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Bishop Curry on ‘love poetry’ and the royal wedding

On our Bookshelf: the power of love to change who we are and the world around us. The head of the Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Michael Curry, is perhaps best known for the rousing sermon he delivered at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Judy Woodruff sits down with the bishop to discuss that experience and the book that evolved from it, called “The Power of Love.”

Read the Full Transcript

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This is the season of reflection on the things that bind us together, the things that matter most.

    Judy Woodruff recently spoke to a man who combines religious faith with the secular powers of inspiration and love.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As the presiding leader of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Reverend Michael Curry leads one of the nation's oldest denominations.

    Last week, he participated in a state funeral of former President George H.W. Bush at Washington's National Cathedral, but he's much more widely known for the sermon he delivered last May during the marriage ceremony for Britain Duke and duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing river.

    When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That sermon formed the basis of Bishop Curry's latest book, "The Power of Love."

    Welcome with back to the "NewsHour."

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    Thank you. Good to be back.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you threw yourself into that sermon, but you write in the book that, when they approached you about preaching, at first, you thought they weren't serious.

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    Well, yes.

    I remember the archbishop of Canterbury called a member of my staff, because I was traveling somewhere. And when with the staff member talked with me, I said, look, it is not April fools. What do you really want? What is going on?

    And I couldn't believe it. And he had to convince me that it was for real.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How did you go about deciding what to say in that sermon?

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    You know, the truth is, I had to wait until I knew what the Bible passage that was going to be the centerpiece, if you will, of the service.

    And the couple and their staff and the archbishop and the dean of the chapel were all involved in conversations about what stricture passage would they use. When they landed on Song of Solomon or Song of Songs, then I knew what trajectory to take, because actually if you look at Song of Songs, it actually is love poetry between a couple.

    And they are talking about their love for each other. And they are going back and forth. And there is the Jerusalem chorus, kind of like the Greek chorus. And they're in the background, kind of — they're almost — it's sort of like Gladys Knight and the Pips. They're kind of the Pips in the background.

    And then all of a sudden, after they have talked about why they love each other, the woman, it's almost as though she really stops. It's like, she stops in place. And she's saying, wait a minute. We didn't generate this low. We're not the source of this love. We're experiencing it.

    And she says — though she begins to point to the transcendent source of that love, which ultimately is God, the source of all love, and that's where the text took its clue, and the sermon evolved from there

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it grew naturally, Bishop Curry, out of many sermons you have given before. Obviously, this one's unique, but you have been preaching about love, the power of love, which is a title of the book, for a long time.

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    Yes.

    I really do believe, certainly, as a Christian clergy person, that the heart and soul of the Christian message and the great tradition, religious traditions of the world is that the key to life is loving God and loving each other, that that's the key.

    I mean, there's a lot of complexity as to how you do it, and work it out practically. But if you start from that core principle of unselfish, sacrificial, unconditional love, you will navigate your way through life, even its most complex and difficult sides and dimensions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why do people like you have to keep preaching that sermon? Why is that message, why has it been so hard for that message to sink in, do you think?

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    You know what? I have got a theory. And that's all it is. It's my theory.

    But I used to think of the opposite of love is hate. And, on some levels, that makes sense. But what I'm beginning to see is that, if you look at love as the New Testament talks about, as Jesus of Nazareth talks about it, he talks about love most consistently as he's about to give up his life.

    And at one point, he even says, greater love has no one than this, but that they give up their life for their friends.

    The opposite of love is not simply hatred. The opposite of love is selfishness, self-centeredness, which the religious traditions have always identified as the root source of all the dilemmas that are created by human beings, this selfishness. Love is the opposite of that, the antidote to that, if you will.

    And the reason it's difficult for us is, healthy self-respect and self-love can quickly become selfishness, if we let it. You need healthy self-respect, but the selfishness, when I become the center of the universe, and you're the periphery, it's all about me, and the heck with you.

    And that even includes God. If I'm the center of the universe, well, God's on the periphery too. It's kind of a reverse Copernican Revolution, if you…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    And so that's why it's so difficult, because we always live in the tension between healthy self-esteem and self-centeredness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you — in the sermons that are excerpted in the book, you take that concept of love, as you did it when you were preaching at the — at the wedding, and you talk about how it relates to the problems we face as a people, as a humanity, whether it's immigration, in this country right now, the plight of migrants, whether it's racial injustice.

    And you talk about making it a practical thing that people live beyond just what they think about in church every Sunday.

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    Yes.

    It's — the truth is, love is not a sentiment. It's a commitment. It's a decision and a commitment to seek the good and the welfare and the well-being of others, sometimes even above my own unenlightened self-interest, to borrow from the philosophers.

    And the truth is that you can't build a society, there is no social compact, there is no functioning democratic society, there is no freedom, true freedom, when everybody is functioning solely on their own unenlightened self-interest.

    If it's all about me, you actually have us tearing ourselves apart. Somehow, we have got to look for common good, for the good of others. It's the samaritan road, the parable of the good samaritan in the New Testament, about the one who is willing to risk to save another person's life, to help another person's life.

    Selfishness is the most destructive force in all of creation. But selflessness is the most creative power that actually exists, because that's the nature of God.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how are we doing as a country right now when it comes to selfishness?

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    Well, we're struggling.

    But it's a mix. It's a mix. But we are struggling. We're in the midst of a great struggle. And I think some of our identity as a nation, if you will, is really rooted in the result of that struggle, whether immigration and the migration of peoples. Our capacity…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you — one of the sermons you preach in here is at a detention center…

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … where families are being kept apart from one another.

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    Yes.

    And that sermon was — it actually was an example of, how do you put love in action? And, in the sermon, I said, we do not come in hatred. We do not come in anger or bigotry. We come because we believe what Jesus taught us. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    And we come with love for those who are detained here and women — this was a women's detention center — women who had been separated from their children. We come in love for the prison guards, who have to do their job, whether we agree or disagree. We come in love for our nation.

    But, because we truly love our nation, we will not sit idly by and allow our nation to do wrong, because we're better than that. If you love somebody, you want the best for them. And we came because we love our country. And we want our country to look like that lady in the New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty. Give me your tired, your hungry, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

    That's America. That's America. That's the soul — Jon Meacham's — that's the soul of America. And we went to that detention center because we want America to find its soul again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bishop Michael Curry, writing about love and relating it to so many larger questions our country is dealing with right now, "The Power of Love: Sermons, Reflections, and Wisdom to Uplift and Inspire," right now and this holiday season and throughout — throughout the year.

    Thank you very much.

  • Most Rev. Michael Curry:

    Thank you. God bless you.

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