Clergy & Congregations Government & Politics News Politics

Bishop Michael Curry walks a fine line in the political fray

Bishop Michael Curry, center, leads an interfaith march during a Reclaiming Jesus event in Washington on May 24, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, captivated a global audience earlier this month when roughly 1.9 billion people tuned in to watch the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The Most Rev. Curry’s charismatic, love-centered homily during the service sparked a media blitz that rocketed him to stardom and landed him interviews at virtually every major American news network.

At a time when both political and spiritual matters are often marked by division, the praise for his sermon — which focused on Jesus’ message of love — was a rare moment of unity.

But when Curry ascended to a pulpit again less than a week later (May 24), it was in a very different context. He was standing in the front of National City Christian Church in downtown Washington, where a crowd of more than 1,000 eagerly awaited his short sermon. The event, headed by a bevy of liberal-leaning Christians, was organized to promote a “Reclaiming Jesus” proclamation in which he and various signers declared, among other things, that President Trump’s campaign slogan “America First” was “a theological heresy.”

The audience erupted before Curry could utter a word, with members leaping to their feet in a pre-emptive 30-second standing ovation.

It was a dramatic example of how Curry’s fame is being celebrated by the religious left. But while his ascendancy has coincided with a surge of activism against the Trump administration by religious liberals, questions remain as to whether Curry will use his newfound global influence to bolster their cause, pursue a broader audience or both.

In Washington, Curry argued the Reclaiming Jesus statement was itself unifying.

“We are not partisan group. We are not a left-wing group. We are not a right-wing group. We are a Jesus movement,” he declared to raucous applause. He said the event was rooted in the call to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” be that neighbor Republican, Democrat, black, white, Latino or LGBTQ.

“Bishop Curry has now become the love bishop,” said the Rev. Angela Brown, an attendee at the event and pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. “(His wedding sermon) was very good for me. … I just needed to know that love still matters to people … that love is what is going to get us through all of this madness.”

Curry’s recent conversations with the press do tend to center on Jesus and love. The bishop often pairs inflections of social justice-centered theology with appeals to a broader religious audience, such as when he lifts up his two models for public theology: famed civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and evangelist Billy Graham.

“It may be that Billy Graham helped us to understand how to draw closer to and love God through his evangelism, and Dr. King helped us understand how do we draw closer to loving our neighbor through social justice and service,” Curry said in a recent interview with RNS. “It’s the same gospel, just different methodologies and approaches.”

Professor Marie Griffith. Photo by Randall Kahn via Washington University in St. Louis

Whether Curry will be able to use that message to bridge the various divides in today’s America remains an open question. Marie Griffith, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis and director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, said Curry’s exemplars — while cordial with each other in their time — had followings that rarely overlapped.

“In King’s lifetime, very few Americans were really true fans of both those men,” said Griffith, author of the book “Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics.”

Griffith explained that while Curry “looks to be someone who might be able to pull those groups together,” uniting people of faith across political differences presents major challenges. She said a hypothetical alliance of conservatives and liberals rallied by the bishop “may flounder … on economic issues.”

Curry’s affiliation with the Reclaiming Jesus event is already triggering responses from conservative faith leaders close to Trump. Johnnie Moore, the de facto spokesman of Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisory board, acknowledged the event in a statement, saying faith leaders should focus on “common good” and calling Curry “a good man” but “a classic liberal in his theology.”

Fellow Trump faith adviser and Texas pastor the Rev. Robert Jeffress, who is represented by Moore’s communications firm, was far more direct in his criticism during an interview with Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs.

“I think Bishop Curry and these other pastors are sincere, but they’re sincerely wrong,” Jeffress said, arguing biblical commandments regarding charity are directed toward individuals, not governments. “I think instead of protesting tonight, these pastors ought to be having a prayer meeting and thanking God that we have a president like Donald J. Trump, who is willing to do whatever it takes … to fulfill his God-given responsibility of protecting this country.”

