Few topics in today’s world are more divisive in the Christian Church than sexuality.
At a basic level, there are books, contentious dinner table discussions, and denominational conferences arguing over whether or not God approves of gay relationships and marriage. These same people disagree on the very nature of gender and what it means to be male and female. Such conversations about the essence of sexuality and gender are critical not only to our understanding of humanity, but also to a faithful interpretation of God’s holy and unchanging Word.
However, we have recently entered another level of division among sincere, Bible-believing Christians. The arguments now revolve around nuances of how to live as faithful followers of Christ in a world that accepts and celebrates every expression of sexuality and gender.
- Should you go to your granddaughter’s gay wedding?
- Should you use your neighbor’s preferred names and pronouns?
- Should you allow your child’s partner to visit for Christmas?
These questions may be intensely personal to you. The arguments and mudslinging of Christian leaders who disagree with each other are not helping you figure out what it practically looks like to honor God.
There is a very real tension in these questions between truth and love. I bristle when I hear people give counsel that includes the words “always” or “never” because they seem to discount the tension and nuance of each situation. For example, there is a huge difference between how you might interact with an atheist co-worker versus your adult child who has made a profession of faith.
In this blog, I’d like to present some steps to help you walk through this tension. We are going to apply a grid to the specific question of whether or not to attend a same-sex wedding, but these same guidelines can help you work through other complex and deeply practical questions.
What has the Bible clearly said?
There are some things which the Bible has made very clear. For example, the Bible plainly states that committing adultery is wrong. If this were the case with the gay wedding question, we would need to look no further. Where God has spoken, we obey rather than debating. The Bible is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. But the Scriptures never address the issue of attending a gay wedding.
What biblical principles can you apply?
There are many issues on which the Bible doesn’t speak, often because the same circumstances didn’t exist when the Scriptures were written. For example, you won’t find any clear biblical teaching on what apps to avoid on your Android.
In these cases, we need to dig into biblical principles to apply. The writer of Hebrew states that mature Christians learn to discern right and wrong by their constant use of Scripture. We want to mature beyond quoting Bible verses to address complex questions and learn to rightly apply biblical principles. In relation to going to a same-sex wedding, there are many principles to consider. Here are a few of them:
- Do not participate in evil (Ephesians 5:11).
- Do not have even a hint of sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3).
- Do not cause your brother to stumble (Romans 14:13-23).
- Do not share in the sins of others (I Timothy 5:22).
- Become all things to all people that you may win some (I Corinthians 9:22).
- Jesus went to the sinners and ate with them (Matthew 9:10-17).
- Do not judge those who are outside the church. Associate with them (I Corinthians 5:9-13).
Please note, each of these biblical principles and passages needs to be understood in context with the whole of Scripture. The Bible does not contradict itself. But as you weigh these biblical principles, you may see some that appear to support attending a gay wedding and other principles that don’t. So then what?
Seek wise counsel and ask the Lord for wisdom.
“There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.” This Proverb is not suggesting that you take a poll and go with the majority vote but is pointing out the fact that the Body of Christ is just that – a body. One person may give you wise counsel, but another godly person will add perspective to that advice.
In my own pursuit to understand a godly response to these questions, I have learned from many teachers and authors, some who strongly disagree with each other.
Learn from at least a few people, but go to God Himself asking for wisdom. As James tells us, God will give you the wisdom you ask for. He will speak to you and guide you.
Considering the person’s relationship with God and your relational equity, what does it look like to love this person?
Christians are called to be people of love. Jesus never said that we would be known by our sexual ethic, but by our love for each other. The fact is that there are different kinds of love.
Jesus’ love for the woman at the well (see John 4:1-26) was expressed differently than his response to Peter’s rebuke (see Matthew 16:22-24). This is where nuance enters the picture.
First, a person’s relationship with God matters. Love extended to our “neighbor” looks different than love extended to our Christian “brother.” The Bible tells us that we are to confront one another within the body of Christ. We are not to tolerate and certainly not celebrate choices to engage in sexual sin (I Corinthians 5). If a person is a professing Christian, a same-sex marriage is a clear act of disobedience. If a person does not know the Lord, the issue at hand is not the wedding but their relationship with God. Your unbelieving friend or relative probably would not understand why you would be offended by a gay wedding.
Secondly, you need to consider the depth of your relationship with the person. Time, vulnerability, commitment, and conversation give you more relational equity. I have far more responsibility to speak into my child’s life than I do a casual acquaintance. While it would be unloving for me to avoid the hard conversation with my child, it may be equally unloving to confront someone I barely know. In addition, not attending my child’s wedding has a far greater relational impact than a polite regrets to my neighbor’s wedding invitation.
As Jesus’ life displayed, love is expressed uniquely in different relationships.
Do you leave room for personal conviction?
Over the course of the last few years, I have talked with godly men and women who have made different decisions around a same-sex marriage with deep conviction. One is sincerely convicted that it would be wrong to go. The other senses from the Lord that it would be wrong to stay home.
Does that confuse you? It shouldn’t. While the Bible never addresses going to a same-sex wedding, we do have clear teaching on how to handle disagreement on debated issues of the Christian life. In Romans 14 and throughout his letters to the Corinthians, Paul addresses the issues that plagued the early Church. Paul told them to take the convictions on their heart seriously but to also leave room if a brother has a different conviction.
God wants us to come to Him with these questions, eager to learn and listen. Wrestling through the tension of truth and love is not just about getting the answer but becoming the kind of people who learn to listen, love well, and obey.
“Above all, put on love…”
There is a time for debate, but it is always the time to love. It grieves me that in our pursuit of truth, we can become arrogant, hostile, and judgmental towards Christians who have a different conviction on difficult questions.
Jesus said that people would recognize us as His followers by the supernatural way in which we love one another. Loving enough to confront in gentleness. Loving enough to forgive. Loving enough to extend grace when offended. And loving enough to be united in Christ, even through disagreement.
The most powerful sign of a Christian is not whether or not you attend the wedding or use the pronouns, but whether your spirit displays the humility to magnify Jesus as Lord and to extend His love in all circumstances.
When questions are straight-forward and we all agree, we don’t have to dig so deeply to discern God’s will. Perhaps this wrestling with today’s sexual ethics is not just about arriving at the right answer, but about developing the right heart towards the Lord and others.
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