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‘I pray for Donald Trump, I do’: Bishop Michael Curry addresses US divisions

The preacher who shone at the royal wedding has returned home to the progressive Reclaiming Jesus movement

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘I pray for Donald Trump, I do’: Bishop Michael Curry addresses US divisions” was written by Lauren Gambino in Washington, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th May 2018 11.49 UTC

Faith leaders working with Bishop Michael Curry to turn his sermons of love into a movement see his invitation to preach at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as a moment of divine intervention.

“God used a royal wedding to have the gospel preached probably to the largest audience at one time,” said Jim Wallis, a progressive Christian leader and a founder of the Reclaiming Jesus movement. “My dear friend Bishop Curry was just being himself in that pulpit. But God made that happen in all kinds of humorous and miraculous ways.”

For 24 hours after the ceremony at Windsor Castle last week, Curry rivaled Pope Francis as the most recognizable faith leader in the world. He was interviewed by major networks on both sides of the Atlantic. Fans asked for selfies. He was even parodied on Saturday Night Live.

Then the first African American leader of the Episcopal Church returned home, to embark on a new mission. He wants to address what he and other clergy behind Reclaiming Jesus call “a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches”.

“My hope and prayer is that what we’re really doing is helping the average Christian person of faith find their voice,” Curry told the Guardian. “We’re trying to find a way to bring people together and the values that we share is our starting place for doing that.”

The 65-year-old, who was born in Chicago and raised by his grandmother after his mother’s death, is the descendent of slaves and sharecroppers in North Carolina. His presence at Windsor Castle, a reflection of Markle’s African American ancestry, was a symbolic moment for two countries riven by race and class. In his speech, Curry invoked Martin Luther King Jr and slavery, telling the couple: “Make of this old world, a new world.”

Bishop Michael Curry gives an address during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Bishop Michael Curry gives an address during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

That was the message he brought to Washington on Thursday, when he linked arms with prominent progressive leaders and led hundreds of Christians in silent procession to the White House. On the sidewalk facing the seat of American power, the elders read from a declaration as hundreds raised votive candles.

The Reclaiming Jesus movement, like other progressive religious groups, is asking people of faith to reject policies that ban refugees and immigrants from the US and equivocations on white supremacy – without joining a political side.

“We don’t tell people how to vote,” Curry said. “We don’t tell people exactly what policies they must stand for. We identify what are the values that will guide you in your life. But the rest? That’s between you and God.”

The lengthy founding document lists six core principles the co-signers hope will help shift the conversation around what they believe are the core teachings of the Bible: a focus on the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. It does not mention Donald Trump by name but it does repudiate his policies and the forces unleashed by his election.

It calls on Christians to denounce the “resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership”, and rejects Trump’s America First agenda.

The response from Trump’s most ardent evangelical supporters has underlined how deep divisions are carved – and how difficult it will be to find common ground.

“There is nothing wrong with putting America first,” Robert Jeffress, a pastor at First Baptist Dallas and a prominent member of the president’s evangelical advisory board, told Fox News. “That is what a government is supposed to do. That is God’s responsibility for government. As individual Christians, yes, we put others before ourselves but government doesn’t do that.”

Jeffress said Curry was “sincere” in his message but also “sincerely wrong” in his understanding of what the Bible says about the role of government.

Curry said he had expected a strong reaction to the Reclaiming Jesus declaration.

“It’s a spiritual document and spiritual documents are moral and ethical statements so they have implications,” he said. “We identify cultural maladies – we’re not pointing the finger at anybody. We’re not blaming anybody.”

Asked if he prays for the president, Curry replied without reservation: “I pray for Donald Trump, I do. He’s a child of God, just like the immigrant is a child of God.”

Pastor Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump in Washington.
Pastor Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump in Washington. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If Curry had an audience with the president, he said, he would tell him the same thing he tells himself and anybody else he prays for: “Live by the practice of love for your neighbor.”

“Selfish, self-centered living by any or all of us is what the Christian tradition has meant by sin all along,” he said.

Before the vigil, Curry returned to the pulpit to deliver a soaring if brief sermon at the National City Christian Church.

“Love your neighbor,” Curry said, in the magisterial cadence now recognized around the world. “Love the neighbor you like and the neighbor you don’t like. Love the neighbor you agree with and the neighbor you don’t agree with. Love your Democrat neighbor, your Republican neighbor, your black neighbor, your white neighbor, your Anglo neighbor, your Latino neighbor and your LGBTQ neighbor. Love your neighbor! That’s why we’re here!”

Among those listening were John Carr, who runs the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. He said what he saw on Thursday was not a political movement but the “rise of the religious middle”.

“In these incredibly polarizing and frankly demoralizing times,” he said, “we need a moral message that’s anchored in faith not ideology and politics”.

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New York Times Report (Click To View)

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