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Should Christians Attend Gay Weddings?

Wedding season is in full swing, and you’ve been invited to a wedding, a same-sex wedding, and you’ve been trying your best to determine whether you can or should attend. What are Christians to do? Should Christians who hold to a historic Christian sexual ethic attend gay weddings?

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The stakes

First, let’s talk about the stakes of wedding attendance. This summer and fall, some of you will be invited to weddings, and the stakes are high. Some of the weddings you’ll be invited to will be between Christians and be deeply sacramental while others will be the complete opposite. The couple might be two people of the opposite sex or two people of the same sex. Particularly if you get invited to a gay wedding, things feel like they get complicated, quickly, right?

If you’re invited to the wedding, it’s probably a wedding between people you love. First and foremost, you don’t want to hurt someone you love on a day they’ll consider to be one of the most important days of their life. At the same time, you have concerns about what your attendance would mean to the couple, to others who attend or who see the photos later, and to God.

What would your attendance or choosing not to attend communicate to the gay couple about God’s wisdom, about God’s love for them, about your love for them?

What would your attendance or choosing not to attend communicate to people at the wedding and those who see the wedding photos or who hear about your decision to attend or not? You risk becoming the target of heavy criticism from either more culturally progressive people accusing you of homophobia or from more culturally conservative people accusing you of being complicit in sin.

And then there’s God. What would your attendance or choosing not to attend mean to Him? What’s the best way to be faithful to a God who has invited His followers to love the world with grace and truth? What should you do to make sure you feel like whatever decision you made was made with integrity?

Clearly, the stakes are high. For many of us, wedding season of invitations is fraught with landmines and we feel frozen, often because we don’t know what questions to ask or what ideas to consider when discerning.

While I can’t give you an easy five-step process to cleanly and clearly answer this question for you, I can help you with the discernment process.

Christian marriage

What does marriage mean to God? How do we define what Christian marriage is? And what has marriage and being part of a Christian wedding historically meant to Christians?

Christian marriage is a lifetime commitment between one Christian woman and one Christian man with an openness to raise children for the sake of the kingdom. God joins, enters into, and sustains Christian marriages. Christian marriage is not just natural marriage as God designed at Creation. Instead, it is natural marriage plus a gospel purpose revealed by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

God does not join, enter into, or sustain a non-Christian marriage in the same way He does a Christian marriage. Honestly, I think the difference between Christian marriage and non-Christian natural order marriage is much greater than the difference between non-Christian natural order marriage and marriages that are neither Christian nor natural order marriage. To put it more simply, I think the difference between a truly Christian marriage and a non-Christian opposite-sex marriage is much greater than the difference between a same-sex vs opposite-sex non-Christian marriage. The difference in terms of how far the marriage is from God’s best and how big the blessing is that God provides is so different that they’re not even that comparable. There’s truly Christian marriage, and then there’s everything else.

Christian marriage is a lifetime commitment.

God expects that our vows to our spouse be permanent. In Matthew 19, Jesus calls God’s people back to lifelong monogamy, declaring that Moses allowed the Jewish people to divorce, giving them over to their broken desires, because their hearts were hardened to God and His created intention. Then Jesus seemingly provides an exception to this high standard of permanence, but other presentations of this episode in other Gospels lack this exception, and Jesus teaches clearly in Matthew 5:32 that if you marry someone who has been divorced, you commit adultery, without any exception. Paul confirms Christ’s teachings in Romans 7:2-3 and 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, 39 that there are no biblical grounds for divorce. Scholars argue that this exception in Matthew 19 is more likely allowing for separation without remarriage or referring to dissolving a false marriage: marriages entered into under false pretenses, a marriage never consummated, or a marriage to a concubine (1 Corinthians 5:1, Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29).

Christian marriage is a lifetime commitment between one Christian woman and one Christian man.

God instituted natural marriage in Genesis 2, clearly defining marriage as between one man and one woman and established sex difference as part of what makes a marriage. In Matthew 19, Jesus reaffirms God’s original intentions for monogamous, lifelong marriage between one man and one woman. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul does the same, stating that each husband should have only one wife, and each wife have only one husband. Then in Ephesians 5, Paul teaches that the sexual difference in Christian marriage is meant to reflect to differentness in Christ’s relationship with the Church.

Christian marriage is a lifetime commitment between one Christian woman and one Christian man with an openness to raise children for the sake of the kingdom.

I want to be clear, raising children is not the only good thing enjoyed in marriage, but it is in particular what sets it apart from vocational singleness. Obviously, just like vocational singleness, it is a call to embody the gospel and enjoy healthy intimacy. But since the beginning of time, marriage was meant to be a space to raise children. In Genesis 1: 28, God commands the first marriage to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” This procreation mandate is affirmed in Genesis 9 and Psalm 127. Raising children is a central purpose of Christian marriage, and God’s command for Christian marriages to raise children was never rescinded. (Note that I’ve been careful to say “raise children” and not necessarily have children. As a rule, a Christian marriage is a space to raise children, whether that be one’s own or as foster or adoptive parents. While infrequent, there are always exceptions to the rule.)

