Can I Attend A Gay Wedding? Reflections Of A CBOQ Pastor
One of the interesting observations of modern psychology is that beliefs often change to accommodate behavior. Of course it is also true that behavior will generally change to reflect belief but the former insight is the one garnering all the headlines. One of the reasons that the recent Roman Catholic Family Synod resisted the Pope’s effort to effect a compromise on the practice of extending communion to folks they will still consider wrongfully divorced is because they know full well that behavior will facilitate changes in belief. If they act like they have changed their minds on divorce eventually they will.
The same awareness is forcing Evangelicals to have a long overdue conversation about gay marriage. Many Evangelicals, particularly younger Evangelicals, want to maintain orthodox beliefs while adopting open and non-judgmental behaviors. They want to believe that gay marriage is wrong but behave as if it is something to be celebrated and affirmed. That’s a problem. For one thing its dishonest and for another thing its impossible. As modern psychologists are fond of pointing out, the human psyche cannot indefinitely maintain irreconcilable differences between belief and behavior. Something will have to give. Behavior will have to move toward belief or belief will have to move toward behavior.
The conversation within Evangelicalism about the legitimacy of same sex marriage seems to have entered a lull. The Bible is remarkably clear – a point even advocates for same sex marriage now concede. There is no trajectory, there is no ambiguity, there is no get out of jail free card. It says what it says and it is what it is.
The conversation about practice and behavior however, has recently begun to intensify. Within my own denomination there is an emerging controversy over what constitutes affirmation and approval. Can a pastor attend a gay wedding? Could he serve as a groomsman? Could she participate in the service and simply allow someone else to sign the license? These are not hypotheticals, these are active conversations. The debate has shifted from belief to behavior - as if the two could be separated.
The Bible is pretty clear that behavior indicates belief. While we are saved by faith and not by works, Jesus looks at our works in Matthew 25 to evaluate our faith. Similarly James feels confident declaring that faith without works is dead. Obviously then there can be no logical division between our beliefs and our behaviours. They are not the same thing, but they can never be separated. An integrated person behaves in accordance with his or her beliefs.
How does this apply to same sex weddings? Is attendance affirmation? Is participation validation? These are the questions of the hour within my professional fellowship. To address these questions we must first consider the process of attending a particular wedding.
Consider the invitation. An invitation to a wedding is explicitly an invitation to celebrate. Usually the invitation comes from the parents of the bride, or sometimes from the parents of both the bride and the groom. The invitation typically reads along these lines: Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Sally Smith invite you to join them in celebrating the love and commitment of John Jones and Jenny Smith on the afternoon of May 24th, 2015. Come and CELEBRATE. Joy isn’t joy until its joined. If this wasn’t true Facebook would be out of business. No one can eat a decent slice of pizza nowadays without inviting everyone in the world to share in the experience. Joy just isn’t joy until it is joined. You have been invited to the wedding to provide that extra dimension of experience. You are coming to ooh and to ah. You are coming to cry and to cheer. You are coming to catch the bouquet and to laugh at the best man’s toast. Make no bones about it, you are coming to amplify the JOY; that’s what it means to celebrate. But here’s the thing – God judges you on the basis of your attitudes, joys and sorrows. That’s in the Bible.
In Ezekiel 9 God is preparing to send his wrath upon the city of Jerusalem. Not wanting to destroy faithful folks along side the mass of sinners in the city, God sends an angel to mark out true believers. The text says:
3 And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. 4 And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5 And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6 Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. (Ezekiel 9:3–6 ESV)
Do you see that? The real believers are those who are found sighing and moaning over all the abominations committed in the city. These were the folks who loved God enough to rejoice over the things that made him happy and to mourn over the things that made him sad. They sighed and groaned over abominations. An abomination is something God hates. Only God can tell us what God hates and he does. He says quite clearly in his word:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22 ESV)
There is no question that an invitation to a wedding is an invitation to celebrate. There is also no question, after reading Ezekiel 9, that it is very dangerous to celebrate what God hates; particularly so for the elders among God’s people.
Consider also the service itself. A wedding service intentionally and immediately involves the attending congregation. In the CBOQ Manual For Worship And Service the pastor is directed to remind the congregation that they share in all that takes place. They are to be faithful in supporting this new family. They are to join with the pastor in praying for the sacred union and asking for God’s blessing upon the couple in the months and years that follow. The congregation, standing in support, is led to pray these words at the opening of the service:
“Our loving God, we commit to you the very sacred moments that follow, and pray your blessing on Bride and Groom today and in the years to come, as they seek to serve you, through Jesus Christ. Amen.” (page 25)
If you plan to attend a gay wedding, do you plan to sit down during that portion of the service? Or are you prepared to ask God to bless something that he has expressly forbidden? Are you prepared to offer God as sacred something he has called an abomination? Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord because they offered fire on the alter that he had not commanded – how shall we stand before the Lord when we offer as worship that which he has expressly forbidden?
In a wedding service attendance is participation, more than that it is worship. If our CBOQ Manual is to be taken seriously, there can be no distinction made between the minister and the people in this reality. They are alike in affirmation and worship; in the very liturgy that is suggested they are the “yes” and “amen” together.
A Common Objection
But what about the practice of Jesus? Wasn’t he often found eating and drinking with sinner? Shouldn’t we therefore, be active in doing the same? The best way to answer that objection is to read – in full – the passage to which it refers.
30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30–32 ESV)
Sinners to repentance.
In his fellowship with sinners Jesus did not pretend they were anything but sinners. He told people the truth about who God is and who they were and why they needed salvation. He called them to repent.
As a Christian and a sinner myself I want to fellowship with other sinners in the truth. I want to tell the truth of who I am and how God saved me through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The last thing I want to do is confirm people in beliefs and practices that if persisted in will incur the judgment of God. That’s not loving and that’s not Christian fellowship.
The Bible says that love always involves telling people the truth. Go back and read that verse in the Old Testament about loving thy neighbor as thyself. That passage also is worth citing in full. It says:
17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:17–18 NKJV)
In the Bible loving people involves telling them the truth particularly if that truth involves serious consequences before God. Failure to do so is not just unloving, it is damnably so according to Ezekiel.
If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezekiel 3:18 ESV)
If God says that a person is in mortal peril and you say nothing, then:
his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezekiel 3:18 ESV)
Brothers and sisters, I plead with you to take heed to these verses and to consider what it is you mean to do. Build friendships with all people regardless of their race, gender, age, wealth or sexual orientation – Yes, YES – a thousand times YES! But seek to be no better friend to them than Jesus. Rather plead with them to seek friendship with God through faith in Jesus.
The Jesus who said “go and sin no more”. (John 8:11)
The Jesus who said, “why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
The Jesus who said, “do not think that I have come to abolish the law, I have not come to abolish but to fulfill it.” (Matthew 5:17)
The Jesus who called sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32)
The simple fact is that Christians cannot come together to celebrate and publicly approve that which God has forbidden. In Romans 1 the Apostle Paul describes what people look like in full flowered rebellion against the Living God:
32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32 ESV)
Approving sin is sin. Celebrating sin marks us as outside of the people of God. Old Testament and New – this is the Word of the Lord.
May God alone be glorified.