The question as to whether it is right and loving for a faithful believer in Christ to go to a same-sex “wedding” should be answered from a Christ-centered, biblical perspective. If the reader agrees with that premise, then the moral answer is a relatively easy one: Certainly not.
To be sure, carrying out this answer when invited to a same-sex wedding involving a family member, friend, or employer may create internal disquiet in the faithful Christian. It might lead to a severance of relationship or affect one’s job. Yet Christians are never assured by God that doing what is truly right and loving will never come at a cost. Quite the opposite. I will come back to why it is a scripturally easy answer; but first I want to note the differing opinion of some prominent Evangelicals.
Some Evangelicals Who Answer “Yes” or Allow a “Yes”
Some Evangelical leaders today who claim to accept (or at least once accepted) the scriptural view that homosexual practice is a sin do not see the answer as a certain “No.” Timothy Dalrymple, the CEO and President of Christianity Today, formerly the flagship magazine of Evangelicalism, actually attended a “gay wedding” in 2019, where he engaged in activities that could only be characterized as celebratory. His defense to me was that the employee who invited him was a dear friend to whom Timothy’s attendance meant a lot. So he went, albeit telling his friend that he held to a “traditional view of marriage.” For him it was “a Romans 14 issue,” a decision left to each Christian’s Spirit-led conscience.
Similarly, when addressing whether a Christian can attend a same-sex “wedding,” Focus on the Family called it “a Romans 14 issue” and cited Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4 as an example of how Jesus “scandalously overleapt all of the social barriers in order to show His love and concern for her,” but without expressing “approval for her lifestyle or behavior.” It seems that Focus uses John 4 in part to indicate that one could attend a “gay wedding.” Yet nothing in that text suggests that Jesus would have attended an immoral wedding ceremony, least of all one celebrating a woman being married to another woman.
Preston Sprinkle, a biblical scholar who heads up his Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender, thinks that saying “yes” to an invitation to attend a “gay wedding” is one of the options that “can be faithful to the biblical view that marriage is between two sexually different persons—as long as you don’t send mixed signals to the couple getting married.” He too appeals to Romans 14. He even advises parents to attend their child’s “gay wedding” lest they be shut out of their child’s life forever (and grandkids!) and miss an “opportunity to embody Christ’s love in your son/daughter’s life.” This is responding to the child’s manipulation and extortion to do evil, setting a pattern that will eventually lead to de facto, if not explicit, acceptance of the child’s immoral actions.
Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley is reported by one pastor as saying at a meeting with pastors (corroborated by other pastors present), “I don’t do gay weddings, but I can’t say I would never do a gay wedding. . . . If my granddaughter asked me someday, maybe I would” (also this). However, these are probably not the words of a Christian pastor who still believes homosexual unions to be sinful. Stanley, who has been drifting toward acceptance of homosexual unions for at least a decade, employs counselors like Debbie Causey who direct Christians struggling with same-sex attraction to ministries that affirm homosexual practice.
Not “a Romans 14 Issue” as the Analogue of Incest in 1 Corinthians 5 Shows
Attending a “gay wedding” is not “a Romans 14 issue” where believers can agree to disagree over matters of indifference like eating meat or not, which do not determine entrance into the kingdom of God (Rom. 14:17). Those who think otherwise either have difficulty reasoning analogically on this matter or else have departed in some way from the scriptural view of homosexual practice. They use arguments like wanting to stay in relationship with a “gay” family member or friend; imitating Jesus’ practice of eating with sinners; or comparing attending a “gay wedding” to attending a wedding of a divorced believer.
All these arguments can easily be seen as wanting if one compares attending a “gay wedding” to its most appropriate analogue: Attending an incestuous wedding between consenting adults “committed” to one another—for example, a man and his mother, or a woman and her brother. There may even be a “genetic sexual attraction” between close kin who are reunited late in life (see also this, this, this, and this). Incestuous unions are comparable to homosexual unions in terms of degree of severity (though from a biblical perspective homosexual practice is even worse) and problematic aspect (sex with another who is too much of an embodied same, whether as regards kinship or gender).
Paul’s response to the incestuous man in 1 Corinthians 5 gives us a good indication of what Paul’s response to attending a “gay wedding” would have been. True, Paul doesn’t mention that the self-professed Christian man who is in a sexual relationship with his stepmother is getting married to his stepmother. Yet, given Paul’s overall reaction to the situation, it is historically absurd to contend that Paul would have given his consent to their attendance of such an incestuous wedding, had it been requested.
