The Case Against Christians Attending a Gay WeddingFebruary 5, 2024
The case against Christians attending a gay wedding is relatively straightforward. We can lay out the case in three premises and a conclusion.
No matter what a government may sanction, the biblical definition of marriage (see Gen. 2:18–25, Mal. 2:13–15, Matt. 19:4–6; Eph. 5:22–33) involves a man and a woman. I won’t belabor the point, because I assume in this post that I’m speaking to those who agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith when it says, “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman” (WCF 24.1). Gay “marriage” is not only an offense to God—sanctioning a kind of sexual activity that the Bible condemns (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:24–27; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; 1 Tim. 1:9–10)—gay “marriage” does not actually exist.
Whether the service is done in a church or in a reception hall, whether it is meant to be a Christian service or a secular commitment ceremony, a gay wedding declares what is false to be true and calls evil good.
This is where many good Christians disagree, even if they agree with the first two premises, so let me expand on this point.
A wedding is categorically different from a birthday party, a meal at someone’s house, or just hanging out. There is no legal reason people need to have a wedding ceremony. Beyond one or two witnesses, there is no requirement by the state to make the joining of two persons in matrimony a public event. The reason for the public event is so that friends and family members can join in the celebration of what is taking place. It used to be that people were asked to raise any objections they might have, to “speak now or forever hold their peace.” That part of the liturgy underscores the public nature of a wedding and the way in which those in attendance were assumed to be lending their support and affirmation for the marriage about to be established. Even today, wedding invitations will often ask the invited guests to “join us as we celebrate” or “honor us with your presence.” By common understanding, people attend weddings as an act of support and celebration for the union that is being formed.
Christians can in no way support or celebrate a union that is an offense to God and is, in fact, no marriage whatsoever.
Three Common Objections
Having outlined the basic case against attending a gay wedding, let me address three common objections to the argument just stated.
No doubt, Christians can attend gay weddings without affirming the “marriage” in their hearts. Their intentions may be to love the bride or groom without in any way celebrating what is taking place. But can those private intentions be known to others who see our public attendance? A wedding is a public event that entails each one in attendance bearing public witness. The traditional wedding liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer calls marriage a “holy estate” which “Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee.” Being at the wedding as a guest honored those who were hosting the wedding and affirmed what was taking place there. If “Christ adorned and beautified with his presence” the wedding at Cana in Galilee, how can we offer our presence at a kind of wedding that should not be adorned and is not beautiful?
Attending a gay wedding does not take place outside of a larger web of cultural meaning. If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew in their hearts that they were not worshiping Nebuchadnezzar’s image, and if they had explained their differences with Nebuchadnezzar ahead of time, it would not have made their bowing before the statue any more acceptable. The public act of bowing had a recognizably public meaning, whatever their private intentions or whatever private conversations could have taken place.
To cite another biblical example, think of Paul’s instructions regarding food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8–10. The exegesis is complicated, and not every commentator agrees on what Paul is forbidding and what he is allowing. I think Paul forbids eating any meat that was knowingly used in pagan worship. But at the very least, we know that Paul opposes any involvement in the practices that take place in pagan temples. “I do not want you to participate with demons,” Paul says (1 Cor. 10:20). It seems to me that attending a gay wedding—with the inevitable singing, and clapping, and rice-throwing, and cheering, and hugging at the receiving line—is more like participating in an ungodly ritual than eating the meat that was previously used in the ritual.
Similarly, many commentators think that Jesus’s concern with eating food sacrificed to idols in Revelation 2 has to do with participating in local guilds where an act of ritual piety toward the resident deity was commonplace before meals and special gatherings. If this (or something like it) is the context for the admonitions to Pergamum and Thyatira, we have another reason to steadfastly avoid participating in a public event where the god of Eros is implicitly honored above (and in place of) the God of the Bible.
Of course, Christians want to extend love and keep the door open for gospel conversations, but surely this good desire is not by itself a sufficient moral framework for making ethical decisions. I doubt many pastors would counsel parents to attend a polyamorous commitment service, or their son’s Klan induction ceremony, or their daughter’s abortion party. These may seem like extreme examples, but they help to reveal necessary moral principles. There are events and celebrations and ceremonies that are so sinful and offensive to God (and should be offensive to us) that we wouldn’t think twice about turning down an invitation, no matter how hurt or angry a friend or family member was by our non-attendance. I suspect that gay weddings don’t offend many Christians in the same way because these ceremonies have already become normalized.
