Would Jesus have changed water to wine for a same-sex wedding?
Some will be surprised to know that as I begin this blog post, I cannot definitively say ‘No’ to my title question. But neither can I say ‘Yes.’ Perhaps by the time I’m ready to publish this, I will have discerned the more likely correct answer.
As a Christian, I empathize with the difficult choices made by Christian bakers, photographers, and florists when approached by a same-sex couple to provide services for their wedding. In an effort to honor God by not participating in the sin of homosexuality, as they saw it, some politely refused to provide the wedding cake or flowers, or record the ceremony for posterity. I’m sure many others were willing to, but nobody hears about them. Those who refused reasoned that since homosexuality is clearly identified in the Bible as a sin against God’s will and design, to provide in any way for a same-sex wedding would be dishonoring to him and an act of disobedience.
But I have more than empathetic interest in the stories of these business owners, because I might be presented with the same difficult decision someday. My husband and I own and operate a small party center, which has been rented for wedding celebrations. What would, and should, we do if a gay couple wants to get married at our facility?
Much has been written lately about the conflict of rights, real or perceived, when same-sex couples are turned away by Christian business owners. The legal issues aside, I want to explore the reasoning behind these Christians’ decisions and the factors involved, with a goal of greater understanding of their position, and a clarity in my own mind of what would be the God-honoring response if ever I am faced with the same decision.
In my struggle to work through this dilemma, I considered what my position would be if approached as a service provider by someone known to be guilty of a different kind of sexual sin. So, for instance, if a known producer of pornography wanted to rent our place for a family reunion, where there would be plenty of children and not a hint of pornography, should we refuse him because of his immoral vocation? I think to do so, and be consistent, would mean turning everyone away and going out of business. Because even if I didn’t know of any particular sin my would-be renters had committed, it’s a sure bet they are guilty of some transgression, as am I. So refusing to rent to sinners would leave us with a very open calendar.
But suppose instead that said pornographer wanted to rent our facility as a location to film. Or perhaps he is in need of financial support for his next production and wants to host a fundraiser. I would not be in a quandary about this decision – I would politely refuse, and defend to the utmost my right to do so. Because now I am being asked to participate in a sin…to contribute to an activity that I know God abhors.
Few people would argue against adultery being a sin before God…it’s one of the Big Ten. Consider if a married friend of yours asked to use your home for an illicit liaison. Most God-fearing folks would refuse, instinctively aware of their complicity in his sin if they don’t. Now suppose your friend divorces his wife so he can marry his lover. Would you attend the wedding if you disapprove of his adultery? Would that be participating in some way in his sin because you are celebrating his new relationship? God-fearing folks would be seriously split on this question.
The determining factor for me is whether I am participating in or enabling the sin itself. When it comes to same-sex marriage, that factor is not as clearly determined. If the homosexual sex is what is sinful, as I believe it is, am I contributing to it by renting our party center for a same-sex wedding or celebration? Is it a safe bet that they’ve already been engaging in sex before deciding to marry…and would not be planning to get it on in front of their family and friends at their wedding reception? But some will argue that the marriage is emblematic of the sexual relationship the couple have, so to support it in any way is a tacit approval of the sex.
What if I owned a hotel or an inn? Would God expect me to deny an admitted gay couple a room because I would be providing a secure location for them to engage in sex? If I did I would also have to deny a room to every heterosexual couple I suspected were not married to each other. Yet, it is entirely possible that in each case, the couples would be using the beds strictly for sleeping. I would be providing a room to live in for a night or two; what happens in those rooms is generally outside the scope of my knowledge and control. Two equally committed Christian hotel owners will have opposing views on this. There does need to be legal protection for the one who firmly believes he or she cannot in good faith rent to gays.
Looking at the record of Jesus’ interaction with the morally culpable should be helpful in determining the will of God in these situations. His refusal to shun or disassociate with them was such that he was ridiculed by the religious authorities as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” He ate with them, hung out with them, and welcomed them as disciples. Yet we can be certain that he never aided tax collectors in their extortion, nor pimped any prostitutes.
But the miracle of water to wine as recorded in John 2 may be the most helpful. Jesus was an invited guest at a wedding celebration where the groom’s family found themselves out of wine and the party still going strong. This would be an embarrassment to the parents of any groom today, as well as to those in first-century Palestine. When Jesus’ mother alerted him to the need, we might expect that the very Word of God himself would have responded with something like, “It is not the will of God to encourage or provide for the sin of drunkenness.” But instead he directly provided about 150 gallons of not just wine, but excellent wine. A hundred and fifty gallons of very good wine. Is it reasonable to believe that none of those wedding guests got drunk on that miraculous water turned wine?
I see this miracle as representative of a very basic and important truth: God blesses humanity with good things, knowing that we will abuse or pervert them. We drink to excess, we gorge ourselves with fattening foods, we become workaholics, and we treat sex as merely a self-actualizing or recreational activity. Would we ever think to charge God with complicity in the sins we commit using the good things he has provided?