Criticism from the religious right may also stem from having to share the national stage with the more liberal Curry. The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, a theology professor and dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, argued the bishop’s prominence has the potential to raise the profile of faith voices outside of conservative Christianity.

“I’m not sure (Curry’s fame) changes the way he interacts with those political moments, but it does change the way other people interact with those political moments,” said Douglas, who has known Curry for years and attended the Reclaiming Jesus event. He is “also challenging the church to be church. … Are we going to leave him out there, or are we going to join him?”

Bishop Michael Curry, right, speaks at a Reclaiming Jesus event in Washington on May 24, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Curry was joined on stage in Washington by a cadre of prominent leaders whom organizers called “elders” — activist pastors, bishops and theologians — largely assembled by the Rev. Jim Wallis, head of the Christian social-justice advocacy group Sojourners. Wallis lauded Curry’s sermon several times during various interviews, saying, “God used a royal wedding to have the gospel preached probably to the largest audience at one time.”

Curry’s fellow elders also acknowledged the unusual nature of conservatives reacting to his activism, as recent years have seen figures on the religious right largely ignore the arguments of liberal faith leaders. Shortly before a press conference on Friday (May 25), several gathered around the presiding bishop to chatter excitedly about Jeffress’ news segment.

Curry laughed off Jeffress’ comments. Curry’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the subject. And it certainly hasn’t dissuaded him from participating in political conversations.

“I really do believe that if we will commit to the way of love, this unselfish way of living, that we would have a different politics,” he told RNS. “A different way of doing business and economics … a different way of relating to each other. I just want to be able to help that to happen.”

He went on to insist that King and Graham “shared a similar message” with “two different methodologies … one more evangelism, the other more social justice.”

“The same Jesus (who) at the end of Matthew’s Gospel says ‘go make disciples of all nations and baptize them and teach them everything I’ve taught you’ is the same Jesus who in Matthew 25 talks about feeding the hungry and caring for the naked and visiting those who are alone, (and) is the same Jesus who in Matthew 5-7 in the Sermon on the Mount talks about loving your enemies and talks about blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit and the persecuted,” he said.

Curry also appeared on MSNBC over Memorial Day weekend alongside the Rev. William Barber II, arguably the most prominent modern religious left activist. Barber is co-leading the Poor People’s Campaign, a 40-day initiative to draw attention to issues such as systemic racism and poverty. The Episcopal Church is a partner in the campaign. Barber echoed the presiding bishop’s love-rooted rhetoric when discussing issues of income inequality and health care.

Still, observers note the religious left’s profile began rising long before Curry gave his sermon. Wallis, an evangelical and longtime fixture of  conversations about religion and politics, pointed out that the Reclaiming Jesus website received 1 million views prior to the royal wedding.

“It’s a Pentecostal energy,” Wallis said, noting the event — and Curry’s role in it — were also planned before the wedding.

Several implied that Curry’s rhetoric, while cast as liberal theologically and politically by Trump’s advisers, is precisely what triggered his success alongside people such as Barber and Wallis.

“His message has filled a hole, responded to a hunger that people have had,” Douglas said, saying public discourse involving faith has long been monopolized by conservative Christians. She noted that Americans are not only captivated by Curry, but also by his message.

Curry’s meteoric rise and media savvy have allowed him to occupy spaces of influence other liberal Christians have only dreamed of. Fox News representatives noted he appeared on the network last week, for example, and confirmed to RNS that Curry has been asked to be a guest on “Fox & Friends,” a morning news discussion show frequently watched by Trump.

Ultimately, Griffith said, Curry’s success is a window into the evolving nature of the religious left and also offers a hint at why both the movement and Curry have been ascendant under Trump. But it remains to be seen how long Curry will be able to make the most of his moment.

“In a month, will people who watched Curry be able to remember his name, what the message was, or what all the fuss was about?” she said. “That’s the question: Is this sustainable over time? And there is no way to predict that.”

This article originally stated that Lou Dobbs was with Fox News. His employer, Fox Business Network, is also owned by 21st Century Fox, but is a separate network.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

65 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Is the Episcopal Church even Christian in 2018?