The Corinthian response of being “puffed up,” inflated with pride, at their ability to tolerate an incestuous relationship, certainly made matters worse. That does not mean, though, that had they made clear to the incestuous man their disapproval of the relationship, Paul would have approved their attendance of a wedding between the two.
Paul insists rather that the Corinthian believers should “mourn” his actions, because it puts the offender at high risk of exclusion from God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9–10). One mourns at a funeral. A person cannot go to a wedding mourning, since the entire point of the event is to celebrate the rendering permanent of the union. Marriage involves a commitment to stay in the union permanently. In this case, the parties would be declaring their intent to sin egregiously as long as they live, and celebrating that declaration. A believer can’t attend such a ceremony.
Indeed, Paul recommends that the Corinthians put the incestuous man, who “calls himself a brother [i.e. a believer],” out of the community (“remove from your midst the one who did/does this deed”), to cease “associating with” him, “not even to eat with such a one” (1 Cor. 5:2, 11). Obviously, such injunctions preclude something much worse: Going to the wedding of a man celebrating the grave immorality of incest. Going to a wedding that celebrates a gravely immoral union would be comparable to going to a ritual celebrating a person’s suicide or self-immolation.
Paul’s Act of Love in The Face of Today’s Excuse to Stay in Relationship
Paul’s actions may seem harsh, but Paul’s hope was to yet save the offender’s “spirit . . . on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). Paul’s actions are remedial, not punitive. The offender needs a massive wake-up call; otherwise, he is heading to hell in a hand basket. He does not need further accommodations to his death-inducing immorality by the church. Paul wants the incest to have stopped yesterday, for the sake of the offender (whom he seeks to reclaim), for the sake of the community (whose accommodations to immorality are threatening their existence), and for the sake of God (who expended the ultimate cost to redeem them, the atoning death of his Son).
We should bear in mind that this is the same Paul who wrote in marvelous praise of love just eight chapters later in the same letter. Paul did not violate that praise in the actions that he took toward the incestuous man.
To claim that Paul gives us no advice as to whether a believer can attend an incestuous wedding, making it “a Romans 14 issue,” would be historically ridiculous. Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 5 make crystal clear that there is no way that he would have condoned attendance at such a celebration of immorality. Try any of the arguments that some Christians use to justify attendance at a “gay wedding” and see if they work well for an incestuous “wedding.” For example:
“It is better to go to an incestuous wedding and stay in a relationship with a person who wants to marry a parent or sibling than it is to not go and thereby cut oneself off from future opportunities to witness to Christ.” Do you think such an argument would pass muster for Paul, much less for Jesus? Attending an incestuous wedding communicates acceptance even if you tell your incestuous friend that you do not approve of incestuous unions.
You may say that you are opposed, but your coming communicates at best that your moral stance is no big deal. Otherwise, you would be weeping for the offending family member or friend at the service, and not making merry at the reception. By going to such a wedding, you would not be witnessing to them of Christ’s love, but rather of Christ’s tacit acceptance of the incest. There are other ways of showing love without attending such a wedding.
By its very nature, a wedding is a public celebration of a sexual union. when we attend a wedding, we are there to serve as witnesses of the vows. Even if there is no statement like “speak now or forever hold your peace” (and if there were, your failure to speak would count against you on the day of judgment), the attendees are still summoned to assist in holding the parties accountable to the vow of matrimony. Attendees are often expected to applaud, and certainly to smile, at the ritual, not to cry tears of anguish.
Attendance conveys joint celebration: “I’m happy for you. I’m here to celebrate with you this sexual union, and to work for its longevity.” A faithful Christian, however, cannot be happy at a ritual that celebrates the offense of incest; nor can a Christian congratulate those entering the union (e.g., in a receiving line at the end of the service). There is no doubt as to what Paul’s response to an invitation to an incestuous wedding would have been, even if it were an incestuous wedding of a friend who was an unbeliever.
If your family member or friend made attendance at their incestuous “wedding” a precondition for continuing to be in relationship, you would (hopefully) balk. That precondition would be a form of manipulation, even extortion, setting the parameters for future relationship that would lead to further future demands, requiring you to violate conscience and compromise God’s standards for sexual purity. When Paul tells the Corinthians to “flee sexual immorality (porneia)” (1 Cor. 6:18), he certainly did not have in mind that they attend the ritual celebration of a grossly immoral sexual union.