Well, I’m wrapping up this post and I’m afraid I still can’t confidently answer my opening question. But having wrestled with the truths of God’s love and mercy, his holiness and righteousness, my responsibility before him, and his call on my life to be salt and light in my world, I’m pretty sure he would not hold me accountable for allowing a same-sex wedding at our establishment. He knows my heart; he knows that I love him and want to see him honored and obeyed. Perhaps the best way to foster that is to major in love and mercy, and consider Proper Judging 101 a less important elective.
And in keeping with the higher education theme…I pray that my commitment to faithfully study now instead of waiting till the last minute to cram, will assure that when the time comes, I will pass the test.For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
I find it so intriguing that of all the multiple accounts of Jesus’ life, most cross referenced with several witnesses, he never mentioned/addressed homosexuality. I have heard several explanations from scholars, but not from Jesus. Yes, He ate with sinners. And I think if at a table with people (for we are all sinners) and the wine ran out, He would perform the miracle again.
Thanks for reading and commenting. No, Jesus didn’t address homosexuality, and, as he said, he came not to condemn but to save (John 3:17). But we need to be careful not to conclude then that he thought any differently about it than he did in the Old Testament, or as he inspired Paul to write in the New.
I think if he had come in contact with homosexuals he would have loved them and told them to “go and sin no more.”
Excellent post. I appreciate your honest struggle and vulnerability with this.
Thank you, Beth.
Caroline, I think you’re on to something. I have seen a bumper sticker, “Who would Jesus bomb?” What kind a question is that? One a pharisee would ask. Whatever Jesus would answer, it would not fit neatly into a preconceived notion. Circumstances matter.
I see the gay wedding issue hits close to home for you. I would hate for that anti-baker boycott to happen to you. That is a travesty.
I think I can bring a consistent principle for Proper Judging in America today. A business owner should be free to refuse service, if the basis is that the service is of an artistic, personal nature, that will violate or offend the owner’s conscience.
Since renting a facility is hands off, or fire and forget as they say in the military, then refusal of service is less credible. But if the owner’s business is photography, then refusal of service is much more defensible, because the commercial service is an affirmative, personal contribution. It is making a statement, it is a speech act.
My thirty four cents, for what they’re worth.
Thanks, Duck. That’s an interesting chunk of change ;-). I just hope and pray that we can all try and be more understanding and considerate of each other. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Caroline…I thoroughly enjoyed this, and I appreciated your deep thought and excellent questions. I just wrote about this issue on my blog this week, too…It’s very complicated and it can become so divisive…which makes me sad. You have started a really refreshing conversation, and I’m so grateful!
Thanks so much, Katie. This means a lot, coming from you. You are a real voice of reason, wisdom, and mercy. Going to check out your post now. 🙂
This is a wonderful post, Caroline. I think one of the complexities with this issue is that it can be perceived as discriminatory to gays as a class; we see lots of comparisons to serving black folks in the rural south half a century ago. But though I disagree, I recognize that your concern is specifically with the behavior, not the class.
So perhaps a better analogy would be: would a business owner who opposes interracial marriage on religious grounds be morally complicit in allowing the celebration of an interracial marriage in his or her establishment? And, is the refusal of such something we can endorse in our intentionally diverse society?
Thank you, Joe. I appreciate your comments. A couple of things: I understand that the actions of these business owners can be “perceived” to discriminate against gays as a class, but according to the reports I read, that’s not an accurate perception. Those who see it that way are not looking at all the facts. These same business owners were willing to, and in some of the cases already had provided cakes, photo shoots, and flowers to gays for other occasions. Just not same-sex weddings. I don’t know of any case where gays were refused service simply because they were gay.
I think if we’re really going to come to some kind of mutual understanding, we need to do some table-turning. What if it were a gay couple that owned a bakery and refused to provide a cake for a local church because they preach that homosexuality is a sin? Is that a right of theirs that should be protected? Something tells me that kind of story would get a completely different slant in the national news.
New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is going on today even though brewers pulled their sponsorship and its mayor refused to participate because the parade organizers would not allow gay groups to march openly. Imagine a big city mayor refusing to participate in a gay pride parade because he opposes homosexuality.
I do believe private business owners should be allowed to decide who they do business with. We are in really dangerous territory when the government starts taking control of that. What’s going to determine whether our “intentionally diverse society” thrives or suffers, I believe, is in what we endorse or not with our wallets. So, if in 21st century America a business owner refuses to provide for an interracial marriage, don’t support him. Don’t use his establishment and dissuade others from doing so as well. Perhaps if he feels the pinch in his own wallet, he’ll rethink his position. But if he really believes that he would be compromising his faith to do so, shouldn’t our constitutional right to freedom of religion protect him?
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