Lots of buzz lately about whether or not a Christian should attend a same-sex wedding ceremony. And as buzz goes, this one’s awfully relevant, as more and more believers are facing this practical, emotional choice: Accept the invitation although I don’t believe in same sex marriage, or decline and risk alienating someone I deeply love?
And as the old song goes, Everybody’s Talkin’. Stephen Arterburn of New Life Ministries recently blogged at the Huffington Post that Jesus would definitely say yes to such an event, so we should go and do likewise. John Shore over at Crosswalk.com seems to agree, comparing refusal to attend a gay wedding to the sin of having a Pharisee’s attitude. Free Bible Study lessons.com likewise says that we should accept the invitation, unless one or both of the partners getting married claims to be a Christian, in which case we should decline, while Candice Watters at Boundless.org gives the whole thing a thumbs down, claiming it’s unloving to condone what God condemns. Got Questions.org takes the same position as Watters: Yes on loving gay friends and family; No on going to their weddings.
For the record, that’s my position as well. Two years ago I wrote an article for The Christian Research Journal titled “Should Christians Attend Same Sex Weddings?” (Click here to order the issue) In this two-part piece, Rev. Michael F. Ross, an ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church of America, takes the “pro” position, arguing that he would attend a gay wedding provided both parties knew where he stood Biblically on homosexuality, as a show of love and respect. For my part, I voted “con”, contending that attendance at a wedding is a conscious and intentional act of celebration, not just a show of support, and therefore not a legitimate option unless you believe the wedding itself to be a good thing. The article showed, along with those mentioned above, that even conservative believers are divided on this question. So I’d like to take some space today to better explain where I stand, and why.
Let’s do so by looking at the issue through the eyes of those getting married, then through the eyes of the Believer and the eyes of God,
whose perspective trumps all else.
Try To See It Their Way
One of my favorite lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” In other words, a person can joke about something he’s never experienced, showing a huge lack of respect or empathy. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to make light of someone else’s feelings, whether I agree with them or not, and that’s doubly true if I have to make decisions they might find to be hurtful. And clearly, the decision not to attend a loved one’s wedding qualifies as one of those tough ones.
Try looking at it from the couple’s perspective. They’re no doubt in a relationship that’s very serious; very committed. Before deciding on marriage, they’ve thought the issue through, considered the way they feel about each other, weighed the nature and value of their relationship, and decided to form a union they hope will last a lifetime.
Yes, by Biblical standards, they’re wrong; the wedding itself is a ceremony solemnizing something that in God’s sight cannot be called a marriage. But to the couple involved (and to your loved one in particular, be that loved one a child, sibling, cousin or even parent) it’s dead serious, a joyful milestone they’re anticipating and wanting to share with the people they love the most.
They probably know you are a Bible believing Christian who doesn’t condone homosexuality. But they’re also hoping you’ll put that aside for the sake of sharing their joy, supporting them in love, and being there for them because of who they are to you, despite what you believe. For them, this is a life changing event, one of their most significant moments, and having you there would mean so much.
A “Sorry, Cannot Attend” RSVP will almost certainly be hurtful, possibly devastating, and may in fact sound a death knell to your relationship with this person. Don’t underestimate that when considering how you’re going to respond.
So Why Not ‘Yes?’
Let’s look first at the believer’s relationship to either non-believers or to believers involved in ongoing, deliberate, significant sin.
Regarding non-believers, there’s nothing in Scripture indicating we shouldn’t have relationships with them. Jesus associated freely and notoriously with people or all sorts – notorious sinners like prostitutes and tax collectors included – showing no compunction about enjoying their company and being among them. (See for example Matthew 9:9-12; Matthew 11:19; Mark 2:16-17; Luke 15: 1-2; Luke 19:7)
The question, then, is not whether we should have good relations with gay or lesbian family members. We can, should, and probably will. What’s at issue here is attendance at a wedding ceremony, ostensibly approved of and rejoiced over by those who come to it. Attendance means, to my thinking, more than loving support for the person(s) involved. It also means an offer of approval and blessing.
