In the ongoing debate in Western culture and Christian churches about homosexuality, the concept of gay marriage is often at the forefront of our discourse. Same-sex marriages have been recognized in US civil law since the early 21st century. By contrast, many churches continue to adhere to a traditional, Biblical definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Many Christians who adhere to the Biblical principles of marriage eventually are faced with a challenging and deeply personal question: Should I attend the same-sex wedding of a friend or family member? Can Christians accept the invitation to a same-sex wedding while still honoring their Biblical beliefs about sexuality?
We do not advise Christians to attend same-sex wedding ceremonies. However, we recognize the conflict inherent in wrestling with such a decision and join you in this difficult process of discernment.
Framing the Question
Before we begin, we invite you to read our prior post on homosexuality. In that post, we outline the distinction between sexual orientation and sexual behavior, and we will be relying on this distinction as we delve into the topic of same-sex weddings.
Before we get into the dynamics of accepting or declining a wedding invitation, we must take a moment to understand the ramifications of such an invitation.
A wedding involves the exchange of vows before God as well as a legal contract that is recognized and enforceable in civil society. The wedding guests, therefore, serve as witnesses to the wedding vows. Furthermore, the guests are present to affirm before the officiant that the wedding at hand is valid and proper. (This is why the officiant provides the guests an opportunity to object to the union).
Civil Marriage vs Biblical Matrimony
As previously noted, in the United States and other Western nations, homosexual unions enjoy the same legal standing as heterosexual marriages in civil society. However, changes in civil law do not produce changes in Divine moral law or in God’s design for marriage.
So we maintain our Biblical understanding of marriage as a union between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:6) that symbolizes the covenant relationship between Christ and his bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:31-32).
The marriage union is, of course, unique among all other relationships and covenants, because it is the only relationship that is bound by sexual union. And sexual union is therefore blessed to and sanctioned within heterosexual marriage alone.
For a Christian, to attend a same-sex wedding is to affirm and validate the sexual union of the couple. And as Christians, such an affirmation places us in direct conflict with God’s design and purpose for marriage.
But Aren’t We Being Judgmental?
One reason that Christians struggle with how to respond to an invitation to a same-sex wedding is that we wish to avoid casting judgment on others. After all, we still struggle with sin in our own lives, so we are no better than our gay friends and relatives. So shouldn’t we just love others and let God work out their sin, just between them?
It is indeed the sole domain of God to judge hearts, but He still calls us to judge actions with wisdom and discernment. And so, we are called to turn from sin, rather than embrace sin, and seek righteousness (Romans 6:11-14, Galatians 5:16-26).
What About Loving Others?
One of the greatest casualties of our modern discourse about human sexuality is the trivialization of the word ‘love.’ We celebrate same-sex marriage with the slogan “Love wins!” Yet, this slogan does not capture the meaning and application of Biblical love.
When Jesus instructed us to love, he was calling us to serve others with compassion (charis love) rooted in God’s grace. But the love that is unique to marriage is the physical intimacy (eros love).
Love does not require us to accept or endorse another’s behavior. In fact, love sometimes requires us to speak the truth of grace and an invitation to repentance (Galatians 6:1-2). And over and above our love for others is our love for God, which we express first through surrendering to Him in obedience.
But Didn’t Jesus Hang Out with Sinners?
One common argument used by Christians in favor of attending same-sex weddings is that Jesus frequently sought out the company of sinners. Throughout the gospel, we see Jesus dining with tax collectors, welcoming prostitutes, or breaching societal customs for interacting with others.
But if we examine Jesus’ interactions more closely, we find that he never endorsed sin, even while befriending sinners.
When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees for dining with tax collectors, he answered them by declaring that his mission was to call sinners to repentance, just as a doctor treats sick patients instead of healthy ones (Matthew 9:9-13).
To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said “Go and sin no more,” even as he declined to condemn her (John 8:1-11). In defense of the prostitute that washed Jesus’ feet, he declared that her many sins were forgiven (Luke 7:36-50). And to the woman at the well, he revealed her sins, even while revealing that he was the Messiah (John 4:1-26).
It is our sin that gives rise to our need for grace. But the grace of God does not excuse or celebrate sin. Rather, it overcomes sin with forgiveness and a call to repentance.
The Most Difficult Question of All
Of course, affirming Biblical truth is easy enough. But what do we do when we have to apply the truth that we know? How do we decline an invitation to a same-sex wedding without appearing judgmental and unloving? Is there a way to respond without damaging our relationship with that person?
These very real (and often unpleasant) relationship dynamics are the primary rationale for Christians who choose to accept an invitation to a same-sex wedding, even over their personal objections and convictions.
We reason that it is more gracious to preserve the relationship than to take the position of legalism. But human regulations (and not God’s moral law) are the core of legalism.
And so, in pursuit of righteousness, we should not condone the sin of homosexual activity by affirming a same-sex wedding with our presence and our witness. Still, we must not fail to express our convictions with love and grace.
Preparing for Difficulty
Before we consider how to decline an invitation, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the very real possibility that our response may not be received in the spirit of love in which it is delivered.
God’s design for the family is, of course, that we would love, honor, and cherish one another. Yet Jesus plainly warns that unless we ‘hate our brother’ (more on this in a moment), we have no place with him.
But first, we must understand that when the Bible speaks of ‘hate’ it does not speak of the emotional contempt that defines the word in our culture. Rather, Jesus is saying that we would be at odds with (or stand in opposition to) our brother. Not because of any animosity, but because our decision to follow Jesus may not be welcomed by others.
This is why Jesus instructs us to ‘count the cost’ before we follow him. The natural consequence of following Jesus is that we lose some of the privileges, prestige, and respect of the world. In the matter at hand, the cost of following Jesus could indeed be a severed relationship with a close friend or relative (remember, this person is close enough to you to invite you to their wedding).
So before you proceed, count the cost. Are you willing to risk this relationship in order to obey Jesus, or do you preserve the relationship and work out the particulars with Jesus afterward? This post can only guide your assessment, but ultimately the decision must be yours.
Responding with Grace
If you decline the invitation, it is imperative to do so with as much grace and respect as the circumstance will allow. If an in-person conversation is possible, set up a time to meet and discuss the matter. Affirm the value of your relationship with the other person, and express a desire to maintain that relationship.
Also, acknowledge your different perspectives, and the conviction that defines yours. Inform the other person that though you must decline their invitation, you will not interfere with their choice (or the choice of the other invitees) to proceed.
Still, no matter how gracefully you deliver your decision, you might still be met with a pained or even hostile reaction. Depending on the personalities and relationships involved, this is simply unavoidable at times.
So as a final encouragement, we close with the words of Peter:
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.1 Peter 2:12