American bishop brings human rights focus to royal wedding

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The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, left, and American bishop Michael Curry pose for the media ahead of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Saturday at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, England, Friday, May 18, 2018. Curry is known as an engaging, impassioned speaker who preaches openness and tolerance. | Steve Parsons/Pool Photo via AP

He’s the son of an American civil rights activist and the descendant of African slaves. He condemned last year’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville as fascist and he has outspokenly stood up for gay rights.

The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry also plans to join a march on the White House next week that rejects U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America first” stance as “theological heresy.”

The 65-year-old leader of the Episcopal Church was hand-picked by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to deliver a sermon at their wedding Saturday even though the couple had not met him at the time.

The bride and groom haven’t said why they chose Curry, but he’s known as an engaging, impassioned speaker who preaches openness and tolerance. He can be relaxed and jocular at the pulpit, peppering his sermons with jokes and personal anecdotes, but also fiery as he delivers more serious messages.

Curry, who has two grown daughters with his wife Sharon, was born in Chicago and raised in Buffalo, New York. His father, the late Rev. Kenneth Curry, was rector of an important African-American parish there and an outspoken civil rights activist.

In 2015, Curry became the first black presiding bishop of the predominantly white Episcopal Church, an offshoot of the Church of England in the United States that has been the spiritual home of many of the American founding fathers and U.S. presidents.

His appointment came just after the church decided to bless same-sex marriages, and in his sermons and writings has frequently compared the black civil rights movement to the LGBT struggle for equality.

The Episcopal Church’s stance on gay marriage has caused friction with the greater Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who will be officiating as the latest royal couple make their marriage vows.

Despite those differences, Welby tweeted that he was “thrilled” Curry had been asked to deliver a sermon during the royal wedding, calling Curry a “brilliant pastor, stunning preacher and someone with a great gift for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Curry’s stances have also brought him into open conflict with several Trump administration policies, including its move to end the Obama-era immigration program that shielded hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

In a September statement, Curry emphasized the Episcopal Church’s support for the immigration program and the youth affected, saying “our Christian values are at stake; humane and loving care for the stranger, the alien and the foreigner is considered a sacred duty and moral value for those who would follow the way of God.”

Earlier last year, Curry denounced Trump’s plan to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military saying it was “a violation of the fundamental ideal of equality in America.” He has also thrown his support behind the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s protest against a planned oil pipeline backed by the Trump administration.

On May 24, Curry plans to join other Christian leaders in a march on the White House to draw attention to a joint declaration that sets out a number of concerns. It says that “we are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches.”

In rejecting Trump’s “America first” policy, the declaration says “while we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others.”

It also adds: “Global poverty, environmental damage, violent conflict, weapons of mass destruction and deadly diseases in some places ultimately affect all places, and we need wise political leadership to deal with each of these.”

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