    According to the Pew Survey, 80 percent of their members are pro-abortion. That’s not very Jesus-y. The opposite, in fact.

  • Not your reactionary, closet racist, anti-democracy, anti-woman, prag to the wealthy, Christianity you follow. But it is a Christian Church nonetheless.

  • I don’t think Jesus would support murder of children, so it’s clear they are not followers of Jesus.

  • Good thing children aren’t killed in abortion. Children are born.

    I doubt Jesus would approve on the attacks and murder of LGBT people approved by Christians like yourself. He also had some very not so nice things to say about self-righteous hypocrites and those who extol the wealthy. 🙂

  • Did Bishop Curry call for personal repentance and change? Jesus took sin very seriously, even calling us to metaphorically cut off a hand or pluck out an eye if it offends. And He wasn’t talking about societal sins, but about personal sins. Without repentance there is no salvation, and without salvation there is no hope.

    In Christ,

    The enemy hates clarity

  • What is worse clarity, is he “celebrates” communion – a
    Christian celebration of the agony Christ experienced to die for us so that we can have a right relationship with Jesus – salvation, overcoming sin – with people who spit at this, openly declare their sin and their pride in it.

  • “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” 1 John 5:18
    So, let’s look at a few realities here:
    1) A Christian wants people on a journey to Heaven. Supporting sin stops that.
    2) A Christian follows Jesus. Supporting sin is not a means of doing such.
    3) A Christian protects children from harm. Endorsing sin and sinners in one’s assembly is not protecting children.
    4) A Christian celebrates communion because of what Jesus went through for us and what He did for Christians. Allowing unrepentant sinners to partake of communion slaps Christ in the face.
    5) Homosexuality is a salvation issue and supporting it stops people from a relationship with Jesus and a future in Heaven.

    Now, one can serve Christ, or one can serve the god of this world – satan. Who is Curry actually serving?

  • Aside from that, the man lies.
    He teaches that everyone is going to Heaven.
    “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
    John 14:6 English Standard Version (ESV)

    He teaches:
    “The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ.”
    I suggest he read Matthew 28 where Christ teaches our job is to make disciples of the nations – not to follow Curry et al’s political agenda of “Reclaiming Jesus”
    We need to reclaim Christ from Curry and his assembly who follow an idol and with this “Reclaiming Jesus” trash, they are trying to have uneducated Christians following their idol in their attempts to be political – not Christian.

  • You are either lying or confused. 80% or more, like the rest of normal society, are pro-choice, which is most assuredly not in any form “pro-abortion.”

  • 80 percent of Americans are neither pro-choice nor pro-abortion. Episcopalians are. Was Jesus?

  • Research shows otherwise. Nice crawfishin’ there, trying to confuse the issue. You lied. Of course he was. He did not slut-shame, like your ilk does for sport.

  • pro-choice = pro-abortion.
    “po-choice” are not praying for the upcoming victim’s life.

  • The official stance of TEC and of the majority of it’s members, including me, is pro-choice. A woman’s healthcare decisions are between her, her family and her physicians. That isn’t pro-abortion and shouldn’t be mislabeled as such.

  • Now we know why you have reappeared after your short vacation. You can’t miss a golden opportunity to play the role of ha Satan. Especially with the Most Revd Michael Curry.

  • thank you
    “11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” That is what Christ says to followers like me. When Curry elects to follow Christ, Christ will say the same to him. Until then, his teaching defy the living God.

  • Of yes, persecution, your mighty red badge of courage. One isn’t a good Christian without one’s daily dose of persecution.

  • + The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine upon you and bring you peace. +

    I’m glad to be of service.

  • I hope I am correct in assuming that Michael Curry can be critiqued just as readily as, say, the Bishop of Portland, Maine.

  • I assume you understand only people who use the label “pro-choice” believe that in all but name it means “pro-abortion”?

  • One minute before exiting the birth canal, it is not a child.

    One minute after exiting the birth canal, it is.

