On Weddings and Conscience: Are Christians Hypocrites?

By Russell D. Moore
Feb 23, 2014

Today Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt wrote an article for the Daily Beast accusing conservative Christians of hypocrisy and unchristian behavior for suggesting that some persons’ consciences won’t allow them to use their creative gifts to help celebrate same-sex weddings. Since I was a key example of this hypocrisy, I’ll respond to that charge.

At issue is a response I made, reposted this week over at The Gospel Coalition, helping a Christian wedding photographer think through whether he ought to work for a same-sex wedding. In the photographer’s question, he grapples with the question of how his conscience ought to play in this decision not only as it relates to weddings of people who, for all he knows, might be involved in all sorts of unbiblical behavior. Powers and Merritt suggest if he refuses to photograph one “unbiblical wedding,” he ought to “refuse to photograph them all.”

As a matter of fact, they say, to do anything else is to be “seen as a hypocrite” and to “heap shame on the gospel.” More specifically, they point to my advice that the photographer doesn’t have a moral obligation to ferret out the circumstances behind every wedding he shoots. I am telling him, they say, to do something “wrong” as long as he doesn’t investigate the background. “Apparently, ignorance is bliss.”

This sort of sarcastic response could just as easily apply to the biblical text at the root of our conversation: the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the conscience in the context of the marketplace in Corinth. Paul tells the believers there that they have no obligation to investigate whether the meat set before them was sacrificed to idols. If something’s put before you, Paul says, eat it to the glory of God, no questions asked.

But, the Spirit says through the Apostle, if the food is advertised as sacrificed to idols, abstain from it for the sake of the consciences around you (1 Cor. 8:7-9). I suppose the first-century Daily Beast could have sarcastically dismissed this with “ignorance is bliss.”

The article quotes me telling the photographer that he need not investigate the background of every wedding he performs, but they do not quote the next sentence: “But when there is an obvious deviation from the biblical reality, sacrifice the business for the conscience, your own and those of the ones in your orbit who would be confused.”

Here’s why this matters. The photographer has, in most cases, no ability or authority to find out the sorts of things a pastor or church elders would about a marrying couple. Most evangelical Christians, this one included, believe there are circumstances in which it is biblically moral for a divorced person to remarry. And all Christians—regardless of what we think about a church’s responsibility—think that marriages between otherwise qualified unbelieving men and women are good things, grounded in a creation ordinance.

It’s possible, of course, that the man and woman who’ve contracted with a wedding singer are just marrying to get a green card. It’s possible that they don’t plan to be faithful to one another. It’s possible that she’s already married to three other men. It’s possible that their love is just a reality show stunt. Or, to take us back to Corinth, it’s possible the blushing bride is the groom’s ex-stepmother. But unless the photographer has a reason to think this, he needn’t hire a private investigator or ask for birth certificates and court papers to make sure it’s not.

In the case of a same-sex marriage, the marriage is obviously wrong, in every case. There are no circumstances in which a man and a man or a woman and a woman can be morally involved in a sexual union (I have no reason to assume that Powers and Merritt disagree with apostolic Christianity on this point. If so, they should make that clear).

Now, the question at hand was one of pastoral counsel. How should a Christian think about his own decision about whether to use his creative gifts in a way that might, he believes, celebrate something he believes will result in eternal harm to others. I recognize there are some blurry lines at some of these points. But what isn’t blurry is the question of state coercion.

It’s of no harm to anyone else if Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt (both of whom I love) think me to be a hypocrite. It’s fine for the Daily Beast to ridicule the sexual ethic of the historic Christian church, represented confessionally across the divide of Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy. It’s quite another thing for the state to coerce persons through fines and penalties and licenses to use their creative gifts to support weddings they believe to be sinful.

That’s broader than just homosexuality. I don’t want wedding singers forced to use their lyrics and voices to tell us how great it is that Herod and Herodias or Henry VIII and fill-in-the-blank wife’s name are soul-mates.

This article maintains that there are no circumstances in which the Bible “calls Christians to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage.” Really?

Does that apply only to the morality of marriage? Should a Christian (or Muslim or Orthodox Jewish or feminist New Age) web designer be compelled to develop a site platform for a legal pornography company?

