Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had a handful of phone calls and emails from people soliciting advice on how to respond to an invitation they’ve received to a same-sex wedding. Some have received the invitations from friends and co-workers. Others, from a sibling or relative. And, I’ve had two conversations with parents trying to sort out how to best respond to invitations from a deeply loved son or daughter.
These are not easy issues for the follower of Christ who believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Scriptures communicate a divine design for marriage. . . one that clearly defines marriage as a life-long, covenantal, monogamous commitment between one man and one woman. The more I study, pray, read, and think about these tender and difficult matters, I see the aforementioned as God’s clear order and design for His gift of marriage.
Holding to this increasingly counter-cultural view of marriage is setting the table for difficult decisions that have to be handled prayerfully, carefully, and with tenderness. As I’ve chatted with people seeking advice, I realize how difficult it is to navigate these things. . . especially when I put myself in their place. What if it was my child?
Last week, my good friends at Harvest USA published an article by John Freeman and Nicholas Black, “What to Do? Responding to an Invitation to a Same-Sex Wedding.” I love the way the folks at Harvest USA address these new cultural realities with two-feet planted firmly in the Scriptures, while thinking with compassion about how to best engage with a rapidly changing culture. As I read the article, I realized that it offers a good starting point that can help us think through these things. I contacted them and asked if I could pass the article (from the 2015 print edition of the Harvest USA newsletter) in its entirety on to you. I hope you’ll find it helpful. . .
With the legalization of gay marriage, Christians more often find themselves invited to same-sex marriage ceremonies. This poses a dilemma for believers of whether to attend an event that celebrates a life-union that God nowhere approves of in Scripture.
Declining to attend seems like an easy solution. But because it involves friendships or family connections, the matter can be quite complex. The issue is more difficult if the wedding involves a child or other close family member (for additional insights, read our mini book: Your Gay Child Says “I Do”).
Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer. Here are some things to think about that we hope can help you make a wise decision.
The space for this article is not sufficient to adequately examine the scope of Scripture on this matter, but here are three Scriptural principles that should guide you.
- Be in the world but not of it. Knowing how to engage with the world is important for Christians. Being set apart from the world (who we are and how our lives reflect who we live for) is demonstrated by our living in the world. Loving and investing (time) in our neighbor is the means by which the world comes to know God.
- Freedom in Christ. 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, and Romans 14, are key passages where Paul argues for the freedom of the believer to engage with others in society, centered around the contentious issue of that day: eating meat from an idol’s temple. For Paul, (Christian) freedom involves examining issues of motivation, concern for the impact on other believers, and the context of the situation (see 1 Cor. 10: 23-33 and Romans 14:20-23). Freedom in Christ enables us to think through how our actions affect others.
- Faith/conscience. Paul’s conclusion in Romans 14 is that we decide on issues such as these based on conscience, and that if one remains unsettled, then it is wiser to not participate, because it “is not from faith.” Christians can stand on both sides of difficult issues, so the freedom we have in Christ to discern how to live strategically in the world should move us to extend grace to those who decide differently.
After examining Scripture (which must be the basis for all decisions), here are some relationship issues that can guide you in making a decision.
- What is your current relationship to the person getting married? Are they a casual co-worker, friend or distant relative, or someone you have a closer relationship with (like a family member)? Has the invitation been given to everyone in your office, department or family? Or, has it been given to you because you have a closer relationship? These factors can help you determine how best to respond. For example, if the person is someone you have a good friendship with, then you are in a position to speak directly to him or her about the issue of attending. If your friend knows you are a Christian, then this becomes another opportunity (or maybe the first!) to discuss your faith and how that influences your decision.
- What would you be trying to convey by your attendance? Some people make the distinction between supporting the person, whom they love and care about, and supporting the event, of which they don’t approve. In making this distinction, it can communicate that attendance is not an implicit approval of their marriage. This is a meaningful distinction. We do this constantly in our other relationships, communicating our differences but remaining involved in each other’s lives. This distinction may depend on how vocal you have been about your faith. What kinds of conversations have you had? Do they know you are a Christian? Do they know your views about homosexuality? If so, your presence could actually “stun” them or really mess up the categories they may have about “Christians” like you. Christians, living intentionally by the gospel, can sometimes be confusing to people, causing them to rethink their positions and perhaps see new and bigger realities. That’s a good thing. If you feel that attending would lend weight to your Christian witness, then you might go. Your attendance would be in line with your desire to pursue a relationship because you care for them, and you want to keep the relationship open to have further opportunities to share the gospel with them.
- What are you concerned about if you decide to attend? Are you afraid that your attendance would communicate your approval? Or, are you afraid of explaining why you feel you cannot attend? Are you afraid you would not know how to act or how to talk with other guests, most who would support the marriage? There can be lots of fear involved in making this decision. Ask the Lord to guide you regarding all these issues. Fear or anxiety about disappointing someone is never a good motivator to make a decision. A better question is this: What response might cause further openness to the gospel?
- If you decide you cannot attend, could you substitute something else? If you reach the conclusion that you cannot attend, you might consider an alternative response. For instance, giving a card or gift would still show your care for them and acknowledge that this was an important day for them (it was, but you don’t necessarily have to join in on the celebration). If you are close to the person or couple, but still conclude that you cannot attend, then consider taking them out to lunch or dinner. Of course, this may be an uncomfortable get-together, especially if the person will feel hurt by your absence. But a quick follow-up may go a long way toward bringing understanding and another opportunity for you to share your faith. Another decision some people make is to not attend the wedding (because of the nature of wedding vows) but to attend the reception (if this is, of course, agreed upon by the wedding couple).
- Do one or both parties claim to be Christians? Someone once said, “We shouldn’t expect Christian behavior from non-Christian people.” If the person or persons getting married are unbelievers, this doesn’t mean you have an unhindered green light to attend—but if someone claims to be a Christian and yet is in rebellion to God’s design and intention for how his people should live, and is celebrating it and inviting others to join in, then that is another matter. Many would argue that even if one of the parties is a confessing Christian, attending would be entering into their delusion that the marriage union is fine with God and is sanctioned by him. But some will make the distinction that attending is not the same as approving.
As you can see, these are hard issues! Your decision must come from wrestling with Scripture, drenched in prayer, and talked through with close friends or family members. But know this: that your wrestling with this is itself evidence of your heart wanting to do the right thing to honor Christ and to open doors for the gospel. Realize that there is no ONE answer to this, but there is one thing you can count on: like Jesus, you’ll probably be misunderstood regarding the implications of any choice you make. So, when you make your decision, know that you have made it on the basis of what will honor God, and be at peace on that basis.