Do More Than Say ‘No’
All good pastoral theology begins with Jesus. The Gospels give us clear examples of how Jesus interacts with those who lifestyles are not holy. He dines with tax collectors, hangs out with prostitutes, and dares to speak to unclean foreigners. Jesus has absolutely no problem doing things with sinners.
Based on this reasoning, then, we might conclude that Christians should have no problem attending a gay wedding, even if they do not agree with it. Jesus in his pastoral engagements hardly ever judged. Surely as God’s salt and light, we are called to go among unbelievers, live with them, and pray for them through their joys and sorrows in hopes of witnessing for Christ.
But there’s another perspective: Marriage is a God-given ordinance that speaks to more than just the love between two people. Biblical teaching on marriage shows us that the union of a man and woman is the icon of the union of Christ and his church. The Book of Revelation envisions the great wedding feast at the end of time, the union of the Bridegroom and his bride.
So doing marriage incorrectly is an act of idolatry. It’s a rejection of both the ordinance God has given and the meaning of that ordinance. Since the gender of the participants in marriage is important, mixing those sexes up destroys the point marriage was meant to represent. How can a Christian be involved in such a thing?
Like many Christians, I find myself torn on this pressing issue. I describe my perspective as “postgay.” Today, I have a wife and family. Years ago, I decided that my same-sex orientation would not define me. I refused to accept the idea that same-sex attraction validates same-sex behavior.
But my heart wants to come alongside my gay friends and celebrate the joy they have found. Jesus shared his life with deeply flawed sinners. My theologically trained head realizes that we need to make decisions based on the clear biblical witness.
Here’s my answer: There were times when Jesus clearly and publicly identified sinful behavior for what it was—overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple, for example. Perhaps the most Christlike thing to do is to politely decline the wedding invite and explain why. Say “no”—but do not end the conversation there.
Reason alone is rarely sufficient to change someone’s heart and head. When I allow others to look inside my marriage and family, they see the tension Christians face as they live in societies that do not conform to God’s will. We must not isolate ourselves from a fallen world. In going beyond our Christian bubble, we see that ethical choices, even the ones Jesus made, aren’t always as black and white as we might wish. Gospel-based relationships are everything. Attendance at a wedding? Probably not.
Peter Ould is a Church of England priest and a banking consultant based in Canterbury, UK. For eight years, his blog, An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy, chronicled his journey out of homosexuality.
It’s Best to Show Up
When I became a Christian, most of my friends and family were baffled and disappointed. They could not understand why I was subjecting myself to a repressive falsehood. Sure, the church’s paintings are nice, but what about the ethics?
That’s why it was so moving to me that my best friend came to my baptism. She gamely let the priests shake holy water over her; she kept a wry, silent smile on her face while everybody else renounced Satan. I was under no illusion that she had changed her mind about Christianity and the church. That made her attendance more poignant, because it was a gesture purely in support of me.
I think of my baptism when I consider how Christians should respond when they are invited to gay weddings. (I’ve attended one same-sex wedding so far, in an Episcopal church.) People find it easier to notice judgment than acceptance. They find it especially hard to understand unconditional love. Whenever Christians can show that our love is not a reward for good behavior, we should do so.
This decision about attendance is easier for me, because I believe God calls some people to devoted, sacrificial love of another person of the same sex. Let me be clear: I don’t think that that love should be expressed sexually. But some people who marry a same-sex partner are doing so out of a call to love, even though they misinterpret the nature of that love. We should support as much as we can. When a woman forgives offenses and humbly apologizes for her own wrongdoing, cares for children, listens, comforts, and learns to put others’ needs above her own preferences, those are acts of love—which do not become worthless or loveless when they take place within a lesbian relationship.
Years down the line, if this person does choose to follow Christ, or live more fully within Christian ethics, will I have conducted myself in such a way that he or she would find me a trustworthy guide? Or will I have focused only on the areas where that relationship is not in line with Christian sexual discipline? Will I have acted as if I am obviously correct and the other person is just perversely following his own self-will?
Attempts by straight Christians to uphold essentials of the faith are often misunderstood as bigotry. But there is much actual bigotry out there. A decision not to attend a same-sex wedding takes place in the same universe as gay-bashing, bullying, and the long grind of contempt toward gay men and women. I am not blaming Christians for that; it’s just the context in which Christian decisions will be interpreted. That context makes it even harder than it would be anyway to believe in unconditional love.
Some people may have already demonstrated enough love that their friends would understand a decision not to attend a same-sex wedding. But in most cases, I think it’s best to show up.
Eve Tushnet, author of Gay and Catholic, blogs at Patheos.
Not in Good Conscience
Lisa Severine Nolland
Marriage is not only about one couple’s relationship. It has a public dimension, and the wedding ceremony and the celebration mark this. That family and friends participate in a couple’s wedding makes marriage a public matter.