    Speaking of self-righteous hypocrites, of course.

  • I’m not aware that anyone here has stated that the Roman Bishop of Portland ME was working for the Devil as Sandinwindsor intends in comments here about the TEC Presiding Bishop.

    Go in peace. +

  • What I read was

    “Satan quoted scripture when he tempted Christ, also”

    which I interpreted to mean quoting scriptures doesn’t mean a great deal.

    I certainly did not read it as “working for the Devil”, although in some sense every one of us that fails to do the right thing, which is all of us, is at that time working for the Devil.

  • Sandinwindsor has a history over the past month of stating that Presiding Bishop Curry does not follow or teach Jesus and that he works for or is a tool of Satan. Since sandinwindsor doesn’t appear to have a working knowledge of the character ha Satan in, especially, OT scripture, I have to believe that she is speaking of the devil.

  • Actually, I’d meant to ask you that one question several threads ago, on another issue.

    But I had forgotten about it, until I saw you denying the rather obvious biblical teaching that Satan and the Devil are the same person, and then saw you mention the word salvation in passing.

  • Gotta be born firsy. You have to exist without requiring physical attachment and the bodily systems of another. Until a human being has a distinct existence in all respects, it is not a person.

    Ironically a pregnant woman is also a human being, but you treat her existence as property or an inanimate object.

    She is not a person to you. A particularly asinine part of your view which demonstrated how phony your concern for life really is.

    You talk of respecting the lives of human beings but only those in vitro. Those who are born and people are disregarded, ignored or reviled.

    Go figure.

  • Even the state considers the fetus to be a person. When a pregnant woman is murdered its considered a double homicide in some states. That means the fetus is a human being in which personhood is a necessary characteristic of a human being. Thus abortion is murder.

  • No it doesn’t.

    Your example is overused and misses the major distinction needed for personhood, independent and autonomous existence. A pregnant woman has to be murdered for such laws to be applicable. It still is based on the existence of the pregnant woman as a person first and foremost. Assaults which do not result in death but result in a pregnancy terminating are still crimes against the mother.

    They are specifically written to exclude instances of a mother voluntarily terminating her pregnancy by medical means.

  • I don’t read links from people I don’t know, plus, I gave you a “scholarly view”.

  • How can there be a double homicide of a pregnant woman if the fetus is not a human with full rights?
    This alone should tell you that the state considers the baby in the womb a human being. This would mean abortion is murder because it is the deliberate killing of another human being.

  • Because you can’t have a single homicide of just the fetus. The crime is still first and foremost dependent on the mother. That alone tells me the state does not consider the fetus outside of considerations of the mother carrying it.

    BTW even the Bible does not consider such crimes murder, but a matter demanding financial recompense. See Exodus 21:22

  • How convenient. That keeps you from expanding your knowledge base. I will need to keep that in mind when in the future I am again astonished by your lack of education on most topics.

    There wasn’t anything really scholarly about what you posted.

  • Keeps me from having problems with my computer.
    I already have the Bible for my “knowledge base”. If you are astonished by my lack of “education”, I’ll admit that I am not an expert on the Bible, but what I argue Biblically, I argue from scripture. If you are looking to the world to argue Biblical issues, you are looking in the wrong place David.
    “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8English Standard Version (ESV))

  • You appear to like to argue, as you challenged me above. No I’m just speaking of your complete lack of real scripture knowledge because you can’t read the original languages, so you rely on faulty English trans nations and what someone else has to say on the matter. You can’t actually read and determine things for yourself. I try to have enlightened conversations, even when you make emphatic statements about things of which you haven’t a clue, but that is almost impossible to have with others when you’re involved.

  • Of course its a homicide when a fetus is murdered. The state is being hypocritical. How can it be for someone to murder a pregnant woman and be charged with double homicide and yet that same mother can go to an abortion mill and have her fetus killed and that is not murder?

