Today is Valentine’s Day. There are many legends surround Saint Valentine. One of the most common tells the story of a third century Roman priest who converted to Christianity shortly after the reign of Nero.
In the Roman Empire, Christian marriage was a political act; a way to undermine the long held religious values of Roman state. In Rome, there was no separation of church and state. The emperor was a God. For a Christian magistrate like Valentine to defy civil law he was risking death by also defying God’s law. This is why he was martyred. Valentine believed that everyone (including Christians) had the right to be married in Rome according to their own traditions. Christians and pagans should have been able to be married freely according to their own conscience. Valentine didn’t want anyone to suffer religious or political discrimination. One legend holds that Valentine officiated at the services of pacifist Roman soldiers who no longer wanted to fight in Rome’s far off wars of imperialist aggression. For these radical ideas he was executed at the behest of the Emperor Claudius.
So how might one best celebrate Valentine’s Day in 2015? Cards, chocolates, flowers, and prayers aren’t bad ideas. It’s hard to go wrong letting people know how much you love them. However, the underlying reason we remember Saint Valentine is because of his stand on marriage. We need only look at Alabama earlier this week and remember marriage is an inherently political act. Saint Valentine was executed by the state because he wanted everyone to have the opportunity to marry. So what does a Methodist clergyperson do to honor the religious and political legacy of Saint Valentine? A United Methodist minister (especially one living in a popular ocean front wedding destination), might say that until marriage equality is the law of the land and the law of the church allows him to perform all weddings in good conscience, he will honor Saint Valentine’s legacy by performing no marriages inside his church. It’s a Valentine’s Day idea and one I’m starting to like.