The following is a transcript of the opening remarks of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, currently meeting virtually through January 25. These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity.
January 22, 2021
It’s good to be together, even in this way. It’s good to be together and see your faces on the screen. As the Jewish tradition says it in Passover, next year in Jerusalem. So maybe we’ll be face-to-face.
Let me just share some reflections as a way of introducing something that Betsey has posted for us on the extranet. It’s the From Many, One campaign effort. And that’s on the extranet that gives you information on that. But I wanted to share with you some of what’s behind that and some of what I think is behind some of the work that may be before us as a church, as followers of Jesus, in this particular time of our history, not only in this country, but in this world.
At his inauguration, at one point, President Biden said this, and I quote, “We must end this uncivil war.” We must end this uncivil war. I am mindful of the words of Jesus, found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. We must end this uncivil war.
Certainly, since January the 6th, which may well be seared in our minds, cultural minds, in the same way just saying 9/11 communicates automatically. Certainly, since January the 6th, it would be hard for anyone to deny that the divisions among us, in this country in particular, that these divisions are dangerous, they are deep, and they are potentially injurious to democracy itself. President Biden summed this up well in that one sentence, “We must end this uncivil war.”
We must end it, lest it end us. These divisions, I’m not talking about diversity. These divisions, I’m not talking about differences. These divisions, that pierce deep in the soul that have origins in deep fears, that have origins in our history as a country, or have origins in the depth of human sin that makes the self the center of the universe and everyone else the periphery. These divisions could well destroy a democracy.
But this is not simply about the United States. This is bigger than that. This is about the human race, about the human family. I know you’ve heard me say it over and over again, but I’ll say it again. Dr. King was right when he said we will either learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools. The choice is ours. Chaos or community. We have a choice to make. A decision. Will we choose to live in the chaos of self-destruction, or will we choose the way of community that leads to the beloved community, where, as those old slaves said so well, there is plenty good room, plenty good room, plenty good room for all God’s children?
I believe that we who follow Jesus, who have made a commitment in baptism to follow his way of love, I believe that we have been given our marching orders, our mission, our mission from God. Our mission to heal God’s lost creation, to bind up the broken, to repair the breach, to do the hard disciplined work of love, unselfish, sacrificial, that seeks the good, and the welfare, and the well-being of others, as well as the self.
I believe that this way of love that Jesus taught us, it is the way of life. The truth of the matter is this way of love. I’m not talking about anybody’s religion now. This way of love, unselfish and sacrificial is the way to save a democracy. It is the way to save a world. It is our hope.
We must end this uncivil war. Love your enemy, Jesus said. He knew we might not like them. Liking is an emotion. It’s a reaction. Love is a discipline. It is a discipline and a decision to live beyond self, to live for the good and the welfare of others as well as the self. It is a decision to live by an amazing grace that can make me more than I am on my own.
In the Sermon on the Mount – I hope Christians are getting reacquainted with the Sermon on the Mount. I mean, just check out Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. There’s some good stuff in there. But we as Christians, we got some work to do among Christians. Because Christianity has been taken hostage. It has been taken hostage by narrow-minded bigotry. It has been taken hostage by a way of being Christian that doesn’t look anything like Jesus.
And I want to submit that if it doesn’t look like Jesus, if it doesn’t walk like Jesus, if it doesn’t smell like Jesus, if it doesn’t talk like Jesus, it is not Christian. If it does not have the ring of love, it is not Christian.
Love your enemies. That’s Jesus. That’s not Michael. Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who despitefully use you. In so doing, says Jesus, in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, you will be blessings, for you will be the children of your Father in heaven.
After the initial inaugural ceremonies, I don’t know if you saw it, but there was a moment when the president and vice president went to Arlington National Cemetery to say a prayer and to place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The three presidents, who came to the inauguration, Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Obama, were there. And after the ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the three presidents went somewhere, it was just the three of them. And it looked like somebody took out an iPhone, it wasn’t high tech. I think somebody just… They probably had an idea on the spur of the moment, and the three of them just said some things to us as a nation, two Democrats and a Republican.
And this is what they said:
President Obama said, and I quote, “We’ve got to listen to folk we agree with and listen to the folk we don’t. We can have fierce disagreements and yet recognize each other’s common humanity.”
