Remember that lovely, smiley American bishop who spoke at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle a couple of years ago?
And do you recall how he spoke so inspiringly, in the opinion of many, about love? Yes, how the words of Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the US Episcopal Church, soared with poetry in the chapel at Windsor Castle as he declared: ‘When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.’
His voice rang with passion and hearts were melted as he continued: ‘Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.’ Even now I am weeping with emotion as I type these words today.
Turns out, however, that Bishop Curry seems to have forgotten his own sermon – at least if his treatment of a fellow bishop in the US is anything to go by. For in a few weeks’ time the Bishop of Albany, William Love, will go on trial, after Michael Curry restricted his ministry just over a year ago.
You might rightly wonder about Bishop Love’s crime. Was he siphoning off diocesan money, for example? Has he had a series of secret affairs? Does he not believe the Bible or deny that Jesus is the Christ? Has he, perish the thought, engaged in repugnant sexual acts with children?
But no. Bishop Love has done none of those things. Bishop Love stands accused of believing what most Christians – Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostal, Evangelical, and indeed Anglican – believe, and have always believed, about sex and marriage. His crime, if one can call it that, is not to permit same-sex marriages in his diocese.
In the chilling Orwellian Newspeak that passes for ecclesiastical language in the US Episcopal Church, it is alleged by the ‘Intake Report and Investigator’s Report’ that Bishop Love has ‘violated Canon IV.4.1(c)’ by showing ‘unwillingness to abide by Resolution B012, passed by the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church’. Do feel free to check out Canon IV.4.1(c) in your Bibles by the way – you’ll find it just after the Epistle to the Bureaucrats but before the Song of Sanctimony.
You couldn’t make it up: a bishop whose name is ‘Will Love’, who upholds the gospel message as almost all Christians believe it, is being put on trial at the behest of a presiding bishop who preached on the importance of ‘treating each other like family’.
But there’s not much evidence of familial affection for Bishop Love, for whom the proceedings on April 21 could result in the termination of his ministry. Just to round off the irony, it will be chaired by a Bishop Knisely – a name one imagines might be pronounced ‘Nicely’, a most Episcopalian quality no doubt.
The trial will take the form of a dystopian-sounding ‘Title IV Hearing Panel’ and you may (or may not) be interested to know that the Episcopal Church loves this kind of thing so much it has a whole shiny website devoted to it (https://www.titleiv.org) which went online in 2018. It has more than 250 videos and contributions from church theologians who have been devoting time and energy to the thinking behind it since the 1990s apparently. Wonderful.
So who will stand up for Bishop Love? Which bishops and archbishops from around the rest of the Anglican world will dare to speak up publicly for him? Who will have the courage to condemn this show trial? Who might publicly speak out against Bishop Michael Curry and remind him of his own words: ‘When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook’?
And if this hearing finds against Bishop Love, will Justin Welby withdraw his invitation to Curry for the 2020 Lambeth Conference of worldwide Anglican bishops? Or will it be all back-slapping and ‘fellowship’ with Curry while the primates ‘pass by on the other side’ of William Love as he lies emotionally stripped, episcopally beaten, and reputationally half dead? There’s not going to be much ‘walking together’ (to use a contemporary Anglican phrase) for Bishop Love after he has been knee-capped by the Title IV Hearing Panel.
Last summer a journalist asked Curry: ‘Average Sunday attendance at Episcopal churches has dropped by 24% in the last decade. What strategies are you using to reverse that tide?’ He answered: ‘None! Questions about church attendance and church decline are second-order questions.’
After all, most Episcopal time and energy is spent on far more worthwhile things such as snuffing out Love.