The blog

The blog—informal opinions and chat about the parish

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Our New Visibility

First a bit of history

You probably noticed that the religious right ("Evangelicalism") got itself focused on two issues: abortion and gay marriage. Yes, there were other issues as well, for example the display of Christian artifacts (Nativity scenes, the Ten Commandments, etc.) on public land, but abortion and gay marriage were the litmus issues.

One result of this litmus test was that organizations such as the Episcopal Church who are not putting much energy into opposing abortion and who accept gay marriage got labeled as "not really Christian" by the loudly vocal mainstream.

Another result was that, especially in politics, "Christian" became rather narrowly defined as opposition to abortion, hatred of sexual minorities, and the willingness to say "Merry Christmas." Each of us can name a friend or neighbor who said that so-and-so is THE Christian candidate because he is solid on these points—never mind such minor issues as honesty, sexual morality, or racial prejudice.

The secular press noticed how basically wrong-headed this is, and for the last year or two, we have seen a rising tide of articles in publications such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Guardian, pondering how Evangelicalism lost its soul and became anything but Christian—essentially a jingoistic political party that meets to sing hymns on Sunday morning.

Enter Bishop Curry

When Bishop Curry was consecrated, I heard a lot of comment that he would breathe new life into an old structure and that it was great to have a Black man as our most visible leader (diversity, you know). People who know him personally are unwavering in their praise. I heard him preach a couple of times, and I was awestruck. Maybe he would be good for the Episcopal Church.

Then came the royal wedding. I don't think any of us saw this one coming. Is there a more visible moment for a preacher? Yes, we have public prayers at the President's Inauguration, and eulogies at the funerals of important figures, but the public is trained to sleep through those (and most of them aren't worth much attention anyhow). Curry's sermon was different. It came as a high point in a fairy-tale event that caught the hearts of millions of people. I doubt there's been a more public sermon (or one that got as much attention) in the last thirty years.

He didn't stop there. Curry is, according to the Washington Post, a "prime mover" in a movement to shift the church from being an arm of a political party to proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. Today, he will be part of a candlelight vigil marching on the White House, inspired by a declaration titled "Reclaiming Jesus: A Declaration of Faith in a Time of Crisis."

What this means for us

First, Bishop Curry is our leader, and I think he's got it right. The world is not waiting to hear about Episcopalianism; the world is starving for the message of the saving love of Jesus. We need to plant our feet in that message and keep proclaiming it (even if that feels a bit awkward).

Second, this new visibility for the Episcopal Church and our message will surely bring in some newcomers. Bishop Curry is never portrayed in the responsible media as just "that black church leader." He is always referred to as the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. We have never had an advertising campaign this extensive. Curious newcomers will show up and they will not look or sound much like the rest of us. They won't know when to kneel and they won't know our weird vocabulary. We need to welcome them. And we need to be ready to be changed by their presence.

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