  • I have real scriptural knowledge thanks. From what I have seen, if you are claiming this to be why we disagree so much, it would be why you disagree with scripture, David. Ive already shown you wrong on this thread a few times in itself.
    “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21English Standard Version (ESV).
    That is where scripture confirms your error

  • You are entirely incorrect. Just because you want to call it murder, doesn’t make it so.

    You are being hypocritical or just ignorant of your own example. First according to you, the state supports your view. Now you call them hypocritical when it is clear they do not and you just had your facts wrong. Your support went from “the law says I’m right” to “I just say so”.

    Just because you want something to be true, does not make it so. Especially when what you want is pretty pernicious garbage.

    “How can it be for someone to murder a pregnant woman and be charged with
    double homicide and yet that same mother can go to an abortion mill and
    have her fetus killed and that is not murder?”

    The concept of consent seems to go way over your head. What have I kept on saying, “the fetus is in her body, its her choice”. It hasn’t changed, nor is it hypocritical. Its in her body, therefore she has the right. Someone else doing it, without her permission is an attack on her. It only is troublesome to those who do not regard a pregnant woman as a person.

  • Wrong again. It is a medical fact that at conception a human being is created. To kill it, is murder. Its a double homicide when a person murders a pregnant woman and murder when then mother kills her fetus at an abortion clinic.

  • But it is not a person. It is attached to its mother and her body. It exists because she wills it to be. No person lives under such conditional existence.

    If the mother chooses to terminate the pregnancy, it is her right to do so. Since her body is not the property of the state, you or anyone else. If you wish to get involved in such decisions, you have no right. If the state wants to call abortion murder, it has no right either.

    Its telling how you consider a fetus a human being, but evidently not its mother.

  • Nope. Still trying to argue by declaration.

    “To kill it, is murder. Its a double homicide when a person murders a pregnant woman and murder when then mother kills her fetus at an abortion clinic.”

    You are repeating yourself. It was wrong the first time you said it. Now you are just running your pointy head in circles. Its only a double homicide when a pregnant woman is killed. No laws consider it homicide if only the fetus is killed. It is assault against the mother.

    You lost this one hours ago. You even complained about the laws being hypocritical because they do not support your view at all.

  • Ive already shown you wrong on this thread a few times in itself.

    Wow, a wonder in your own mind. I haven’t seen where you have proved anything. You cut and paste various pericopes that you feel address your belief on the matter and off you go!

    Ciao, this has become monotonous and boring. You may have the last word.

  • Not arguing by declaration but by facts and logic. I know facts and logic don’t matter to you yet it still true that abortion is murder.

  • Nope. Just declaring something to be so, because you want it. Argument by whining. Not even intelligent whining.

  • I wonder if Bp. Curry will take his message of love and reconciliation and stop the ongoing multi-million dollar lawsuits of the church he leads against Dioceses and individual parishes that want no part of ECUSA’s paganization of the Christian faith. Something tells me “no.”

  • The sperm is alive. The egg is alive. The baby grew out of that combination. The baby is alive.

  • Sandi – you may note that I sound like Bob Arnzen.

    That’s because I AM Bob Arnzen.

    After Mark Silk’s recent outburst, I decided it was time for some new clothing.

  • Yes, I am familiar with the post.

    William Lindsey, Dr. Lindsey, has been in a same sex “relationship” for nearly 50 years, actually taught Catholic(!) theology for a time, finally got fired from his last position when he (a) told students and faculty about it, (b) took on one of the major donors to the college, and (c) got sassy with the priest in charge.

    I am not sure what LaLa Land he was in thinking the Catholic Church was going to change its teaching on same sex hanky panky, but he has wound a bitter, angry, and not particularly coherent individual as he wanders through his eighth decade.

    Among the particpant at Bilgrimage who show up at RNS are colkoch, Alexandara, ATF45, and one other whose name eludes me at the moment.

    Why they think they’re qualified to comment on Catholicism, let alone Christianity, eludes me.

  • “Why they think they’re qualified to comment on Catholicism, let alone Christianity, eludes me.” me too 🙂

ADVERTISEMENTs