Last weekend my spouse and I were in New Jersey to attend a civil union ceremony. New Jersey legalized same-sex commitments earlier this year. The couple, in their mid-60s, have been in love for 47 years. One of the pair, Marge, is a practicing Catholic, active as a lay leader in her parish. Though she knew the answer, she asked her parish priest to perform the ceremony. He declined, but asked if he could come, without his collar. So the ceremony was instead performed by a federal judge, with “Father Mark” incognito. Both Marge and Father Mark have chosen to stay in the Catholic Church, trying to evolve it from within. They take a lot of heat from their more revolutionary friends. Father Mark told me it’s his and Marge’s church too, and if they leave, the powerful win over the loving. Some might think Marge and Father Mark are weak-spined. However, I think theirs is a courageous stance. The stance of hanging in to slowly move an institution forward.
In Rochester on the other hand, our city gained notoriety 10 years ago when Father Jim Callan not only blessed same sex unions, but allowed all worshipers to receive communion and allowed a woman in vestments on the altar. The Vatican removed Jim as a priest, and he and his 1,000 person congregation are now part of the American Catholic movement at Spiritus Christi Church. I think Father Jim is courageous too. Each is expressing their radicalism in a different way.
I compare this to almost 500 years ago. Our Rochester Wellspring groups are currently reading For Faith and Freedom, a short history of Unitarianism in Europe, by Charles A. Howe. There are two chapters dedicated to Michael Servetus, who by daring to challenge John Calvin’s Protestant doctrine was burned at the stake in 1553. He believed Jesus was human as well as divine – a heretical threat to the prevailing power structure. Micheal Servetus, the first (and unfortunately not the last) Unitarian martyr, was willing to lose his life for his beliefs.
We don’t ask our Wellspring participants what they are willing to die for. We DO ask them what they are willing to lose, in order to stand up for their beliefs. There is no right answer. Are Marge and Father Mark “right” for working within, some say supporting, the Catholic dogma, or is Father Jim Callan “right” in forcing the Vatican’s hand, and being ousted? I believe we are each called to shine a light to support the “inherent worth and dignity of every person”. And we need to be willing to lose something in that endeavor. At the same time, where we are on the evolutionary – revolutionary spectrum is up to the conscience of each of us.