George Bowers Sr.: St. Valentine championed marriage
Sunday is a special day of love, romance, flowers and chocolates. This weekend romantic couples celebrate the love they share while children exchange valentine notes with their friends. Inside many of these cards and letters are the words, “From your valentine.” Few of us, however, likely know much about St. Valentine for whom this day is named.
Valentine was a Roman priest who lived in the third century AD who was eventually elevated to sainthood. Although there is some disagreement regarding the eighteen-hundred-year-old facts, one of the accounts records that he was eventually executed for nothing more serious than marrying young Christian couples.
The Roman emperors of that time period are now infamous for their persecution of Christians. As a part of his oppression, Emperor Claudius II issued a decree forbidding the marriage of young people on the assumption that unmarried men made better soldiers. The state thus elevated the needs of the empire above the religious freedoms of individuals. In addition, polygamy was common among the Romans as was infidelity and prostitution. Christian marriages were perceived as a threat to their promiscuous lifestyles and those who performed them were targeted for harsh treatment.
In spite of the governmental prohibition, however, Valentine secretly married young Christian couples anyway because he believed in the God-ordained institution of marriage. He believed that God caused partners to be attracted by love that he had initiated, and that he had created marriage for the holy expression of that love.
Valentine’s covert weddings were discovered and he was arrested and sentenced to a three-stage execution in 269 AD consisting of a beating, followed by a stoning, ultimately culminating with his decapitation. This very effectively extinguished the life of an early church leader who was a champion for the sacredness and beauty of Christian marriage. Some of the last words he wrote were signed, “From your Valentine,” and the phrase has been used many times ever since, though I dare say few would do so today if they knew their lives were at stake.
It’s interesting to remember in our day when the institution of marriage has been redefined by culture and courts, that St. Valentine was persecuted and killed for standing for Biblical marriage. Today many Christians who adhere to the Biblical standard of one man and one woman for life, which the church has believed and practiced for over 2,000 years, are now being maligned and ridiculed as narrow, bigoted, and even hateful. In some instances, these individuals have even been fined and/or imprisoned for maintaining this consistent doctrine taught by Jesus himself in Matthew 19.
God created the beautiful institution of marriage as he did for many important reasons, emperors and Supreme Court justices notwithstanding. Research continues to document that two-parent families are the safest and optimal settings for children to develop and mature. Study after study has demonstrated that single parent homes result in higher incidences of crime, poverty, academic problems, drug use, and even sexual abuse.
This is not to malign many single parents who are working very hard to raise godly children. Many are doing phenomenal jobs and have the children to prove it. But by and large, it is much harder to do so and in many cases, single parenthood was forced upon them by no-fault divorce, which imposes economic and emotional hardships on every member of the family.
Research also shows that married heterosexual couples are happier than singles their same age. Even though Hollywood would have us believe that swinging singles and promiscuous lovers have the most fun, detailed studies reveal just the opposite. Time and again, faithful monogamous heterosexual marriage partners report the greatest satisfaction and happiness. God knew what he was doing when he instituted Christian marriage and he did so for the benefit of both children and adults.
Every good and perfect gift is from God and love and marriage both meet those criteria. As we celebrate another Valentine’s Day, let us remember who the author of love is as well as who designed marriage. And as we do so, let us resolve to do it his way, even if it costs us dearly as it did St. Valentine. In Christ’s love, George
George Bowers Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books including his latest book of poetry, Holy Verses. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.