Can we invite our gay neighbors to dinner? Can we welcome them as guests in our home? Can we work alongside them as colleagues at our places of business? Can we offer real friendship and love? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But we may not attend their wedding. We should vigorously pursue other ways to love our gay friends and neighbors that don’t include compromise on issues of truth. No one relishes the conflict that comes with declining such an invitation. It’s a tough call, but it is the right call.
The March issue of Christianity Today has a forum titled: “Should I attend the wedding of a gay friend or family member? The invitation will come soon enough.” The article includes three respondents—two Roman Catholics (Eve Tushnet and Sherif Girgis) and one Anglican (Lisa Severine Nolland). Girgis and Nolland contend that Christians have a moral obligation not to attend same-sex weddings. Tushnet argues that “it’s best to show up.”
I’m with Nolland and Girgis on this one because attendance at a wedding is not like attending a concert, where attendance suggests nothing about your own views on the proceedings. A wedding is a public recognition of a union, and those in attendance are there to help celebrate and add their assent to the union. There is a reason that the traditional ceremony includes the bit about “let him speak now or forever hold his peace.” The witnesses are not merely spectating. Their mere presence implies their support of the union. Because our Lord has told us not to celebrate or approve sin (Isa. 5:20; Rom. 1:32), Christians should not attend gay weddings.
Can we invite our gay neighbors to dinner? Can we welcome them as guests in our home? Can we work alongside them as colleagues at our places of business? Can we offer real friendship and love? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But we may not attend their wedding. We should vigorously pursue other ways to love our gay friends and neighbors that don’t include compromise on issues of truth. No one relishes the conflict that comes with declining such an invitation. It’s a tough call, but it is the right call. As Girgis writes, “Friendship isn’t served by supporting what we think is wrong.”
It is worth noting the rationale that Eve Tushnet gives for her opposing view. She is a“celibate gay Christian” who agrees with her church’s prohibition on same-sex behavior. Nevertheless, she says that she would attend—and has attended—for at least three reasons. First, Christians should recognize that same-sex love includes aspects that are holy and honorable. Second, Christians should not risk offending and alienating their gay friends by declining the invitation. Third, Christians who refuse to attend will often be viewed as bigoted and hateful. She writes:
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.
Tushnet cites no concern for approving what God forbids us to approve. In fact, she believes there are aspects of gay marriage that are worth celebrating. And Christians should celebrate those aspects with a good conscience. Her view on this question is not surprising but is consistent with her views on same-sex attraction in general. She believes there are elements of same-sex attraction that are not sinful but are sanctifiable in the context of “spiritual friendships”—a theme that she explores in detail in her recent book.
This is a fascinating forum that illustrates an important point. What Christians believe about same-sex attraction has practical consequences. In this case, it impacts the decision to attend gay weddings. But we shall see that there are other implications as well. In the meantime, you can read the web version of the forumhere.
Denny Burk is Associate Professor of New Testament and Dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.