Now, again, we might debate the best ways to see to it that consciences are protected by law and in the courts. But acting as though those concerned about such things are the reincarnation of Jim Crow is unworthy of this discussion. Moreover, the implications for conscience protection are broad and long-lasting. This isn’t just a tit-for-tat Internet discussion. The lives and livelihoods of real people are on the line, all because they won’t render unto Caesar (or to Mammon) that which they believe belongs to God.

And we might disagree about what sort of pastoral counsel should be given as a Christian seeks to live out his or her life in the marketplace, but in order to do so we’ll have to deal with what the Bible teaches about our responsibility both to love our neighbors and to testify to what we believe to be true: that they, and we, will face a God who has revealed himself in our consciences and in the Scriptures. We might disagree on whether or when to bake the cake, but surely we ought to agree that it’s worth at least asking the question of whether and when the icing on the cake might imply, “hath God said?” (Gen. 3:1)

Further Learning

Learn more about: Faith, Culture, Family, Marriage, Sexual Purity, Homosexuality, Citizenship, ,

38 Comments (post your own) feed

1 On Feb 23, 2014, at 8:04pm, Greg Woodward wrote:

Excellent article, thoughtful response. I especially like the NT reference to instances where Christians should take ethical (which means getting our feet dirty politically sometimes) stands in the public square.

2 On Feb 23, 2014, at 8:10pm, Sam Williams wrote:

Any thoughts on the Arizona bill? I like the basic idea and I haven’t read up on it a ton so maybe there’s protections in there that I don’t know about, but it seems like there’s a lot of potential for abuse. I’m extremely sympathetic to Christian brothers and sisters who face potential financial harm for standing up for their beliefs in this matter, but I can’t in good conscious rally around my own tribe if it means that gays and lesbians in Arizona might be denied service in restaurants or even potentially healthcare.

3 On Feb 23, 2014, at 8:56pm, Jeff Kautz wrote:

I agree with both your insight on your article and subsequent response.  The article in the Daily Beast missed that Christian business owners are being sued and maligned in the media for refusing to be a part of ceremonies they find objectionable and not in line with the beliefs.  Business owners should not be force to do business with areas (ie homosexual weddings) if they do not want to.
Thanks for the great insight.

4 On Feb 23, 2014, at 9:57pm, Sharon wrote:

I personally would never be involved in a same sex marriage, that includes attending the wedding, or offering congratulations of any kind.  I believe marriage is between a man & a women, as God commands.

5 On Feb 23, 2014, at 10:23pm, Christopher wrote:

1 Cor. 5.9-13 argues otherwise. We are not to put moral hurdles (even God’s moral hurdles) in the way of unbelievers before we communicate the Gospel of Christ with them or before we have fellowship with them.

6 On Feb 23, 2014, at 11:40pm, Joe Carr wrote:

I would like to ask a question regarding those who are advocating that a Christian refusing to participate in a gay wedding is akin to Jim Crow laws of the past? Is sexual orientation and behavior equal to skin color/ethnicity? There is not one person who has had any choice over their color/ethnicity. I realize there are many opinions and studies regarding sexual orientation, but at the end of it all, sexual activity is still a choice, otherwise how can any sexual activity be prohibited or illegal?  The argument has been shifted to love and choice, so now we are considered to be discriminating by not participating, by a growing contingent, at least. Am I naive or simplistic to state that there is a difference between one’s birth color, which is beyond anyone’s ability to control, and sexual activity, which I believe that everyone has the ability to control?  Thanks for the article!

7 On Feb 24, 2014, at 12:34am, Bill Beahan wrote:

I was a member of Jonathan Merritt’s church Cross Pointe here in Duluth, GA for a couple years and it was a very disturbing point of view. His father was a good preacher but they got so heavily into the green movement that it seemed that often they worshipped the creation rather than the Creator. The final straw was the Sunday an admitted admirer of Van Jones was the guest preacher and only mentioned Jesus in the last couple minutes of his “sermon” and it was disjointed as if it was an add-on to make it “pass”. I stopped going shortly after. I was heartbroken.

8 On Feb 24, 2014, at 1:40am, DaveGinOly wrote:

The state can’t create an entity (licensed business) that is capable of doing that which it can’t do itself – discriminate.

