Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt, Free for CAPC Members
In Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt wants to help every believer speak the gospel in the stuff of everyday life.
On Saturday, May 19, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle became the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as millions tuned in to watch the British royal wedding at Windsor Castle. This wedding was a royal wedding like none other—and the looks on Duchess Catherine’s and Zara Phillips’s faces during Rev. Curry’s rousing homily were a metaphor for the unexpected uniqueness of this ceremony. It was not just the fact that one of the princes of England was marrying an American actress. It was the fact that this particular actress is three years older than him, divorced, and biracial—many character traits that anyone who has watched even one episode of The Crown knows are not typically desirable traits for royal spouses. But, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are a testament to the radical power of love to bring together disparate parts to make a beautiful new whole. Besides the romance being something straight out of a Hallmark movie special, this royal wedding was unique because it felt like a true reflection of both the bride and groom. (And will there ever be another royal wedding to include both a gospel rendition of “Stand by Me” and a traditional rendition of “God Save the Queen”?) In their union, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have set a powerful example in a time of incredible division and tribalism for the church.The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are a testimony to the power of love to redeem all things, even the most difficult and painful of histories, when there is a willingness to face the future together in solidarity.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle joined their lives, but they also gave the church a masterclass on what love does when two cultures collide. Their love has overcome what would seem to be insurmountable differences to create a perfect example for the church of true reconciliation. The desire and the work of racial reconciliation is motivated by love—the love of God and the love for others. As Rev. Curry so eloquently stated, “Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial. And in so doing, becomes redemptive, and that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change the world.” Redemptive love embraces the full truth, pursues unity without demanding conformity, makes space for everyone, and actively redeems.
Love creates space for difficult but necessary truth-telling. In his homily, Rev. Curry spoke of an old spiritual sang by those held in captivity in the Antebellum South, of Jesus as a Balm in Gilead. In this most sacred moment, Rev. Curry could have chosen to give a flowery sermon on love, but instead he spoke of slavery and the enslaved—the significance of which was not lost on the millions in the African Diaspora who tuned in to the wedding. Meghan Markle is the descendant of enslaved persons held captive in the Antebellum South. The joining of a descendant of an enslaved person to a member of the British monarchy is, as one woman so beautifully put it, “the lion laying down with the lamb.” Those words on this day in the joining of these two people was a tacit acknowledgement of the truth: that these two would not have always been on the same side, but that love has the power to make all things right.
Love does not require uniformity. Prince Harry did not require Meghan Markle to leave who she was at the chapel door. Her identity as a biracial American woman was on full display—from Rev. Curry’s distinctly African American preaching to the choir’s gospel rendition of “Stand by Me” and the participation of young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Meghan has brought the fullness of who she is as the daughter of Doria Ragland, an African American woman, and Thomas Markle into her union with Prince Harry. The diversity of the wedding program participants is a clear indication that neither the Duchess of Sussex nor the Duke expect to live the typical lives of royals—if nothing else because Meghan is American. And she hugs. Prince Harry did not predicate the marriage on Meghan having to flatten herself out and conform absolutely to the typical strictures of life in the monarchy. It is possible to have unity, to have oneness of heart and mind, without requiring the wholesale abandonment of another’s culture.
In fact, love welcomes—it makes space at the table, all the while allowing those new to the table to help set the menu. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex could have had a traditional British royal wedding, like his older brother’s, but it would not have been a true partnership or reflection of the Duchess’s culture and identity. To join the lives of two people who once lived separate lives as individuals requires a sacrificial love. Christians know of this sacrifice in looking to Jesus, who did his work on the cross to tear down the dividing wall, to bring together first Jew and Gentile, and then all of those who are his sons and daughters.
Harry and Meghan entered a partnership on equal terms. As the wedding made perfectly clear, Harry was choosing Meghan for all of who she is, not despite it, and in joining their lives, he wanted the world to see what made her special. If Prince Harry can make space, despite a tradition-bound monarchy that is over hundreds of centuries old, what is the American church’s excuse? Christianity in America is far younger yet has shown very little willingness to construct a church that truly makes a space for Christians of color.
Prince Harry wanted to make Meghan Markle a part of his family in a public and permanent way. He publicly declared his love, not just in word, but also in deed. Often those in the majority culture of American Christianity proclaim with their lips a message of unity and love but in their lives and actions do everything to assert their power at the expense of those in the minority. An active love requires more than pulpit swaps and declarations of equality before the throne of God. An active love makes public displays of solidarity. An active love declares you are welcome, makes you feel like this is your home too. An active love has the power to transform lives, neighborhoods, communities, and a nation. As Rev. Curry, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, said, “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love, and when do we will make of this old world a new world.”
In 1 Corinthian 13, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth to help them work through how to marry two different cultures in their budding congregation—Jewish and Greek— and reminds them that love is not self-seeking, that it “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Many things may fail—knowledge, tongues, prophecies—but love outlasts them all. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are a testimony to the power of love to redeem all things, even the most difficult and painful of histories, when there is a willingness to face the future together in solidarity.
It is only through the redemptive love of Christ that we know what true love really is and what it really requires to love your neighbor as yourself. I long for the day the church publicly displays that love for the world to see, just as we witnessed early Saturday morning through the blessed union of a royal and his beautiful bride.
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