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Two Cents on a “Controversial” Homily

It’s weird to use the word “controversy” for a 13-minute homily at a nominally-religious famous person’s wedding. But last week, that’s exactly what happened in a certain niche of evangelical social media.

The subject was Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Here’s a video of his homily. My pastor, Ken Robertson, had a good summary of the controversy on his Facebook page:

Archbishop Curry’s sermon (and the response to it) proves two things, I think:

  1. People are still captivated by passionate proclamation. Preaching is NOT an outdated, less-than form of communicating the gospel: it lies right at the center of God’s work of making all things right. Always has, always will.
  2. People heard very different things in this sermon: everything from “the heart of the gospel” to a “false gospel” (both phrases from my timeline). It almost reminds me of Yanni vs. Laurel!

I think that was spot on. Especially for we Anglicans in the ACNA, our opinion of the homily has as much to say about our own backgrounds as the homily itself.

But before I get into that, I suppose I should give one of my cents on the sermon. Bishop Curry is a talented preacher, and the little that I’ve heard about him prior to the homily was (mostly) positive. The homily itself, though occasionally straying into “power of love” platitudes, was on the whole infused with Christian thought. And given the venue, I thought it was refreshingly bold and forthright.

Given my priors, this is a standard opinion. You see, there are two types of ACNA churches: those founded as ACNA, and those that split from the Episcopal Church. My church was founded ACNA. Virtually nobody in my church was raised Episcopalian, and we therefore have no real experience with the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal church splits, though, are (obviously) virtually all former Episcopalians. They joined the ACNA after breaking from the Episcopal Church–breaks that were often bitter and acrimonious. They have lots of baggage with the Episcopal Church, and most is painful.

So when someone like me watched Bishop Curry’s homily, I can do that with (mostly) fresh eyes. When someone who split from the Episcopal church watches it, they have a matrix of experience on the ways they believe the Episcopal church has abandoned the gospel.

The lesson, whether you’re in evangelical niche internet or somewhere in the real world, is simple: before you get up in arms about somebody’s curiously strong opinion, remember the baggage you each bring to the table.

An Addendum:

Shortly after posting this, I received an email from our bishop’s wife–a dear friend of our family–with some words of caution and a more nuanced view as someone who actually lived through the split of the Episcopal Church.  Here is what she had to say:

“First of all, [our church] was not founded ACNA. We were planted as a part of the Anglican Mission in America (under the covering of Rwanda and Southeast Asia). When AMiA fell apart we were fully connected with Rwanda until, two years ago, seeing that there was an orthodox Anglican presence in the States, they handed us over to ACNA. I know this isn’t a big point, but it is good to know, because actually almost all churches/clergy/people who began the ACNA came out of the Episcopal Church.

[Bishop] was ordained an Episcopal priest and pastored an Episcopal church until 2000 when we (and our entire church) left the Episcopal Church and became part of the Anglican Mission.

That’s just background, not pivotal but informational.

What bothered me is what bothers me in many places in our culture, and that is generalizations. Yes, any split is hard and damaging to people and to the Body of Christ. But what I read in your words is the generalization that all who have left the Episcopal Church have lots of painful baggage with the Episcopal Church and are tainted/haunted by that. Yes, many still do. And many have been healed of the hurt. And for someone to object to the words of an eloquent speaker who they know speaks against many of the tenants of the Gospel in his work as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the States, does not necessarily reflect their baggage with the church. Often it reflects the very same courage that enabled them (us) to step out of the Church in the first place.

So again, my objection is in the simplification of what generalizations/stereotyping can do.

As for his homily, I really enjoyed it— mainly for the contrast with the venue.  As for what he believes, I do not stand with him. But it is not because I have baggage from leaving the Episcopal Church nearly two decades ago, rather because of the intimacy and life I have from our Jesus.”


Photo via Flickr

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