. Please don’t start mimicking this or any other particular style of sermon or delivery.

    I have sat through many Alpha evenings where the person giving the talk has attempted to “do a Gumble” which almost invariably pancakes. It works brilliantly well when you watch Nicky Gumble do it – but it is very rare for anyone else to be able to pull it off convincingly. It would be excruciating if we now had 18 months of clergy trying to “do a Curry”.

    Rather than apeing the rhetorical tricks of others (which can very easily become manipulation) how about focusing on content as you are led by the Holy Spirit and then relying on the HS to reach into men’s hearts for you?

    If your preaching become a type of performance the less chance it has of having an impact.

  30. Many thanks, Ian, for your astute rhetorical analysis here. There’s no question that in terms of homiletic technique, construction and delivery, there was much to be gleaned. Bruce A. Rosenberg’s ‘The Art of the American Folk Preacher’ is a classic guide to many of the devices used by Michael Curry, although of course the Presiding Bishop’s theology was decidedly more liberal than that of most of the preachers studied by Rosenberg. Indeed, Curry’s own reference to Martin Luther King Jr was significant not just in terms of preaching style, but in terms of the fact that MLK provided Curry with a template for blending the contours and cadences of black American folk preaching with decidedly liberal theology – MLK gained his doctorate, after all, from an institution hardly noted for its theological conservatism or evangelicalism, Boston University. Actually, whereas MLK was quite heavily influenced by Bultmann and doubted the virgin birth, I found it interesting that Curry at least made a point of stating his conviction that the story of Jesus’ walking on water was genuinely a miracle. It was also true, as some have remarked, that while the main model of atonement driving the sermon was exemplarist, there were occasional hints of substitutionary sacrifice (though not of penal substitution!).

    In terms of current intra-Anglican ecclesiastical politics, however, I’m surprised that relatively little attention has been drawn thus far to Curry’s exhortatory line, ‘Oh, there’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love.’ Maybe 30 years of deciphering theological sub-texts human sexuality disputes have made me too ready to infer ‘diplomatic signalling’ from such remarks. But given the divisions between TEC, the CofE and the rest of the Communion on doctrinally acceptable ‘forms’ and ‘shapes’ of love, it’s hard not to think that this was code for urging Archbishop Justin and English Anglicanism to come round to TEC’s way of thinking on gay marriage, rather than to heed, say, the GAFCON perspective. In terms of classical rhetoric, it would be classed a form of enthymeme – an incomplete syllogism in which the target audience is implicitly expected to supply the missing logical link. Thus, from ‘There’s power in love…any form, any shape of love’, we are expected to infer that same-sex sexual relationships are authentically loving, and as such, should be endorsed formally by a church for whom God is love, and for whom wherever authentic love is found, God’s blessing should be conferred. As so often with such enthymemes, however, question-begging can loom in the background – in this case with respect to what is in fact meant by love, whether ‘power’ is an intrinsically moral or morally ambivalent attribute of love, and what is or is not authentic love from a biblical perspective.

    • Thanks David,

      For me you have hit the nail on the head with your highlighting of “but any form, any shape of love.” I have no doubt that he assumes/brings a definition and a content to this that others (including me) would question. The majority of his listeners would not spot this (and maybe not care) and so his weaving of this into the sermon is a kind of Trojan Horse. It pushes the discussion about love further along the romantic, do as you feel, route.

      In a world where the most complex issues are reduced to sound bites and tweets there’s not much appetite for depth.

      • I didn’t spot it either, though have become wise to the strange and widespread compulsion not to let a single message go by without a bit of this virtue-signalling. If that is what was taking place when he said ‘any form, any shape’. Thanks, David.

    • Hi Geoff,

      Have just read the Rod Liddle piece you link to. It’s certainly in his usual style – slapdash caricatures abound. I don’t see why such an inattentive glance at the wedding, or specifically at what Michael Curry said, should merit much attention. On the sermon, he asks, “what kind of love?” – well, read the thing. Others here have noted what kind of love Michael Curry meant – that exemplified by Jesus. Rod Liddle also draws on Gavin Ashenden to knock Michael Curry; but Gavin Ashenden’s piece is inaccurate as well as unpleasant.

