This Sunday, Virginia-Highland Church will observe The Feast of St. Martin. It is the closest Sunday to the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although secular culture observes the King holiday close to his birthday, the church always has commemorated its saints on the day closest to their death. October 4 is not the birthday of St. Francis; it the anniversary of the day he died.
Our worship team talked this week about whether Martin Luther King is officially a saint. He has not been canonized by the Roman Catholic bureaucracy, but who in the hell gave them the authority to decide who our saints are? Dr. King will never be one of their saints because he was a Baptist pastor, but why do we give a pope the power to decide whose lives we honor and emulate? He was not a Roman Catholic, so they won’t name him a saint. So what?!?
One of the things that I became very keenly aware of as a gay man pastoring one of the largest churches in the country was that we had to learn to assert our own spiritual authority. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have had to learn to read scripture through their own lens. We learned to create our own traditions, values, and celebrations long before the mainline church repented of their treatment of gay folks.
In 1981, Bill and I had a religious wedding in our own church. Two members of the Atlanta City Council were in attendance. (One is now a congressperson, John Lewis). Because there were no marriage liturgies for same-gender couples, we had to write our own. Since then, that liturgy has been used to marry hundreds of same-gender and heterosexual couples. Until less than two years ago, the marriage of a same-gender couple wasn’t recognized by the federal government.
The point is we don’t need a pope or a bishop or a denomination or a pastor to sanctify our faith or our relationships. It is great when we can be part of a larger covenant, but we must never surrender our faith journey to anyone with a title or degree. The primary covenant is between us and God, and, unless you hear a voice from heaven telling you otherwise, your job is to follow your own wisdom and the leading of the Spirit. You get to decide who you believe is a saint, and I hope that someone, someday, will fight to insist that YOU were one, too.
Rev. Michael Piazza