Let each be fully persuaded in his own mind.
There’s an ongoing buzz in the Christian community over whether or not believers should attend same-sex weddings. As buzz goes, this one’s awfully relevant, as more of us are facing a dilemma: Do I accept the invitation, even though I don’t believe in same sex marriage, or decline and risk alienating someone I deeply love?
As the old song goes, Everybody’s Talkin’.
Stephen Arterburn of New Life Ministries 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.
To cut to the chase, let me say that’s my position as well. A few 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, took 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 is 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, then 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. 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 that 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, and 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.” 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 their union itself? Does my attendance constitute friendship and love only, or does it not also testify to approval and outright celebration?
I’d say it expresses approval, not just love. That’s what I believe 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 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.
At a wedding, 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?
I’d argue that we attend because the thing itself – a marriage between a man and a 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 wedding 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. If were invited, I would probably say, feeling both sadness and conviction:
I would never ask you to do something which would violate your conscience. Please don’t ask me to violate mine. We have differences, but I hope and pray those differences won’t come between us as people, and that we can both respect each other enough to allow each other’s need to follow our conscience and principles.
So for what it’s worth, that’s where I’ve landed. I know there are well-respected Christian leaders who would disagree with me, an you may disagree as well. The issue of attending a same-sex wedding is not to my thinking an essential on which we must agree, but rater, a matter of conscience.
So, as Paul recommended in the verse from Romans quoted above, I’ve searched the scriptures, prayerfully sought guidance, and examined my conscience. I’m fully persuaded, so that’s where I’ll stay.
Mike Wilbur | Sep 15, 2016
Maybe I'm acting like Elijah, but sometimes I feel like I'm the only one left thinking similarly to you Joe.
When my son announced his "engagement" to another man my wife and I discussed what we would do.
I fell on the no go side, but my wife, my pastor and many good Christian advised to go to preserve "the relationship" (seems relationship with God takes a back seat)
Thankfully the event was called off....and thankfully there are men like you around who are able to present the truth with gentleness and respect.
Patricia | Sep 15, 2016
Joe, I agree. Jesus loved sinners and was criticized because he ate with sinners and did not turn them away. Yet he would not condone their sin. He ate with tax collectors and probably, with prostitutes, but he did not participate with the tax collector in skimming money of the tax bills or use prostitutes or celebrate what they did (although I am sure his heart ached because so many women had no other means to live!). I'm sure he loved adulterers also, but he did not encourage or celebrate or sanction adultery. It is shocking to me how many Christians cannot make those distinctions.
John | Sep 15, 2016
Joe, I’m so grateful for your clear and respectful opinion on this matter. I have found that there are very few voices in this divisive issue who take such a loving position along with their solid conviction. While I disagree with you on this, I respect your beliefs as reasonable and understandable. My daughter is gay and will likely be giving me the news that she will be married to her partner in the near future. I will be attending. It is refreshing to hear someone like you hold their believes and yet speak the truth in love. I know far too many Christians who would not only condemn the couple who are getting married, but also condemn those who, out of their own convictions, choose to attend. I'm glad that there are Christ followers who have the maturity to agree to disagree and remain in relationship with those who are of a different opinion.
Timothy Wright | Sep 16, 2016
Well said. In the same way I could never attend a friends party to celebrate an abortion.
timcarp1964 | Sep 17, 2016
That's a good word brother. It's a hard word, but it's good and sound. I deeply mourn for my brothers and sisters who have children in homosexual relationships. The decision to avoid their child's wedding ceremony must be heart wrenching.
You are a voice of reason in this crazy world these days. I am going to write you in on my presidential ballot! God bless you.
Ann | Aug 29, 2018
This has to be the saddest thing I have ever read. First of all, who the heck has an abortion party? Second, perhaps it would be a relief to these same sex couples getting married not to have such narrow minded individuals at their blessed event anyway. Several years ago a very Catholic relative chose not to attend my secular (heterosexual) wedding and I completely respected that, but years later came around and apologized for missing the day. She realized that her beliefs kept her from experiencing important to someone she cared about. Oh well, her loss. Anyway, the reason I stumbled on this post was because I am not a Christian but will be attending a Christian wedding with people who have similar views expressed here. Like you all who feel uncomfortable attending a gay wedding, you should all know that the opposite is also true. People who do not share your faith aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to attend your events either. I am a Unitarian Universalist so I respect your beliefs but feel sad to think that your views hold you back from being open minded and accepting of people who have a different faith. If you are that narrow minded, don’t hem and haw, don’t go, nobody should have judgmental sour pusses at their day of love. Lastly, a nine year old boy committed suicide just recently because he was judged for being gay and his classmates told him he should kill him self. Shame of all of you who see gay as wrong.
Dsullivannc | Dec 15, 2019
I don’t think failure to agree with homosexuality is necessarily being complicit in someone’s suicide. This is a logical fallacy if ever I have seen one.
Joe, we’ve been dealing with the same struggle with our daughter. Thank you for not capitulating to culture.
lbkennon | Feb 6, 2020
Thank you Joe for Obeying the Word and clearly putting scripture out there. I have experienced this with my daughter and did not attend her wedding. One of the hardest decisions I have had to make because I love her so much! I dug into scripture crying and praying and God gave me this scripture Romans 14:23b For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. I had just told her I didn't believe this was right. Wow..He was speaking clearly! It has been hard for her to understand. We still talk and love each other very much but I know it hurt her. It hurt me. But, my Savior loves us both so much and will heal all wounds in His name.
Thank you Joe! I needed this today.