In my sermon a few weeks ago, I mentioned that we have religious forbearers who died for the right to change their minds religiously, for the idea that ‘revelation is not sealed,’ that truth is forever making itself known in new ways. A few of you mentioned that you did not know that and wanted to learn more. I’ll tell one of our martyr stories here.
Francis David was a bishop of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania 450 years ago. He was the court preacher to King John Sigismund, the only Unitarian king in history. King John believed in religious tolerance and issued an edict allowing his subjects radical measure of religious freedom for the time, recognizing four state churches, the Catholic Church, the Reformed Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Unitarian Church. The Unitarian Church grew and flourished under John’s brief reign. John died young and those who succeeded him on the throne did not share his commitment to religious tolerance. The next king would only tolerate religions that stayed the same as they were when King John issued his religious freedom proclamation. David continued to ask questions, study, reflection, and debate. He came to new understandings of communion, baptism, worship and predestination and shared those ideas in his sermons. This was reported to the government by another Unitarian leader. David was put on trial and found guilty of ‘innovation in religion.’ He was sentenced to life in prison and died in a royal dungeon a short time later. His church, the Transylvanian Unitarian Church entered into a period of state-mandated stagnation that lasted several hundred years.
As a life-long Unitarian Universalist who has identified as theist, agnostic, and atheist and who has been formed by Christian, Pagan, and Hindu spiritual practices, I am grateful that innovation in religion is no longer a criminal matter and we are able to ‘innovate’ and come to new understandings of truth together. Let us continue this legacy, grateful for those who came before.
See you in church,