President Bush, “I think if Americans would love their neighbors like they like to be loved themselves, a lot of the division in our society would end.”
And President Clinton, “Everybody needs to get off their high horse and reach out to their friends and neighbors to try to make this thing possible.”
My brothers, my sisters, my siblings, this way of love, it is the way of life for us all. And it is not the province of just any one religion. It is not the privilege of any one philosophy. This way of love has its source in the God who created all things.
Last time I checked, my Bible was clear. First John, chapter 4, verse 7, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God, and those who love are born of God. Those who do not love…” It’s not me talking now, this is the Bible. So, if you disagree, blame the book. “Those who do not love, do not know God.” Why? Because God is love.
None of us owns it. God gave it. And so, in the From Many, One package that’s on the extranet, you’ll see an invitation to Episcopalians to participate in a campaign, to live out the way of love, in one way, in this time.
It’s not a complex thing. It’s a small design to help to guide us in the spiritual practice of living the kind of love that makes us a blessing in this time, for ourselves and somebody else. It’s just a helpful guide on how to have a conversation and maybe cultivate a relationship with somebody who is other. Somebody who is different than you. Somebody you don’t necessarily agree with, or maybe you do. But with somebody who is other. And I know that somebody says, oh, that sounds so Kumbaya-ish.
Well, you know what? The way we’re doing it right now isn’t working. We need to reach out to each other, across our differences, across the divides. We need to reach out and bless each other, as people made in the image of God, as children of God, as brothers and sisters, as siblings.
And in so doing, we will help to save a democracy and maybe a world. The stakes are high. We must end this uncivil war. We cannot, we must not, continue down the road we have been going. And I know, we must advocate for justice. We must. But justice is not enough. We must stand for equal rights. But equal rights by themselves are not enough. We must make sure children have food. Every child. No child should ever go to bed hungry. No child in this country or this world should ever be hungry.
But that is not enough. Bread alone is not enough. We must repair the spirit as well as the flesh. Public policy must change for the good. But our personal morality must change toward love. And in so doing, there may be hope.
I saw some hope. If you’re like me, between January the 6th and January the 20th, it was like a rollercoaster ride. It was like, January the 6th was like a vision of hell. And January the 20th, I’m not saying that because of who was elected president, but January 20th was like a vision of heaven. And that’s kind of where we live, somewhere in between.
Somewhere in between heaven and hell. Somewhere in between hopelessness and hope. And I saw some hope. Had nothing to do with whether a Republican or Democrat got elected. I saw some hope. I saw some hope at the inauguration like you, I suspect. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect to cry during that inauguration. And there I was. I mean, I’m my grandma’s child, so I’m emotional. I know that. But I didn’t expect any of it to come out. I didn’t expect it. And yet, I saw some hope and had moments of tears.
I saw some hope when I saw members of the Congress, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – I saw some hope. They showed up. Even ol’ Bernie Sanders sitting there with his mittens in his hands, which is now all over the internet, which is absolutely hilarious.
I saw some hope when those three former presidents, Bush, Clinton, Obama, showed up, and Jimmy Carter called, couldn’t be there because of his age and health. I saw some hope in that.
I saw some hope when a Black woman fire chief recited the Pledge of Allegiance and signed it for the hearing impaired at the same time.
Oh, I saw some hope, when Justice Sonia Sotomayor swore in Vice President Kamala Harris. Oh, I saw some hope.
Oh, I saw some hope because Mike Pence showed up. You may agree or disagree with him, but he came, and I saw hope.
I saw some hope when Lady Gaga got up and blew it out. J.Lo got up and broke into Spanish, and saw some hope when Garth Brooks sang Amazing Grace. He didn’t have to show up. And he did.
I saw some hope when the Republican senator from Missouri, after Garth Brooks sang Amazing Grace, turned and said I remember when Barack Obama sang it at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston.
Oh, no, no, no. I saw some hope. Saw some hope when that 22-year-old sister got up with the spirit of Maya Angelou rested upon her like the dove resting on Jesus. Oh, I saw some hope when she got up and read her poem. No, preached her poem. And then she turned and faced us as a nation:
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
And every known nook of our nation and
Every corner called our country,
Our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
Battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
Aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light.
If only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. And we will end this uncivil war. Amen.