I’ve used this argument against the idea that businesses can put up “no guns” signs to bar legally armed citizens. Because the state can’t prevent the exercise of certain rights and privileges, it therefore cannot create entities that can do things that it can’t. If it could, states could turn over certain functions to private businesses, and through those businesses effectively conduct policy that would otherwise be illegal for them to conduct.

If the state permits its licensees to discriminate, then it has the authority to create entities that can do things the state itself is barred from doing. This is irrational, and potentially very dangerous. States promulgate rules for the conduct of their licensees. One of those rules is probably non-discrimination. The photographer knew the rules when he voluntarily accepted the state-issued license.

9 On Feb 24, 2014, at 2:52am, David Anderson wrote:

I think Moore is right, but that he can strengthen his argument by using the word “intrinsic” instead of “obvious”.

Homosexual relationships are not just *obviously* wrong (a term which focuses on their appearance to someone viewing them), but *intrinsically* wrong. Their wrong-ness is not a function of how they appear to the viewer, but is essential to their very nature. It is part of their irreducible essence.

This is *related* to appearance; a particular heterosexual marriage (e.g. between a man and someone who is actually, unknown to any observer, because the people involved have changed their names and moved to a different state, his sister) may or may not be wrong, but this is not necessarily something that is apparent. The wrongness of a homosexual union, though, is always apparent. But the reason you can tell by looking is because of the nature of marriage, and the mismatch between the instrinsic, essential nature of marriage and the coming together of two men.

David

10 On Feb 24, 2014, at 5:08am, Alistair Robertson wrote:

I agree with you Dr. Moore, though one question did occur to me. In the biblical example of eating meat sacrificed to idols, would you give the same advice to Christian sellers of meat, i.e. ask no questions, but if you know that it is to be used in a sacrifice to idols, don’t sell it? It seems to me that though selling meat is not addressed by Paul, it is a closer parallel to being a wedding photographer in these days.

11 On Feb 24, 2014, at 6:25am, Tim Rogers wrote:

Dr. Moore,

Thank you for your clear use of Scripture to elaborate on the biblical example of marriage.  Though you were called a hypocrite you responded in a way that removes you from the harsh rhetoric.

Your example of eating meat offered to idols is exactly the biblical worldview that is at hand.  Paul was not advocating an ignorance is bliss any more that Jesus was as we see he never spoke specifically against the slavery of the first century.  Jesus revealed the value of every human and as such spoke against slavery without naming it.  Paul presents a way for the Christian to live in the marketplace of pagans.  You have built on this foundation and I appreciate your humble, clear presentation of the issue in response to a public face slap.

12 On Feb 24, 2014, at 7:45am, Deb wrote:

It’s in line with the ongoing hypocrisy to see no conflict between appealing to “Christian Charity” when expanding an entitlement then demonize adherance to Christian principles when it doesn’t agree with them.  This is a 1st Amendment issue for this nation. Is freedom OF religion something in which we believe or isn’t it?  Or is it freedom FROM religion now?

13 On Feb 24, 2014, at 8:02am, John Hasse wrote:

You miss a larger question: 
Why should the government be allowed to dictate the terms on ANY contract between two ‘free’ individuals?

14 On Feb 24, 2014, at 8:26am, Jacob Riggs wrote:

Thank you, Dr. Moore.

15 On Feb 24, 2014, at 8:33am, Ciccio wrote:

Homosexual weddings are not so much an affront to Christianity as they are to Western civilization the building blocks of which are stable family units.

16 On Feb 24, 2014, at 8:35am, Karan Townsend wrote:

I praise God and thank you, Dr. Moore, for your clear thoughts about marriage ( and the implications for bakers regarding non-biblical unions ) and for your ability to care-fully and prayer-fully articulate your thoughts about a major matter from a biblical ( albeit counter-cultural ) perspective. I pray that God will bring good fruit from your labor for His glory and the good of the people.

17 On Feb 24, 2014, at 10:11am, rev.spike wrote:

Two thoughts: I wonder how Powers & Merritt would counsel a photographer contracted to officiate over a child marriage. Secondly, I say, let capitalism work this one out. If people choose to not do business with companies who embrace “draconian morality codes”, then, that solves the problem.

