Happy Reformation Day
While I grew up in primarily Baptist flavored Christian communities which are devoid of a lot of traditional rituals, my mom being the creative we know and love made new rituals of her own. There were structured programs for Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July. Like many homeschool families I grew up around, the original myths around Halloween were too mystical for comfort. Instead of just not celebrating though, my mom decided to celebrate a different holiday, conveniently also on the 31st of October:
Instead of turning off all our lights and pretending no one was home to hand out candy, we turned off our lights, pretended no one was home to hand out candy AND watched a black and white movie from 1953 about Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to a church door, kicking off the protestant reformation. We had a lot of conversations about how the Roman Catholic Church embellished and added lots of rules to Christianity, and how Martin Luther and his followers spoke truth to power, insisting that every Christian could have their own direct relationship with the Divine without confessing their sins to a priest, buying indulgences, etc. Their faith was valid without the backing of the established religious system and government. That’s right, instead of handing out candy to five-year-olds dressed as superheroes, I got lessons for the revolution. Now Martin Luther, like almost any larger than life figure from history, was a product of his 16th century world and had some other really hateful and discriminatory views. He wrote both the 95 theses and also some really anti-semetic shit. I’m not saying Luther got even close to everything right, but that I find it really ironic my mom was unwittingly planting seeds of progressive faith by avoiding the satanic and worldly holiday of Halloween. I also find the scope of changes made from 16th century Catholicism to Protestantism much larger than the changes that progressive Christians are advocating for today, and this is encouraging.
Martin Luther was threatening the entire religious and political structure of the Roman Catholic Church, literally built by the Roman empire. Progressive Christians are calling for a variety of changes, but mostly for equity, humility, and love in the spaces that already exist. You actually don’t even have to denounce a world religion and empirical leader to sit with us (although we might encourage questioning along those lines I’m not gonna lie.)
Wars have been fought (and in some places still are) over this divide in faith traditions. When Luther started the reformation there was no “separation of church and state”. Theocracy was normal. Religion was law. Heresy was punishable by death. “Deconstruction” was taking your life and your families lives in your hands very literally. I’m not minimizing the risks many folks face in their faith traditions when they speak up for their spiritual growth. People still lose communities and support, some still lose livelihoods. But today in many places the local Catholic church is next door to the Presbyterian and Baptist churches with no mutual ill will which means changes - and peace - are possible.
Many evangelicals celebrate Luther as a hero or visionary but I don’t think they have really thought through what the reformation actually means. The reformation means any Christian can look at oppressive and harmful religious systems of their day and start speaking truth to power. To summarize: If our ancestors could give up the leadership of the pope and bishops, indulgences, and going to confession, I think we can learn to stop being assholes to LBGTQ+ people.
Friends who have happily left Christianity sometimes ask why I stay, what I have hope for, and yeah, the outlook can be bleak some days. The cognitive dissonance can be deafening. But Jesus’ good news was for those on the margins first. Christianity was never meant to serve Empire, be it Roman or American. It’s okay if radical love isn’t popular - Jesus sure wasn’t. And as problematic as Martin Luther was, he was on to one thing: resistance.
Little did my mom realize she was teaching me the foundation of progressive Christian thought by not letting me dress up on Halloween and getting the sugar high to end all sugar highs. The seeds of seeking justice and questioning entrenched religious systems doing harm to those caught up in them were planted and watered every Halloween. Martin Luther was labeled a heretic for his outlandish theologies that have become the bedrock of many mainstream Protestant traditions today.
While I have more questions about faith than answers at this point (and I’m fine with this, please don’t come at me with your answers) every time I feel a little too radical, I think about Martin Luther essentially giving the middle finger to one of the largest and most powerful political and religious structures in the world. When I’m anxious about pushing “publish” on a blog post that might be controversial, I tell myself it’s not going to be as controversial as the 95 theses was, and if it IS, maybe that’s a good thing.