There’s the catch, and it’s not minor. Celebrating a loved one’s sin is a serious matter, no matter how deep the love nor how important the loved one. To attend a wedding is to offer explicit support for the event itself, and that would constitute violation of Paul’s clear instructions to the Ephesians to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11), and his advice to Timothy to “neither be partakers of other men’s sins.” (I Timothy 5:22)
Paul’s choice of wording here is not accidental. A “partaker”, according to the Strong’s translation of the Greek term involved, is “one who shares, partners, or comes into association with another’s activities.” And that makes attending a wedding you don’t really believe in very problematic indeed.
The question, then, boils down to this: Can I attend a homosexual wedding without making a clear statement of support, not only for the people involved, but for the thing itself? Does my attendance constitute friendship and love only, or does it not also testify to approval and outright celebration?
I’d say it does, as attendance at a wedding always does, making it impossible for me to in good conscience show up. For most other events involving a homosexual family member, showing up is certainly an option. If there’s a party my family member comes to, my attendance is a statement of my love for him and others, not one of approval for this one part of his life. If we get together under virtually any other circumstances, I see no conflict with scripture or conscience. But to attend his ceremony would be to say, by my very presence, “I bless and support not only these people, but this event.” And that’s just too much.
It would also be too much if a Christian friend of mine asked me to attend his wedding if he united with a non-believer, in clear violation of II Corinthians 6:14. To be there would be tantamount to saying “I bless this” when, in fact, I couldn’t. Nor could I show up for the wedding of a Christian friend who dumped his wife for totally unscriptural reasons, then latched onto a younger model. Because an event is involved at which attendance equals approval. I see no way around this. If a thing is wrong, no matter how deeply bonded I am to the person involved, then while I’m allowed to love and interact with him, I cannot participate in anything expressing approval or support of the wrongdoing itself.
Some have raised the question of attending a wedding for two people who lived together prior to marrying, but that’s not a good comparison to make, since the wedding would be a correction, not a continuation, of the problem.
Others have suggested that if we attend non-believer’s weddings we’re condoning something that’s not Christ-centered, so why not attend a gay wedding as well?
Because the thing itself – a marriage between man and woman –is still inherently good, and worth celebrating. After all, I would gladly attend the commencement ceremony of a non-Christian college graduate because, even if he’s not living a Christ-centered life, his achievement is a good thing in and of itself. The same cannot be said for a marriage which is, in form and practice, clearly outside God’s will. So as hard as it may be to refuse, I still believe it reasonable to simply say, “I would never ask you do something you don’t believe in, nor would I make that a litmus test of your love for me. So please don’t make this a litmus test of my love for you, either. We have a relationship; let’s keep it and respect our differences.”
But Where’s the love?
Despite all this some Christians feel it’s better to attend and maintain the bond, than to refuse coming and jeopardize a family relationship. I’m sympathetic to that viewpoint. If there’s any way to avoid a breach in the family, without violating our own conscience, then I’m all for it.
But in this case I just don’t see any wiggle room. Jesus’ own reference to marriage was unequivocal:
“Have you not read that He who made them from the beginning made them male and female? For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Matthew 19:4)
The standard is clear: He who made them from the beginning created the martial bond to be independent, permanent and heterosexual. Removing the complimentary nature of it makes it something else – a committed relationship, perhaps, and one in which both parties love each other deeply. But not, per biblical standards, a marriage. I simply can’t shake the conviction that attendance at a ceremony attempting to revise this standard is complicity in the revision itself, qualifying for the warning God issued through Jeremiah: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
That’s why I could not attend a same sex wedding, and that’s why I believe it wrong for a Christian to do so. For what it’s worth, that’s where I’ve landed; that’s where I’ll stay.
For further reading on how to dialogue with gay family members and friends, my book When Homosexuality Hits Home has been revised and updated, and will soon be available in its updated form. To order your copy from Harvest House publishers, click here.