      In friendship, Blair (doubtless the kind of useless white liberal whom Rod Liddle’s scorn is aimed at…)

      • “In friendship, Blair (doubtless the kind of useless white liberal whom Rod Liddle’s scorn is aimed at….”

        Gosh…. You recognised yourself…. Seriously… I’m leg pulling. 🙂

        Should anybody have time for Liddle’s guff?

          • Actually I retract… Not the joke about you 🙂 but (shame faced) having now read it I may not agree with it all…but this bit is true for this useless white conservatish…

            “And it is a very au courant thesis, if you can call it a thesis. ‘All you need is love, dooby, dooby doo.’ What kind of love? The love of a suicide bomber for his explosive belt? The love of an oligarch for his money and power? The love of a third-world despot for his death squads? The love of Harry, somewhere down the line, for someone who isn’t Meghan? Are all these loves OK?”

    • Thanks for the link, Geoff.

      If ever you want to be reminded that it is possible (and learn how) to be intelligent, engaging, topical, observant, witty, incisive, provocative, fearless, (and rude) all in a few paragraphs, it’s not a bad idea to read a piece by Rod Liddle.

      He’s one of the few people currently willing and able to prick the bubble of pomposity, absurdity and narcissism which bedevil’s the Western world right now. I’m sure that puts him on the hate list of the many professional takers of offence whose humourless diktats we are all supposed to obey. But I also hope it motivates him even more to exercise his talent on behalf the remaining few of us who choose to think for ourselves. It’s not so much a case of agreeing with every word he writes as rejoicing that he’s not minded to be silenced as so many others have been.

      But we’re drifting off topic – forgivable, I hope, after a week such as this…

  31. Do any of us live in our own self-referential bubble, I wonder? Is Liddle beyond the reach of the CoE? Beyond the salvation of Christ? Beyond the Gospel? Or dismissed as a “one-off” point of view, not held by any or many others. How do you reach out in love to him and others like him? Or is he just a bluff Northern numpty, who happened to reach a Senior position in the BBC and, if I remember correctly, has said years ago that he had some lingering affinity to the CoE and some sort of weak deism – liturgical comfort- faith (my words.) It’s time, is it not, to dust-off and don a love mask to hide contempt? “From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Curry’s love sermon has evaporated in the morning -after indigestion and inflammation of our hearts, has it not?

    • Hi Geoff,

      I certainly wasn’t meaning to suggest that Rod Liddle is beyond salvation or the gospel. I may well spend too much time in a self referential bubble… but I’m hoping that his article can be duly critiqued without contempt for the man himself.
      In friendship, Blair

  32. OK Blair,
    Engage with him, or rather he points he makes. He is asking serious questions many western atheists ask about love particularly the idea that “God is love”, which often draws out some of the greatest vehemence in atheist. Someone has coined the phrase that some militant atheist seem to espouse: there is no god and I hate him? He also seems to be of a similar age to Bishop Curry, and lived through the same times as MLK, John Lennon, the Beatles and sexual incontinence of those ages, to have developed some “healthy?” skepticism. And yes, it would be definitely inappropriate to mention broken families and divorce, at such a marvelous occasion, but Liddle has pointed out the reality of consequences of following “love” in our hearts. As many others have pointed out there was no pointing out the hard work of the faithfulness of committed “covenant love”, particularly the God’s faithful “new covenant of love” in the blood of Christ. Others above in the comments have pointed out the litigious love Curry has engaged in TEC. As a former lawyer, litigation, including divorce, is one of the last places where faithful, redemptive, reconciliatory love is fostered or resides.

    • Thank you for your final sentence, Geoff – the legal area of which you spoke is unspeakable in its amorality.


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