The “invisible black church” becomes visible

Grant Shreve writes in JSTOR Daily about the historical racial elements of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding:

The African American bishop, well aware that he was an unfamiliar presence in Windsor Castle, communicated a liberationist vision of divine love, interwoven with texts and songs from the long history of the African diaspora, including snatches of slave spirituals and quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was arguing not only for a theological vision but also for the centrality of African American experience to the Anglican Church. It was a monumental instance of the “invisible” Black Church within Anglicanism suddenly becoming visible.

Curry’s message was made all the more urgent and vital by the fact that the history of the Anglican Church in America—which came to be called the Protestant Episcopal Church here—is marred by centuries of complicity and neglect on matters of race. Indeed, as historian Robert A. Bennett has argued, black Episcopalians have had to struggle mightily to maintain their “ethnic-racial identity in a larger Church body which has not readily acknowledged [their] presence.”

This lamentable history began in the eighteenth century when the Anglican Church devised one of the first concerted efforts to evangelize to slaves. In 1701, it established the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), an organization whose mission was to spread the Christian gospel to non-Christian peoples across the globe—including American Indians and enslaved Africans. Although the message of its early missionaries did not fully distinguish between spiritual and political freedom, the SPG eventually caved to the demands of slaveholders and preached a theology maintaining that “conversion did not . . . imply manumission.” [freeing of slaves]

Emma Green makes the political connections in the Atlantic, describing a sermon that called “for an end to poverty and war and citing American slavery and Martin Luther King Jr.”:

All of this made for a pointed celebration of Britain’s new biracial duchess—a powerful counterpoint to the wealth and hierarchy at the heart of the British throne. As Reverend Renee McKenzie, the vicar and chaplain of an Episcopal church in Philadelphia, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “It’s taking a hammer into the basement of the master and slowly destroying the house brick by brick.”

Poverty, hunger, justice, and care for the earth aren’t typical themes for a wedding sermon. But they’re typical for Curry, who has called for a transformative “Jesus movement” and has an unapologetically fierce preaching style. He was installed as the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal church in 2015, bringing a new voice of leadership to an extremely homogenous denomination: The Episcopal Church is 90 percent white in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center.

Photo from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas: Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B Curry shared the energy, passion, and love of the Jesus movement with the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth on April 8, 2017.

Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
or Flickr: DioFW

Photo url here

Flickr: DioFW CC-BY-NC 2.0

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