The following is an excerpt from my new book – Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth – which provides practical advice, forged from real life, in building genuine friendships with our LGBT family member, neighbors, co-workers and those we share our pews with. Important stuff.
Regardless of whether you live in a state that has legalized same-sex marriage or not, the invitation to such a wedding is something that more are having to face. So how do you respond if you receive an invitation from a family member or a close friend?
This is more difficult than it may seem– or at least there are more wrinkles and angles to it. I have thought about this a great deal. There is curiously a good bit of differing opinion here and I can understand and respect most of these convictions. Some would give a flat-out “no way” to any and all such invitations. While I understand and respect this conviction, I take a less absolute approach.
There are helpful guidelines and here are mine. First question to ask is:
Who’s Inviting You?
One of the first considerations is: who’s extending the invitation? This obviously matters. Is it Walter, the accounting guy at work who audits your team’s budget? Or is it your brother or child? You will certainly evaluate these two invitations differently, one causing you much more soul-searching than the other. So, the first question is “Who is this person and how do they matter to you?” For me, the person would have to be quite special and meaningful to me.
What Kind of Wedding?
Another consideration is what kind of wedding it is. Is it happening in a Christian church or conducted by a clergyman representing the Church? What kind of church? I will be frank here. Is it an Episcopal or Lutheran church that permits such weddings, but should know better, or a Unitarian church that has forever been on the side of whatever challenges convention?
Is it a completely secular wedding at the country club, the beach, someone’s backyard or maybe just City Hall?
Is it actually a legal marriage or a commitment ceremony?
So What to Do?
First, the wedding is not just about the couple, with everyone else mere spectators. The attendees of a wedding are participants as well, supporting the couple, rejoicing with them in what their new union is creating, and even creating solidarity with them and their joining families, agreeing to be there for the couple, as a couple, in the years to come in many ways. You are a stakeholder in their union.
So when some Christians say they cannot in good conscience attend any kind of same-sex wedding, it is not necessarily because they don’t like “those darned gays and lesbians” but because of what they understand a marriage and a wedding to be. Along these lines, I could not imagine myself going to a heterosexual couple’s “commitment ceremony” declaring their dedication to each other, while not seeing marriage itself as necessary. Even if I cared deeply for the couple, I simply couldn’t participate in celebrating such a thing. In fact, to be honest, I’d think it was silly.
And this would not be any kind of statement about the people themselves, as hard as that might be for some to believe. Would I think my atheist friend hated me if he declined my invitation to attend my baptism next week? Such an event is a massive thing to a believer, but it would be unfair for me to expect him to come, much less make it a litmus test for the substance of his appreciation for me. It is just a matter of belief and conviction about what such ceremonies are. Hopefully, such Christians could explain these convictions to their gay or lesbian family members or friends in a gracious way and hope to have the couple understand even though they will not likely agree.
This is where I would stand in most situations. I certainly could not attend a wedding that was held in a church or officiated by clergy as a Christian wedding that was clearly outside of God’s design and desire for marriage. I would not want to be a part of a seemingly Christian wedding that was clearly in contrast with Christian teaching, for I would not only be an audience member, but a witness and supporter, which is exactly what the friends, family, and loved ones at a wedding are. It is a communal covenant that all are entering into, but of course, two more than anyone else. This I could not do and would have to decline with a sad heart for my friends.
A Green Light in Other Circumstances?
It depends, and it would relate primarily to the first question: Who are these folks and what is my heart toward them?
My main consideration would rest upon what this person meant to me and how I wanted to communicate my love for them, in spite of our differing convictions. Add to this whether the wedding was a secular affair or of a faith tradition outside Christianity that had no authority in my life.
For me, if I was ever to attend a same-sex wedding, these would be the questions that I would have to wade through. I will be honest. I do have some friends whose weddings I would like to attend, solely because of what they mean to me and not because I would want to celebrate the thing itself. These particular friends harbor no illusions about my convictions here. But I care for them so deeply as people–and as “opponents”– that I would be willing to reach out and attend their weddings just to show them that despite our clear differences, I would like to be there for them and show them I willing to make this compromise for them. For me, that would be an important grace. And knowing each of them as I do, none of them would be married in a church, so that eliminates that issue.
This might seem inconsistent on my part to some people, and I understand if they do not understand. But in more than a few issues regarding friendships with our LGBT neighbors, there are areas that are not as black and white as we might like them to be. But that should not keep us from seeking to find the best way through them that are true and faithful to our faith while also gracious and loving to our friends.
So, for me, I would need to be very motivated to attend such a wedding, and I would do so primarily out of love for the person who invited me.