So, by attending a same-sex wedding, I tacitly endorse this particular union and also endorse the notion that two women (or men) actually can get married. I cannot in good conscience go, because I cannot endorse same-sex marriage (SSM).
I love and live by the ethics of Jesus. Would Jesus be in attendance? He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners because that was how he could connect. Though unconditional, his love was not static. Beginning with acceptance, he moved into challenge, as seen with Zacchaeus. Would Jesus have shown solidarity by collecting the odd bit of revenue? I don’t think so. Jesus separated the person of Zacchaeus from his iniquitous business practice in order to redeem both.
I cannot in good conscience attend a same-sex wedding precisely because I love my gay friends and want their best. I believe all sin damages. My sin damages me as their sin damages them. How can I celebrate what I believe harms them? I would respect their friendship but would pray they realize that marriage is not what they are after or what they actually want. I would look for opportunities to point them to a better way. As Christian mystic Simone Weil once noted, “All sins are attempts to fill voids.” My friends’ marriage is an example.
Though some gay married couples may be exemplary in love and devotion, SSM has more ominous aspects. Do those advocating for SSM insist these couples conform to traditional marriage practices, such as sexual exclusivity and permanence? No. Mainstream SSM advocates such as sex columnist Dan Savage enthuse over so-called “monogamish marriage” (committed but sexually open).
Waiting in the wings could be polyamorous and bisexual marriages. How will people respond to wedding invitations from the excited trio? Research by sociologist Mark Regnerus indicates that “churchgoing Christians who support ssm are more likely to think . . . adultery [and] polyamory . . . are acceptable.”
As a sex historian, I’ve tracked the sex revolution for decades. I’ve miscalled the timing, but otherwise my concerns generally have proved prescient.
I used to share my home and dog with a lovely gay man who had AIDS. A close bisexual friend “came out,” confessing her love, fearful of my rejection. I hugged her but refused the sex. I have lived my life in friendship with many sexual-minority people and witnessed the pain and tragedy in their lives. But capitulating to their demands that we accept gay marriage is wrong-headed. And so, I would send my regrets but set up dinner for the following month.
Lisa Severine Nolland, PhD, convenes the Marriage, Sex, and Culture Group of Anglican Mainstream (Oxford) and is a consultant with anglicanmainstream.org.
Don’t Go, But Love
This couple doesn’t despise tradition. They’ve just known what Dorothy Day called “the long loneliness”—that dull, gnawing ache for communion and transcendence. Our age makes people think in their bones that only sex and marriage provide the intimacy and love that sate us. But by reason and faith, Christians know what even the best pagan thinkers taught: marriage is the union apt to unfold into family life—fully committed and opposite-sex; and nonmarital sex is wrong.
So we cannot attend the ceremony. Wedding guests do not spectate. Their job is to bear witness to the couple’s being married and support their commitment, which is partly sexual by definition.
Friendship isn’t served by supporting what we think wrong. We must trade our safe, undiscerning love for Christ’s own—aflame with truth but also vulnerable and understated, free of smugness or distance. Then we must get on with serving our friend, now on alert for signs our love was conditional. We prove those suspicions wrong, slowly, in every interaction. We rejoice in the couple’s deep mutual presence as companions and confidants in life’s ups and downs. As with cohabiting opposite-sex couples, it isn’t that their sacrificial love is unworthy. It’s holy, which is why it’s wrong to try to make it something it isn’t.
Their companionship is invaluable, and disserved by attempts to foster it by sex. Noncoital sex (straight or gay), rather like premarital sex, seeks the experience of conjugal union without its full reality.
It fails to shape love by the whole truth about lover and beloved, who unite as one heart and mind but not as one flesh, toward any one bodily end encompassing and transcending them both. This matters because their sacrificial love does. We ask them to understand our read of things even if they don’t share it.
We don’t judge their hearts and can’t rush persuasion in a decades-long cultural revolution. But we should have the confidence of happy counterrevolutionaries, keen to add vivid, splendid color to postmodernity’s monochrome moral vision.
Many take for granted the sexual shibboleths of the industrialized West: sex simply pleases and forges felt bonds; marriage is the only realm for real love. But we have the moral vision of millennia and thinkers from East and West. Sex is an exchange of whole persons, trembling with meaning; joining man to woman as one flesh and generations as one blood. Marriage has no monopoly on love. There’s a rich horizon of vocations to love, each with its own values.
Where other responsibilities allow, let us prove the promise of platonic intimacy by drawing our friends in. Not because they need us, but because we each need the other. Not to work on them, but as Montaigne said of loving his friend, and as Christ loves us: “Because it was he, because it was I.”
Sherif Girgis, who is pursuing degrees at Yale and Princeton, cowrote What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, and contributes to thepublicdiscourse.com.
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