Lifetime, complementary, life-giving

In particular, it’s important that Christian marriage is lifetime, complementary, and life-giving. Christian marriages are supposed to be for a lifetime. There are very few grounds for Biblical divorce and remarriage. This faithfulness in Christian marriage displays the gospel because it remind us that God will never abandon us.

Christian marriages are supposed to be complimentary. The complementarity of the genders/sexes both psychologically and biologically in Christian marriage displays the gospel by pointing back to the different-ness in the Trinity and between Christ and the Church.

And Christian marriage are supposed to be a space for raising children, pointing us back to the life-giving nature of the Trinity and Christ’s relationship with the Church.

Christian weddings

In light of this, what has it meant, historically, for Christians to attend a Christian wedding? Weddings were usually at a person’s local church, the attendees were everyone from a person’s local church, the priest led the ceremony, and there was a liturgy that heavily involved the local church. Everyone in attendance was invited to affirm that God was indeed joining the couple in Christian marriage, and everyone in attendance committed to helping the marriage thrive. Therefore, when a Christian attended a wedding at their local church, they weren’t just celebrating or watching; they had a responsibility to test whether a Christian wedding was truly taking place. This mattered because a Christian’s attendance and affirmation signaled to Christians and non-Christians alike that this was going to be a marriage that they could look to to see a glimpse of the gospel, that a person could look to this Christian marriage to learn something about God’s love. The gospel was at stake if the couple, for one reason or another, was already set up tell a lie about God’s love.

This was a big responsibility. It really mattered if Christians attended a wedding that claimed to be joining a couple in a Christian marriage. Because God enters into, joins, and sustains Christian marriage in such a powerfully particular way, Christians have historically felt compelled to ensure that they can confidently confirm God’s work at Christian weddings.

Non-Christian weddings

God seems to have defined pretty narrowly what Christian marriage (the kind of marriage God uniquely joins and sustains) is, which means that there are lots of marriages that aren’t Christian marriages in the fullest ways. Yes, same-sex unions fall short of that standard, but so do two non-Christians of the opposite sex, a Christian and a non-Christian of the opposite sex, two opposite-sex Christians who don’t take the biblical purposes of Christian marriage seriously—including an openness to raising children for the sake of the kingdom, or two opposite-sex Christians who don’t take seriously what the Bible has to say about divorce/remarriage and Christian marriage being a truly lifetime vocation.

At non-Christian weddings no one is asked to affirm that God is blessing the union. Often the attendees are not asked to do anything at all other than take pictures, clap, drink, eat, and dance. The wedding could be between two non-Christians who get married in a barn, without a priest, and without saying anything about God. When you’re invited to something that isn’t claiming to be a Christian marriage in the fullest way, you’re being asked to do something fundamentally different. You have a fundamentally different, and smaller, responsibility.

There’s a big difference between two non-Christians of the same sex getting married in a field without invoking God versus two self-professed Christians of the same sex quoting Scripture and using Christian marriage liturgy in a church.

Principles for discernment

In light of that range of responsibility you might have, how do you decide how to respond to an invitation to a gay wedding or any wedding?

Treat sacred what God treats sacred

I encourage you to treat sacred what God treats sacred, particularly if the couple is claiming that God is joining, blessing, and sustaining them in sacramental Christian marriage but you’re convinced that God will not be doing that because God is very specific about what marriages He blesses in that fullest way. If you’re convinced that God isn’t blessing the marriage as a Christian marriage, then you have a responsibility not to misleadingly bless the marriage as a Christian marriage either.

Prioritize maintaining the relationship, particularly with non-Christians

At the same time, each time you are invited to a wedding that falls short of God’s highest standards, you must humbly weigh how your presence might be misinterpreted versus how your absence might affect your relationship with the betrothed and how that might affect your potential to have a gospel impact on the couple in the future. You might choose to err on the side of maintaining relationship, particularly if the couple aren’t believers. If you are convicted that you can’t attend, I’d encourage you to make an effort to carefully explain your decision in a way that honors and cares for the couple. Go to great lengths to reassure the couple of your love for them, that you’re not judging them, and that you need to respect your own convictions.

Be consistent

But even more importantly, Christians must be consistent. If many opposite sex weddings fall just as short of God’s vision for Christian marriage, you need to have the same answer to those invitations. Wherever you land in terms of balancing integrity versus maintaining relationship, be consistent. Treat every wedding that falls short of God’s vision the same.