Other Excuses for Attending an Immoral Wedding, Debunked by Jesus and Paul
“Jesus Ate with Sinners, and So Should I”
“But didn’t Jesus eat with sexual sinners? Wouldn’t that suggest that he would approve of attendance at an incestuous wedding?” Obviously, Jesus’ eating with sexual sinners did not involve attending a ritual that celebrated the immoral sexual activity (least of all, incest and homosexual practice) of those whom he was trying to reclaim for the Kingdom of God that he was proclaiming. The same applies to his eating with exploitative tax collectors: Jesus would not have attended a ritual celebrating their financial exploitation of the poor, even if he first made clear his disapproval of such exploitation. That would be an abomination to God.
“Attending the Wedding of Someone Divorced is Almost the Same Thing!”
“You are being inconsistent: If you are willing to go to a wedding of a divorced person, you should be able to go to a wedding of two siblings or of an adult and his or her parent.” Really? Do you not realize that incest is far worse, and that, logically speaking, one cannot move from permission in a lesser offense to permission in a far greater offense? Arguably, given Jesus’ teaching on divorce-and-remarriage, the church should disapprove of Christians attending the wedding of a divorced person (which Jesus would have done), at least of a person who divorced a spouse on invalid grounds or was the cause of divorce through adultery.
Regardless, there is no morality in a premise that finds virtue in being more consistently disobedient to the will of God, and that as pertains to ever-worse offenses. The same applies to those who argue from willingness to attend the wedding of a divorced person to a willingness to attend a “gay wedding.” The closest analogue to a “gay wedding” is an incestuous wedding, not the wedding of someone divorced.
“I’ll Only Attend the Reception, Not the Ceremony”
“Well, I should at least be allowed to attend the wedding reception of an incestuous couple.” No, you should not. A reception continues the celebration of the sexual union, often even more so. One is expected to express congratulations to the couple, to lift up one’s glass in response to toasting the union, to dance, and to share in a festive meal. It is a continuation of the ritual of the wedding ceremony.
What Applies to Incestuous Marriage Applies to Homosexual Marriage
If these excuses would be unacceptable grounds for attending an incestuous “wedding,” they would be just as unacceptable in the case of a “gay wedding.” A “gay wedding” is a parallel union to an incestuous union. In fact, as noted above, a “gay wedding” is even worse than an incestuous “wedding” from Paul’s perspective, and the perspective of Jesus, since homosexual unions challenge the very foundation of human sexual ethics, the male-female prerequisite ensconced since creation (Gen. 1:27; 2:24; so Mark 10:6–9; parallel in Matt. 19:4–6, 8). It is from this foundation that Jesus extrapolated other standards, like a limitation of two persons to a sexual union, whether concurrent (no polygamy) or serial (no remarriage after [invalid?] divorce).
Yes, Scripture (including Jesus) views homosexual practice as a worse offense than even incest. Many Christians today do not grasp that point because “gay” sexuality is celebrated in the culture, whereas incest is still largely regarded with revulsion. The prohibition of incest is extrapolated secondarily from the prohibition of homosexual practice: One cannot have as a sexual partner someone who is already too much of a structural same. Unlike the prohibition of homosexual practice, the prohibition of incest is not grounded in creation. Loopholes to some forms of incest are not closed off till the period of Levitical legislation (Lev. 18 and 20). There never were any loopholes for some forms of homosexual practice, indicating the greater severity of the offense.
Evangelical and conservative Catholic leaders who acknowledge homosexual practice to be immoral but still seek to persuade fellow believers that it is permissible to attend a “gay wedding” should be ashamed of themselves. They are not thinking scripturally. They are informed more by their culture than by Jesus and the word of God. They are lying to themselves and to others if they think that Paul would ever have permitted believers to attend a “wedding” between an arsenokoites (a man lying with a male; 1 Cor. 6:9) and his malakos (a male who feminized his appearance to attract a male sex partner; 1 Cor. 6:9).
1. These are the two Greek terms that are often translated “homosexuals” or “men who practice homosexuality” in many English translations of the Bible.
Presumably (one can only hope), these same Evangelical and conservative Catholic leaders would never think of attending an incestuous “wedding.” Why not? Well, because such a “wedding” would still be roundly disapproved even by today’s dissolute society (indeed, it is illegal, though perhaps not prosecuted in some places). They would have society’s approval for their own decision to decline attendance for this “really bad” sexual union; but they would have society’s strong disapproval for declining to attend a “gay wedding.”
It is secular society, not Scripture, not Jesus, that determines their thinking. Because of society’s strong push for normalizing homosexual practice (and even transgenderism), these leaders have allowed themselves to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexual practice is not as bad as incest, let alone worse.
Does the Situation Change If the Participants Are Unbelievers?
