Valentine’s day has become a secular celebration of romantic love especially beneficial for vendors of chocolate candy, flowers, and jewelry, but the secular observance has its origins in the Christian feast of St. Valentine.
Who was St. Valentine? Turns out there were numerous early Roman martyrs of that name (“Valens” was very common), but the one executed and buried on February 14th, circa 270 CE is the best known, but that’s not saying a lot, and there are other candidates and traditions.
Systemic Roman persecution of Christians was at its height in the latter half of the third century, spilling over into the fourth, until the time of Constantine when the situation was reversed. It was in this staunchly anti-Christian milieu that Valentine was convicted and executed for aiding Christians, including the unspeakable crime of performing marriage ceremonies between Christian couples.
According to history.com:
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Eight months ago, I attended the Annual Conference of the Wisconsin United Methodists in the delightful river city of La Crosse, under the bluffs of the Mississippi and gateway to the Coulee Country of Wisconsin. I was there as a vendor to sell and sign copies of my novel, and my booth happened to be placed right next to the booth for Kairos Co Motion, which is a Wisconsin-based, Methodist, LGBT advocacy group. Over the course of three days, I had plenty of time to visit with the folks who staffed that booth, including Pastor Amy DeLong the executive director. At the end of the Convention, Kairos sponsored a luncheon, followed by a Eucharist service, and I was privileged to attend as a guest of my new-found friends.
During that luncheon, Pastor Amy reported that she would likely be brought before an ecclesiastical court for the crime of performing a Holy Union ceremony for a lesbian couple. Like pastors everywhere, she had filed a year end report of her activities (baptisms, burials, marriages, etc.), and she openly reported the Holy Union of the lesbian couple. Called before her bishop (who was largely supportive), she refused to recant or fudge what she had done (by re-submitting a sanitized report that didn’t mention that the couple was lesbian).
“I need to be honest about their love and their relationship,” Pastor Amy said (I paraphrase). “To fail to acknowledge the full truth would diminish them and me.”
Amy’s trial, which will determine her future as an ordained pastor of the United Methodist Church, is scheduled for April 11, 2011. At issue in the trial will be the Holy Union as well as Pastor Amy’s own relationship with Val, her partner of fifteen years. A website has been created to follow Amy’s case at Love on Trial.
As a side note, largely in response to the pending trial, a significant group of retired UMC bishops has issued a statement urging the UMC to remove its ban on gay clergy. “Retired Bishop Neil L. Irons, the executive secretary of the Council of Bishops, said this is the first time in his memory when this many retired bishops have released a public statement such as this.”
“We believe the God we know in Jesus is leading us to issue this counsel and call — a call to transform our church life and our world,” says the “Statement of Counsel to the Church – 2011”.
“The statement is the result of a prayerful consideration of the Bible, the church’s Wesleyan heritage and the bishops’ experience and “conviction of God’s intention for a world transformed,” the document says.