Written by Jon Sherwood, lead minister of Asheville Church in North Carolina. You can also find him online at jonsherwood.com writing about a variety of topics that affect the faith of Christians all over the world.
So here we find ourselves in the United States, a full decade behind our neighboring Canadians, in a land where gay marriage is not only legal in all states, but in a culture where anything other than absolute tolerance and acceptance is intolerable and unacceptable.
A question I hear all the time from Christians is whether or not they should attend a friend or family members gay wedding. "How can I go to a gay wedding and it not seem like I am condoning homosexuality?"
Before I begin trying to answer this, I want to acknowledge that this is very difficult (if not impossible) to answer definitively, mostly because the word of God gives us no direct instructions on the matter (homosexuality was certainly a part of the cultures in which the bible was written, but gay marriage as a legal institution was not). I believe it's very possible for two Christians to have two very different convictions and practices on this subject and both be within the confines of the bible. I understand not everyone would agree with me here.
The argument for not attending a gay wedding as a Christian goes something like this: homosexuality is a sin, marriage is a God ordained institution between a man and a woman, and as Christians attending a gay wedding would be (or at least run the risk of) condoning a sinful and an ungodly act.
And while I completely agree with the first premises, that homosexuality is a sin (much like many other things listed in 1 Cor 6) and marriage is indeed a God ordained and defined institution (so any marriage otherwise recognized by man is just that, a marriage by and for man, not God), I must dissent that attending a gay wedding is the same as condoning it.
I do not believe that my attendance is the same as my approval. Support and acceptance is not the same as approval in my estimation. Let me explain. I can accept someone as a human being deserving of respect, love, and dignity, without approving or agreeing with every decision they make in their life. And I can still call someone to repent of the decisions that draw them away from God in a way that loves them and honors them as a person.
I believe this is exactly what Jesus did. He obviously didn't approve of a sinful humanity that was in rebellion against his Father in heaven, but he came into the brokenness of mankind and showed them dignity and love, even when other pious people expected him to do otherwise, just as they did. When a sinful woman was caught in the act of adultery (c.f. Jn 8), something Jesus obviously didn't approve of, he didn't shame her (as the Pharisee's were doing) but instead he gave the woman dignity and grace, perhaps the last thing she was deserving, and then called her to repent and leave her life of sin.
I have heard it argued that Jesus hanging out with sinners is not a valid argument for Christians to attend a gay wedding nowadays because Jesus eating in the house of "sinners" was not a moral issue, gay weddings are. But I don't think this is that convincing for me, for many of the the things Jesus did were in fact moral issues to those around him, that was what was so incredulous and surprising to many of those around Jesus. Even his own disciples were surprised when he was speaking with a Samaritan woman, which to them was a moral issue (c.f. Jn 4). The Pharisees were shocked and appalled when Jesus worked on the Sabbath, to them a moral issue (c.f. Lk 6; 13) or went into Zacchaeus' house which caused people to "mutter" because it was not the expected course of morality from a man of God.
It is this response from Jesus in fact that gives me the opinion I have. Jesus broke into humanity in order to bring us salvation, to bring us to his Father, not to condemn us (although there is a judge - c.f. Jn 12:47-50). Likewise, I know that I am not the judge, but have been tasked to fish for men along with my Lord, the great Fisherman (Mat 28:18-20; Mark 1:17), but how can I do so if I completely remove myself from the world? (c.f. 1 Cor 5:9-11 - because of this passage, I would not attend a gay wedding between two people that called themselves Christians, just as I would not attend a heterosexual wedding between someone calling themselves a Christian knowingly marrying a non-Christian - c.f. 2 Cor 6).
I understand that in and of itself, "completely removing myself from the world" is not encompassed by attending a gay wedding or not, but I think you get the point.
Would you be willing to consider not attending a heterosexual wedding (or any other event, say ... a football game?) where there will be several people getting drunk, which is condemned as sinful in the Scriptures every bit as much as homosexuality? In fact drunkards are listed alongside homosexuals as not inheriting the kingdom of God in 1 Cor 6:9-11 and 1 Cor 5:9-11. What is the difference? Couldn't it be argued that being at football game where many people (if not most down here in the South) are actively getting drunk could be seen as condoning drunkenness? Yet, "Can I go to a football game where people will be getting drunk and not seem like I am condoning drunkenness?", is not usually a question I am asked. Somehow we have built a theology that doesn't seem to be rubbed by this. Perhaps a helpful illustration of going to a blockbuster movie that has implicit or explicit sexual content, or perhaps anger, murder, and violence depicted simply for our pleasure and entertainment (many times happening simultaneously in one film) is appropriate. Am I condoning these things because I watch? I am not here to answer these questions for you, you must wrestle with these things for yourself ... I am simply pointing out what seems to be a contradiction.
I believe that I can accept and love (which I am called to do as a Christian c.f. Jn 13) while at the same time expressing my heartfelt conviction and belief about Jesus the Messiah (which I am also called to do - Mrk 1). I pray that I can do this without compromising the truth and reality of sin, and that I can respond in a way that is not an overreaction to the current cultural milieu, both Christian and secular. Understandably, this is no easy task and will likely look different in practice across different people and circumstances.
A Starting Place:
Perhaps a starting place can be simply stating that you would like to have a conversation with them about God and spirituality, if and when they desire too. This way they know that you love them and you are respecting their dignity and individuality, while at the same time not completely being incongruent with your faith by saying nothing.
I grew up with a family member that I now look back on and view as incredibly dedicated and committed to Christ, but the manipulative and coercive tactics to "win me for Christ" left a bitter and foul taste in my mouth for a long time (along with many others in my family). And ultimately they were largely unsuccessful (at least from my limited persepctive). I thank God I was provided with other opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel, and it is only God's grace that allows this, I certainly didn't deserve it. But now I know what it was that rubbed me so abrasively about those tactics; I didn't feel loved, I didn't feel like I was able to make my own choice, I felt manipulated. God never manipulates us. He loves us enough to give us free will to decide for ourselves, but nonetheless loves us so deeply, so sacrificially, that even if we spit in his face, he keeps pursuing us. As long as you have breath, you can repent. But don't parlay, for none of us know what tomorrow brings (c.f. Jam 4:14).
As long as you have breath, you can repent. But don't parlay, for none of us know what tomorrow brings (Jam 4:14)
These issues are indeed complex and difficult and should be sought out with much prayer and advice. We cannot burry our heads in the sand thinking that the world will just evaporate if we just close our eyes tight enough. And we must be willing to overcome the often embittered and angry discourse that has plagued the western Christian stigma by allowing genuine love and compassion in our hearts to overflow to everyone. This is where Christ meets the world through us.