When the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, prepared the address he delivered at the wedding of the now Duke and Duchess of Sussex, he knew he would not only be speaking to the couple about to be pronounced married and to the 600 guests in the building and thousands more outside. He knew he would be speaking to millions of people across the globe, and he did not miss his opportunity to preach the good news about God who is Love.

There was no title for his address published in the order of service that I saw, but I say: we can title his remarks the “The Power of Love” or “When Love is the Way.” When Meghan married Harry, the couple brought elements of an African ethos into the proceedings, a way of being in the world born from the history, beliefs, philosophy, and spirituality of a people. An African ethos is one that values community and a spirituality that comes from the participation of the community in ritual.

Within an African, African-American, African-Caribbean, African-British, context the preaching moment is an oral performance that invites and even requires audience participation. The task of the speaker is to bring speaker and audience together into a spiritual community that unifies head and heart, intellect and emotion, to hear the voice and the will of the Divine. The truth cannot come forth from a passive listening to a speech stripped of emotion for the sake of decorum. Within a pan-African ethos, the voice of the Divine comes from the affirmation of the people. It is not given to a consecrated individual who tells a passive audience what God wants. It does not come through a sovereign, constitutional or otherwise. It is bottom up, not top down.

Bishop Curry brought emotion and logic to his sermon in a way that baffled and or amused some in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle who were not accustomed to the African-American preaching tradition. No one there would break decorum and give Bishop Curry the out loud “Amens” that he would have received in a black church setting. However, this did not stop the power of his words from reaching millions across the globe. The truth of his sermon resonated anyway.

He started by quoting a part of the scripture reading from the Song of Solomon that speaks of the power of love, that speaks of love as a fire that cannot be extinguished. Next he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. on the power of love. He told his global audience that God is Love and that Jesus commanded his followers to love God with all of their hearts, minds, souls and strength, and to love the neighbor as we would love ourselves. Such love is deeper than the love between lover and beloved. Such love is revolutionary.

He quoted a spiritual sung by enslaved Africans in America, singing about a balm in Gilead that can heal a wounded soul. Bishop Curry said: “”One of the stanzas actually explains why: they said, If you cannot preach like Peter and you cannot pray like Paul, you must tell the love of Jesus how he died to save us all. Oh that’s the balm in Gilead. This way of love is the way of life.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/19/style/bishop-michael-curry-royal-wedding.html)

The African-American preaching tradition, at its best, within the context of a pan-African ethos, usually does not isolate the salvation of the individual from the salvation of the community through the insistence that the Divine requires justice. In keeping with the best of this tradition, Bishop Curry spoke about what would happen if love were our way of being in the world. He asked his audience to imagine a world where love was the way. He asked his global audience to imagine a world where “poverty will become history.” He spoke of a new heaven and a new earth. Finally, he spoke about fire and the power of elemental fire to fuel our lives. What would the world be if we harnessed love as a kind of spiritual fire?

As wonderful as the bishop’s sermon was, he failed to tell Meghan and Harry, the audience in the chapel, and his global audience that love is not enough. Love is a passion that can fuel our actions and give us the power to do extraordinary things, but love is not enough. Love requires faith and faithfulness. It requires commitment and purpose. Love requires a communal spirituality that says “yeah and amen” to a revolutionary love of the Divine, of neighbor, and of ourselves.

During the declarations, when the Archbishop asked Harry if he would take Meghan as his wife and he answered, “I will”, a cheer from the crowd outside the chapel could be heard inside. When Meghan answered the same question with: “I will”, the crowd outside cheered again. When the couple were pronounced married, another cheer breached the walls of St. George’s Chapel. The community had said “yeah and amen” to this marriage.

Now, if only the world would say “yeah and amen” to Bishop Curry’s call for the way of love and justice beyond one royal wedding moment.

 

See: Donna Richards “The Implications of African-American Spirituality” in African Culture: The Rhythms of Unity  eds. Molefi Kete Asante and Kariamu Welsh Asante (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1985)

 

 

 

Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”


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