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Can Christians attend gay weddings?

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To update the famous comment of Leon Trotsky, you may not be interested in the sexual revolution, but the sexual revolution is interested in you. Some of us are still privileged enough to be partly sheltered from this revolution. I count myself as one, along with those whose detachment from real-life pastoral situations apparently qualifies them to sell political pedagogy to others.  But as the push among the progressive political class to dismantle traditional sexual mores continues apace, it is harder and harder to find a pastor or a priest who has not faced a difficult question from congregants about Christian obedience and their livelihood.

Only last week a pastor friend told me of a member of his church who, as a manager of a business, has been ordered to integrate the bathrooms and is now faced with complaints from women staff who feel their safety and privacy have been compromised. It’s easy to decry right-wing scaremongering in the abstract, but far more difficult to advise real people who have to make decisions that could cost them their careers. 

The sexual revolution has revolutionized everything, to the point where questions that once had simple answers have become complicated. For instance, the question “Can I attend a gay wedding?” comes up with increasing frequency and is proving less and less easy to answer, as Bethel McGrew’s closing paragraphs in her recent World column indicate. It is not hard to guess what reasons a Christian might give for attending a gay wedding: a desire to indicate to the couple that one does not hate them, or a wish to avoid causing offense or hurt. But if either carries decisive weight in the decision, then something has gone awry.

A refusal to attend might well be motivated by hatred of the couple (though in such circumstances, an invitation would seem an unlikely event) but it does not have to be so. To consider a declined invitation necessarily a sign of hatred is to adopt the notion of “hate” as a mere refusal to affirm. That is our secular age’s understanding, and not that of the Christian faith. A refusal to attend might also cause offense, but to make the giving of offense itself into a moral category is to replace moral categories of right and wrong with aesthetic categories of taste. The latter should always be subordinate to the former in the realm of ethical questions. 

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There are also obvious reasons why a Christian should never attend a gay wedding. Many wedding liturgies, including that of the Book of Common Prayer, require the officiant to ask early in the service if anyone present knows any reason why the couple should not be joined together in matrimony. A Christian is at that point obliged to speak up. I would hazard a guess that such an intervention would be far more offensive than simply refusing to be at the service. 

The issue can also not be separated from the broader question of sex, gender, and human nature. If marriage is rooted in the complementarity of the sexes, then any marriage that denies that challenges the Christian understanding of creation. It is one thing for the world to do that. It is quite another for Christians to acquiesce in the same. 

Further, the biblical analogy between Christ and the church means that fake marriages are a mockery of Christ himself. Of course, that applies beyond the issue of gay marriage. A marriage involving somebody who has not divorced a previous spouse for biblical reasons involves that person entering into an adulterous relationship. No Christian should knowingly attend such a ceremony either. As Francesca Murphy declared at First Things some years ago, to lose sight of the religious dimension of marriage risks allowing people to commit “blasphemy against themselves and against God.” That means Christians have a moral responsibility to stand firm on this issue. We fool ourselves if we think the bride and groom as individuals are the most significant part of any wedding. They are not. What their union symbolizes with regard to Christ and the church is far more important. 

Whatever the alleged gains that might be made by showing the couple a morally amorphous form of love or by avoiding giving offense, the price of attendance is huge. Much has been made of the perplexity sown by the Pope’s recent statement about blessing gay couples. Just as momentous for individuals and churches could be the confusion sown by a failure to think clearly about attending gay weddings. After all, attendance so as to show “love” or avoid giving offense is a form of blessing, just without the name. 

In short, attending a gay wedding involves remaining silent when one should speak. It involves a concession on bodily sex that undermines any attempt to hold fast to the importance of the biological distinction between men and women. And it involves approving of a ceremony that makes a mockery of a central New Testament teaching and of Christ Himself. That’s a very high price tag for avoiding hurting someone’s feelings. And if Christians still think it worth paying, the future of the Church is bleak indeed.

Originally published at First Things. 

Carl R. Trueman is a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College. He is an esteemed church historian and previously served as the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and Public Life at Princeton University. Trueman has authored or edited more than a dozen books, including The Rise and Triumpth of the Modern SelfThe Creedal Imperative, Luther on the Christian Life, and Histories and Fallacies.

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