If you’re invited to the wedding of

– two non-Christians of the opposite sex,

– a Christian and a non-Christian of the opposite sex,

– two opposite-sex Christians who don’t take the biblical purposes of Christian marriage seriously, or

– two opposite-sex Christians who don’t take seriously what the Bible has to say about divorce/remarriage,

then I challenge you to respond the same ways you do to a same-sex couple whose union falls short of God’s design for Christian marriage.

Consistency is key. If you care about people taking all of God’s wisdom for Christian marriage seriously, then apply that to all weddings. Because when you don’t—when you refuse to attend gay weddings but attend straight weddings that fall short of God’s vision for Christian marriage yet claim to be joined by God—your motivations aren’t concern for God’s wisdom.

Be careful to make your decision after considering each of these three concerns, bringing them each before the Lord in prayer and discerning them with trusted mentors and peers.

Other challenging moments

What about those other challenging moments often related to weddings and marriages, like engagement announcements, post-wedding social media posts, anniversaries, baby showers, and baptisms?

For some people, it doesn’t mean much to like or heart an engagement announcement or post-wedding photo post, even if you don’t think God is joining and blessing them in the fullest way. Others feel a sense of conflict but still feel like the absence of their affirmation will cause problems. If that’s the case, perhaps you can find something you can comment that you can fully get behind, like, “Wow, you both look so amazing! It warms my heart to see your big smiles” or whatever fits for you.

When it comes to attending baby showers and baptisms, I’d argue that those are less about the wedding or marriage and more about supporting the couple’s effort of being parents. I don’t personally feel as much conflict there, but for those who do, perhaps you could ask for more information about what these events mean to the couple and then go from there.

A last note about consistency

I want to leave you with a final comment about consistency, particularly those of you who who feel strongly about integrity and the need to treat sacred what God treats sacred. If you are genuinely concerned about the sanctity of marriage, can I make a suggestion?

We are right to believe that Christian marriages are meant to display God’s mysterious love in a particular way. When Christian marriages faithfully lean into God’s design by embodying the complementary, lifelong, life-giving, intimate, hospitable and sacrificial nature of God’s love, faithful Christian marriages make it easier for all of us to believe that God exists and loves us. We are right to be concerned when marriages fall short of God’s design, when those unions falsely testify about the love of God found in the Trinity and between Christ and the Church.

But may I encourage us to first focus on shoring up the sanctity of marriage in our own churches?

Too many opposite-sex marriages between Bible-believing, evangelical Christians in our churches are failing to reflect the life-giving and lifetime nature of God’s love. Instead, many of the marriages in our churches are deciding only to raise children if and when they want to, without discerning how God might be calling them to serve the kingdom with their marriage. They fail to humbly approach God with a willingness to sacrificially rear children, ignoring biblical teaching that Christian marriages should be open to raising kids for the sake of the kingdom. Furthermore, those in Christian marriages are getting divorced at the same rates as non-Christians, ignoring the Bible’s prohibitions against divorce and remarriage in most cases.

Collectively, this profaning of the sanctity of marriage tells a lie about God’s love. These violations suggest that God isn’t really willing to suffer so that His children would have life and that God’s love can’t be trusted. They tell a lie that if God doesn’t feel like loving us anymore or we’ve made too many mistakes, He will move on and find another.

Before we post on Facebook about how so-called same-sex marriages are not marriages in God’s eyes, before we donate to organizations or politicians promising to reverse the Respect for Marriage Act, for example, and before we pour energy and prayers into resisting the LGBTQ+ movement, could I encourage us to first focus on our local churches?

Gather with couples in your church, and study what the Scriptures and the historic church actually have to say about Christian marriage. Recommit to the complementary, lifelong, life-giving, intimate, hospitable and sacrificial nature of Christian marriage. Promise to hold each other accountable to God’s design for Christian marriage. Have compassionate but direct conversations with straight Christians whose marriages are falling short of God’s intentions. Pray for each other’s marriages and offer each other counsel, so that long before divorce feels like the least bad option, you can strengthen each other’s marriages. Commit to doing whatever you can to keep each other from getting divorced.

If some feel convicted to raise more children for the sake of the kingdom, either through bearing children or adoption, be the hands and feet that hold up their family. Particularly if they don’t have extended biological family nearby, offer to babysit and provide meals. Offer them company when they go grocery shopping, clean their house or do their laundry.

In short, if we have respect for Christian marriage and want to protect Christian marriage, let’s start with the marriages in our own church families. Then perhaps, if Christians are more faithfully living out Christian marriage, those who don’t yet know Jesus would be compelled by the love witnessed in our marriages to believe that a God exists and loves them. Perhaps they’d long for relationship with that God and trust that His gifts and wisdom are better than any government certificate.

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