As much as I sympathize with my congregants who are desperate to maintain relational ties with their loved ones, I also need to help them realize that they cannot be bound by the relational threats that loved ones make when we do not agree with their sinful choices. To be sure, we do not want to push people away; we want to keep the door open for gospel conversations. But in almost every instance I deal with as a pastor, it’s not the Christian parents or Christian friends who are closing the door or pushing people away.
Almost always, it’s the person choosing a non-Christian path who refuses to have a relationship with someone who won’t deign to affirm their idolatrous decisions. If the relationship is truly at stake in attending a gay wedding, it is not because the Christian grandmother is choosing to cut off her gay grandchild by not attending the wedding, it is because the gay grandchild chooses to cut off the Christian grandmother who will not join in a public celebration of what she knows to be wrong.
As Christians, we gladly sing and shout that Jesus was a friend to sinners. Throughout the gospels, sinners flock to Christ, even as many of the religious establishment grumble against him. We are right to condemn the spirit of the older brother that cannot rejoice over the lost son who had come home. But we must remember that the three examples in Luke 15 are all about lost things and lost people that were found, about sinners who had repented, about God’s love for prodigals who come to their senses, leave their sins behind, and return to the Father.
The fact is that even as Jesus gladly ate with sinners, and as sinners were drawn to him, he never joined in any occasion where sin was being freely practiced, much less celebrated. He called Zacchaeus to eat with him, but he did not attend a retirement party honoring Zacchaeus after a lifetime of cheating people in collecting their taxes.
The parable of the prodigal son is meant to rebuke the scribes and Pharisees. Today the parable can serve as a necessary rebuke to all who are unwilling to accept that God’s grace can forgive and change repentant sinners—homosexual and transgender sinners among them. The parable can also serve as a warning to those who are quick to stand apart from the rest of their redeemed family. But the parable offers no rebuke to those who refuse to show up at events that condone and commend sinful behavior. The older brother got it wrong not because he refused to attend the activities of his lost brother, but because he would not rejoice when his lost brother had been found.
What is at Stake
The question of attending a gay wedding is just one of many difficult issues Christians will need to face in our strange new world. The issue demands compassion, but also clarity and courage. For Christians who agree on the sinfulness of gay “marriage,” the issue is not on the same level as the Trinity or the person of Christ. But neither is the issue mere adiaphora. Attending a gay wedding, or counseling other Christians to do so, raises serious concerns in my mind.
I am concerned that Christians will take this approach as a sign that gay “marriage,” while not ideal, is not a serious sin and not fundamentally inconsistent with the nature of marriage itself. When we wouldn’t attend the incestuous wedding or the polyamorous wedding or the wedding to a minor, but we would attend the gay wedding, we indicate with our actions that we don’t truly think of gay “marriage” as totally unacceptable.
I am concerned that Christians will adopt an approach to ethical reasoning that allows them to say “yes” to inappropriate requests so long as they are privately opposed and the intentions in their hearts are right.
I am concerned that Christians who have lost their livelihoods because they refused to bake a cake or take pictures for a gay wedding will be thought extreme for refusing their services when they could have just explained their reservations beforehand and accepted the job in good conscience.
I am concerned that it will be harder to disciple a converted Christian out of a gay “marriage” if we have been advising Christians that they can attend the solemnization of those “marriages.”
I am concerned that the same logic that is often used to defend going to a gay wedding—we don’t want to be Pharisees, we don’t want to lose the relationship, we don’t want to be known for condemnation instead of compassion—can be used to defend gay “marriage” itself, or at least to stay silent on issues of marriage and sexuality.
I know that the impulse to attend a gay wedding, or to allow that others may do so, is often borne out of a good and sincere desire to love our family and friends. There are few things more painful than making a decision that we know our child or grandchild will interpret as rejection. But we simply cannot bless, even by our mere presence, what we know to be a lie—a lie that Scripture calls an abomination and that according to 1 Corinthians 6 will destroy eternally the souls of those who continue in it.
Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church (PCA) in Matthews, North Carolina and associate professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.