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Alistair Begg’s LGBT advice and good Christian witness

As the fallout continues regarding popular Bible teacher Alistair Begg’s advice about attending a same-sex wedding, two consistent objections have arisen that are worth addressing more fully.

I have received these objections personally in light of my decision to attend my twin brother’s same-sex wedding, which I wrote about in a recent op-ed. I understand the qualms people have in light of how families, local churches, and whole denominations have been torn into pieces when all of these social dynamics and fraught considerations arise.

The first objection was that attendance and celebration cannot be separated, because an event like this is celebratory in nature. Therefore, attendance unequivocally qualifies as celebration and approval, full-stop. There is nothing, according to these objections that would legitimize my assertion that a person can attend such an event if they communicate their objection, morally and spiritually, and also clearly stipulate that the reason for attendance is to demonstrate their unconditional love. This particular objection often entails the idea that since attendance equals celebration, anyone present at an event is also a party to sexual immorality. It’s a sort of guilt-by-association sin, I suppose.

Allow me to propose a scenario. What if a believer in Jesus felt compelled to go to a gay pride parade? These events, I would argue, are not only “celebratory” in nature, but are also environments that display acts of sexual degradation, lasciviousness, and overt affronts to God’s design and intention for sexuality, gender, and intimacy, all under the banner of “pride.”

Let’s say a follower of Christ shows up to a pride parade with bottles of water or sets up a booth offering prayers for those who are hurting, I imagine the objection would be the same: If you attend a celebratory event, you are guilty of celebrating, regardless of your intent or stated purpose for being there.

But I wonder if those who have this objection feel the same way about a professing Christian who shows up with a placard quoting Leviticus 18:22 and a megaphone to pronounce judgment for the sins represented at this event. Is such a person also guilty of participating in the celebration of sin?

If I had shared that I attended my brother’s same-sex wedding ceremony while holding a sign and a megaphone, some may have agreed with my choice to attend in that manner.

If mere attendance doesn’t seem illegitimate if it is done with a sign and a megaphone, then I think the real issue is not being present at the event. Therefore, there cannot be a hard rule that presence at a celebratory event automatically means that you, too, are guilty of celebrating. There must be additional qualifications as to what your presence there means.

The second objection goes like this: “I understand that you’ve made your objections known and you believe you are personally not celebrating by your presence at the wedding, but what about your public witness? What are you communicating to others by being there? Aren’t you worried about the ‘weaker brother’ or what it signals to everyone else?”

The heart of this objection is that by being there I may be communicating, passively, that I agree with the union. I have heard it argued that other “weaker” Christians, those who are unsure about their convictions regarding sexuality, might be led to believe that these unions are blessed and sanctioned by God because I was there supposedly “celebrating” it. This is a fair criticism.

We must indeed consider the impact of our witness. The last thing we should ever want to do is misrepresent or distort God’s character or do anything that compromises His righteous standards.

In my case, everyone in attendance at my brother’s ceremony knew where I and my wife stood theologically, and our purpose for attendance. As far as I know, I do not believe anyone there — certainly anyone who has heard me speak about these issues publicly — was left confused about why we were present.

When considering our witness, if our only concern is what the “weaker brother” might think about our attendance, then that is a significant problem. It can’t just be about them. There were other people at my brother’s ceremony, including non-Christians, LGBTQ-identified men and women, and family members who also objected to the union but chose to be present out of love and a desire to preserve the relationship. Our presence as believers speaks to each of these types of people as well.

As someone who not only left an LGBTQ identity to follow Christ but has also ministered to hundreds of others like me, let me say that a key component to Christian witness must include mercy, grace, and love, in addition to uncompromised truth, righteousness, and holiness.

Choosing to have hard conversations with our loved ones about our objections to same-sex unions is necessary. Love demands that we not remain silent; any attempt to witness without biblical truth is fruitless and distorted. But simply speaking judgment and condemnation without declaring and demonstrating the indescribable grace, mercy, and love of God distorts our witness in another equally grievous way. We must do both.

Might I suggest that the problem may be that some of those who have this second objection are uncomfortable with the love, mercy, and grace of God being included as attributes of God that shape the way a person attends the event?

In their book Untamed, authors Alan and Debra Hirsch write: “If we are perceived to be ungracious in our attitudes and responses to gay people, we will effectively be foreclosing on meaningful conversations with many. The issue is not what we ourselves believe about human sexuality, but rather how we treat those with differing perspectives on sexuality. The issue is our flagrant lack of mercy and compassion — the very things we so gratefully claim for ourselves. This bears false witness to what we stand for — that we are all sinners who have freely received grace and forgiveness.”

We put our ability to represent that message to the LGBTQ community at risk when the predominant experience they have with us is hostility, rejection, and condemnation.

What does it communicate to that community when a pastor who has not only been respected and esteemed for decades but has a long track record of biblical fidelity on sexual ethics is lambasted, canceled, and condemned because he gave a grandmother permission to show up and demonstrate love to her LGBTQ-identified grandchild?

What does it communicate to the LGBTQ-identified people in our neighborhoods other than we, as Christians, will attack and punish anyone who dares to demonstrate unconditional love by showing up at a ceremony, regardless of the tough, relational work they may have done beforehand?

As believers, we are ambassadors for Christ, being given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-21). We are entrusted with the Gospel message that invites those who are far away from God to come and be reconciled and made into new creations.

I was grateful to see such a fierce commitment to the truth of Scripture represented in the debate over Begg’s comments. I stand with that commitment and believe we must collectively continue to work out how we can take up our role of ambassadors of reconciliation — not compromising an iota of truth while also embodying the grace, mercy, and love of Christ.

This is not a discussion that we can simply ignore. Over the last 15 years, the percentage of LGBTQ-identifying people has steadily increased. As the Body of Christ, we must keep wrestling with how we respond to this community that needs the Gospel.

Drew Berryessa is the Director of A Living Letter Ministries, a para-church organization that helps equip the Church to engage with LGBTQ people and issues with Truth and Love. Drew surrendered a gay relationship and identity 27 years ago and has spent the last 20 years in ministry to those impacted by LGBTQ issues. His book, Are We There Yet? was released in 2018. Drew lives in Southern Oregon with his wife and 3 daughters. 

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