by the Rev Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham & Member of General Synod
It didn’t come naturally. I’m not a Royalist. However in our little Parish in Great Missenden we hired a large screen TV, plugged in the rather fabulous sound system and invited folk to simply pitch up. And they did. Bottles of fizz and industrial quantities of sausage rolls. In some ways it was better than being there. You got a great view and, instead of sitting on your own with rather grotty sound, we all shared the wedding and laughed and applauded and I believe some even shed a tear. As community events go it was ace.
The initial reaction to Michael Curry was incredible. Even those who wouldn’t naturally enjoy his style felt the warmth and the authenticity. People who never do church loved it. The Guardian told it’s readers that if your enjoyed that why don’t you pop round to your local church on Sunday.
It is impossible to conceive of any way of getting it out there that could be better than that. The audience round the world was thought to be well north of 1.9 billion. The Church Commissioners could sell all the family silver and they could never come up with an Evangelism project that would have such a reach.
And the message was spot on wasn’t it? He only said what Jesus said when they asked him. Love God, love one another and even love yourself. Having enough faith to be a loving person and live a loving life is sufficient, indeed it’s what it’s all about. That’s what people heard and they felt they could be part of it.
That’s what Jesus said.
That is what Jesus said, and he got it right, because when you do that you become a better human being. You grow to become kind and loving, you stop making yourself the centre of the universe, you stop persecuting people and starting wars. All that stuff that Michael Curry said. All the stuff that is evidence that love can change the world.
Then it started. Most of the not very religious people loved it, but the God squad started to complain. The first and most obvious complaint was that there wasn’t enough about sin (see my previous blog -it’s a fixation). The people who love their theology said it was theology lite, the liturgists complained about the liturgical detail. Some of the comment of Facebook and the like were unpleasant and judgemental.
The penny dropped. The theology, the religion, the liturgy, they are all side shows. They are not faith itself. Faith can only be lived.
Hence the famous verse: If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 1John 4: 20
Now a huge amount of effort is going into all sorts of evangelism at the moment. They seem to be almost all of the teachy variety. If only we could explain the gospel better, put together such fabulous courses that people would come. Then people would understand and turn to God. It sounds good, but all we are saying is that we want to persuade more people to be like us, and most of them have very little indeed to do with faith.
We have inherited a rich stream of wisdom through our theology, but in the end all theology is, is whistling in the air. An extraordinary tapestry we have woven to talk about God. Often it is exquisite in it’s beauty, sometimes is it savage in it’s cruelty, but it’s all made up. Theories which people who like that sort of thing find helpful. God is unknowable.
I’ve never seen people come out of a course on doctrine as more lovely people, they just know a bit more and hence have become a bit more like us.
The naysayers about Curry’s sermon see themselves as some sort of gatekeeps. Well, God doesn’t need looking after, and seems she decided to rock up at the Royal Wedding off her own bat. It felt right to the millions around the world who got to hear a gospel that for once actually was good news.
I’m not one who has any personal certainty about life after death, but just say some of the folk who heard Michael Curry last week pitch up at the pearly gates having lived generous and loving lives. Are you seriously going to tell me the God will turn them away saying: ’Oh so you thought it was all about love. No! No! There’s a lot more to it than that. ‘
Faith is what you believe and live. All the theology, doctrine and liturgy in the world might delight your mind but if it leads you to judge your neighbour instead of loving then it’s toxic. As evangelists we need to put our energy into the Michael Curry route. He talked about changing the world not the church. He talked about the end of slavery and warfare. He talked about God as love and he meant it.