I watch from afar with great sympathy. The British royal family is in crisis. On May 19, 2018, Prince Harry (Duke of Sussex) married Meghan Markle (Duchess of Sussex), in a fairy tale wedding at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in England. While Harry is not in the direct royal succession (he is sixth in line), he and his brother William have been in the public eye for many years, especially since their mother, Princess Diana, was killed in a car crash in 1997. William was 15 years old at the time, and Harry was 12.
I can only imagine what it must be like to marry into a royal family, especially if one is a “commoner.” The challenges are immense. Meghan was not born into royalty. Nor is she British, and she is bi-racial. Meghan’s father is Caucasian, and her mother is African-American. Unfortunately, the British press has been brutal to Meghan. She has been criticized for being an outsider and for her career as a successful actress, not to mention the racism, sexism, and classism that she has experienced.
Like millions of others, I watched the wedding of Harry and Meghan as Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, preached and officiated. Curry remarked in his sermon, “Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in all of human history, a movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world. And a movement mandating people to live that love. And in so doing, to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself. I’m talking about some power, real power, power to change the world.”
Harry and Meghan have a deep desire to use their fame as leverage to make a difference in our world. However, they also know how difficult it is to have the freedom to be themselves and also raise their son Archie in the midst of royal constraints.
After Harry and Meghan spent six weeks in Canada over Christmas instead of with the royal family, Harry made a statement on their official Instagram account that they intend to step back from the royal family and split their time between the U.K and North America.
On January 8, the Royal Couple wrote, “After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment…
“This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity…” From Harry and Meghan
Buckingham Palace issued this statement in response, “Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
Since then, further conversation took place. Two days ago, on January 18, Buckingham Palace issued another statement, saying that a way forward had been reached where Harry and Meghan are “required to step back from royal duties” … and “will no longer receive public funds for Royal duties.” In addition, since they are no longer “working members of the Royal family,” Harry and Meghan will not use their titles. They will, however, continue to “uphold the values of Her Majesty.” In the Queen’s statement she said, “It is my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life.”
It’s complicated, isn’t it? And it’s not just a challenge for royals. Each one of us has been created by God as unique one-of-a-kind individuals with gifts and graces to be used in a world where everyone has the opportunity to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:2). God calls you and me as individuals to be Christ’s representatives, wherever we live.
At the same time, God also calls us to live out our faith as the church, the body of Christ. But that can be complicated, too, can’t it? The similarities between the challenges of the royal family and The United Methodist Church are interesting.
Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex seek more freedom to live out their call to establish a charitable entity and become more independent. But that will mean changes in the way the royal family operates, including a degree of geographic separation as well no longer using their titles. It will also entail more understanding, patience, and encouragement for all of the royals to become their unique selves, bless each other, and live healthy lives.
Meanwhile, United Methodists around the world are seeking to find a way to cooperate in ministry together despite differences around human sexuality. It has become clear that our denomination may need a degree of separation as well so that we can fully engage our world with the good news of Jesus Christ.
The newly published Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation offers The United Methodist Church the opportunity to engage in mission, evangelism, and outreach to our world in a more intentional way by opening a door to create two Methodist-related denominations. At the May 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis, United Methodist delegates from around the world will vote on the Protocol at the same time as other proposals are presented as well.
Yes, these are complicated issues for The United Methodist Church as well as for the royal family. I have much respect for Harry and Meghan. Even though it may seem as if they are swimming upstream, the royal couple is demonstrating courage by leading from their heart. They are discerning who they are called to be, how they want to raise their family, and how God desires them to use their power and influence for good.
I also have deep love for The United Methodist Church. Our common Wesleyan witness of grace, spiritual growth, evangelism, mission, and service has been hindered by our internal conflict. Complicated as the path ahead may be, God is not done with us yet. Perhaps God is asking us, too, to lead with our hearts through The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.
Near the end of Bishop Curry’s sermon at the wedding of Meghan and Harry, he quoted the late Dr. Martin Luther King, “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love, and when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world.” Yes, it’s complicated, but Harry and Megan – lead the way! Yes, it’s complicated, but United Methodist Church – lead the way! May it be so.