What about attending the “gay wedding” of an unbeliever? Would that be okay? Think again of the analogy of an incestuous wedding. Do you think Jesus or Paul would permit attending such a wedding if the participants were unbelievers? Of course not.
To be sure, Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 applies his strictures to the case of an incestuous offender who is a self-professed believer, and adds that believers cannot disassociate completely with unbelievers (“since otherwise you would need to come out of world,” 1 Cor. 5:10). That, however, is not the same thing as making attendance at a wedding that celebrates a grossly immoral sexual union optional. Note that Paul also warns the Corinthians not to be “unevenly yoked (i.e., harnessed or bound, tied up as partners, mismatched) with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). Attendance at such a ceremony would convey tacit acceptance, no matter what the attendee says about disapproval.
As it happens, when it comes to discussing relations with unbelievers, we have an excellent parallel to the way Paul treated the problem of invitations that believers might receive to celebrate an occasion at an idol’s temple. Association with unbelievers in idolatrous or immoral rituals was forbidden.
Paul closely associated idolatry and sexual immorality. Paul’s vice or offender lists nearly always lead off with idolatry and sexual immorality (in either order) because of the severity of these common Gentile offenses (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Gal. 5:19–21; Rom. 1:18–32; compare 1 Thess. 1:9 with 1 Thess. 4:3–8). Paul has two “flee” statements in 1 Corinthians: “Flee sexual immorality (porneia)” (1 Cor. 6:18) and “Flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). His “midrash” (exposition) on Israel’s wilderness sojourn in 1 Cor. 10:1–11 focused on the twin reasons why nearly all who escaped from Egypt never made it to the Promised Land: idolatry and sexual immorality.
Thus, Paul in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 absolutely forbade dining in an idol’s temple, and did so on two grounds. First, such actions could “stumble” (i.e., precipitate the spiritual downfall of) others with a weak conscience by sending the message that idol worship wasn’t such a big deal (ch. 8). Second, those attending such rituals, at which sacrifices would be made to an idol, were actually offending God by aligning themselves unknowingly with demonic powers (1 Cor. 10:14–22). Going to a “gay wedding”—which centers around the ritual celebration of a sexual union offensive enough to have become a byword for God’s cataclysmic judgment (Sodom)—is not much different from going to an idol’s temple to celebrate a friend’s or business partner’s marriage, birth, or job success.
Those Christians who say it is okay to attend a “gay wedding” are adopting a position that would be comparable to the Corinthians responding to Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 in the following way:
We understand your position, Paul; but we have seen good fruit borne from attending functions held at an idol’s temple. So, we are going to pray about things and decide on a case-by-case basis whether we should continue attending because we feel that by maintaining socializing contacts with our pagan friends at these events we will have a better chance of winning them over to the Lord.
There is no way that Paul would have accepted such a missionizing self-justification—not for attending an unbeliever’s ceremony at an idol’s temple and not for attending an incestuous or homosexual wedding. Those peddling such a view have become partners (koinonoi, 2 Cor. 6:14) to evil, compromised Christian morality, offended God, and stumbled the weak.
Anyone who cites Paul’s Mars Hill episode in Acts 17 as a counterexample would miss the point. At Mars Hill Paul was not attending a religious ritual in a temple. He was attending a meeting of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debating various ideas. He then proclaimed the gospel to them, calling on them to repent or be destroyed. There is no parallel in Acts 17 to attending a ritual celebrating a “gay wedding” that brings God’s judgment on the heads of the participants. So far as all the other guests at this event are concerned, you approve—even if you’ve made a private mild communication of disapproval to one of the persons involved but otherwise remain publicly silent.
Orientation and Conclusion
The fact that some persons have an exclusive homosexual “orientation” does not change the moral equation. Homosexual practice remains repugnant to God, a violation of God’s intentional creation of sexual counterparts, even when it meets needs for sexual companionship. A person in a sexual union with the same sex is devaluing God’s stamp of gender on the body, treating maleness or femaleness as only half intact in relation to one’s own sex.
God did not design half-males and half-females who need to unite sexually with someone of their own sex in order to feel whole as a male or female. We are each half of a whole sexual spectrum made of “male and female” as designed by God. Same-sex sexual unions are intrinsically “dishonoring” to the participants (the term Paul uses in Rom. 1:24–27), whether or not they admit to it, and “something abhorrent” (to’evah) to God (Lev. 18:22; 20:13).
Christians who attend a “gay wedding” should be honest with themselves and announce publicly that they have changed their mind about homosexual practice in key ways that deviate from the only witness of Scripture. They will eventually come to that realization in the not-too-distant-future if they aren’t already putting on a fake mask now.