18 On Feb 24, 2014, at 10:39am, Ron wrote:

Sorry, Russell, but Kirsten Powers has recently publicly stated she has no problem with homosexual marriages. She’s been led to believe that most younger evangelicals are on board as well.  Whether this is true or not, it is not in harmony with orthodox Christianity.  I understand she is a fairly new convert to Christianity, so let us hope that she will mature quickly to the point that she accepts the authority of the Scriptures in her life.  The Bible is very clear about the evil of homosexuality and all other sexual sins outside the bonds of marriage.

19 On Feb 24, 2014, at 10:41am, Tom Rush wrote:

Dr. Moore, great article.  Apparently Andy Stanley and other pastors agree with Powers and Merritt.  Here’s my question.  If Stanley, or any other pastor, thinks that under the circumstance of a known gay ceremony a Christian business should provide services, essentially “no questions asked,” then would not Mr. Stanley be obligated to open his church for such ceremonies and perform them himself?  Seems to me that it would be hypocritical of him to refuse.  Your thoughts?

20 On Feb 24, 2014, at 12:04pm, Deb wrote:

Many good points made in comments.  Joe Karr’s point about “birth color” reminded me of what I was taught by my parents: judge people on the choices they make, not those things about which they had no choice.  He’s right.  Homosexuals may be born but practicing it is a choice.  Heterosexuals are born but not all of us choose to have intimate relations with everyone who is interested.  Some choose celibacy.  Choices are what God gave us with free will.  We should make them wisely for we will be judged by them.

21 On Feb 24, 2014, at 12:05pm, Cody wrote:

The irony as I see it is that homosexuals claim that who they are must manifest in physical, sexual union—it is who they are; however, when a Christian business owner claims that because of who he/she is they are not able to participate in the sinful fiction of homosexual marriage there is an outcry of “bigotry” from the very ones who themselves employ the same reason to defend their own actions.

22 On Feb 24, 2014, at 1:31pm, jim wrote:

A photographer is an artist. Is there no artistic license to choose one’s subject matter? Some subjects may be more beautiful than others and this may even be a subjective opinion of the artist. Should the state ignore the artistic process and impose a subject matter on the artist?

23 On Feb 24, 2014, at 3:07pm, Bob wrote:

The Central distinction described here is important: providing a good/service to a PERSON (gay, black,female, Asian) is DIFFERENT from providing a good/service in support of an EVENT/IDEA.  A print shop should not discriminate on the basis of skin color/orientation/national origin to print up a person’s job resume.  But it should have the right to refuse to print up things in support of personally reprehensive IDEAS—communist party rants, Gay Pride rallies, LSD parties.  The newspapers claim this freedom . One of my gay friends who is an great artist and is pro-lifedisagreed—until I asked him if he would want to be coerced into using his art for support of an abortion rights event. He looked startled and said
“I never thought about that! I wouldn’t want to have my art be used in such a way.”  QED

24 On Feb 24, 2014, at 6:29pm, Woodie Thompson wrote:

This problem crosses several lines .  Remember when esp in the south when some places refused service to blacks?  I think Jesus would disapprove , but shouldnt the shop have the right if he so chose?  The govt now says no.  In a truly free society the seller should have the right to sell his wares to any one he chose, they are after all his, are they not?  The matter may change according to the govt if the govt has a hand in said business.  Otherwise freedom rules.

25 On Feb 24, 2014, at 7:34pm, D.R. Randle wrote:

Dr. Moore, thanks for a thoughtful argument. I look forward to their response. I’d add 3 more arguments: 1) Powers/Merritt to not be hypocrites themselves must always accept business regardless of whether it violates their religious convictions. If they’re photographers they can’t refuse to photograph a nude wedding or even 1 where bride&groom; publicly consummate the wedding. While this seems extreme, so are parallels to Jim Crow laws. 2) Jim Crow laws aren’t parallel here. Rather, they better describe those wishing to mandate business practices. How so? Because Jim Crow Laws were just that-LAWS states mandated to businesses forcing discrimination. The majority (racists) dictated to the minority (non-racists) who they could & couldn’t serve & how. In this case, AZ law allows businesses to decide & keeps states from mandating their actions. This stops the majority(homosexual advocates) from dictating to the minority(Christians) who they can & can’t serve & how.

26 On Feb 24, 2014, at 7:41pm, D.R. Randle wrote:

con’t from above: 3) If this bill passes no one’s rights will be violated. But if homosexual advocates win, business owners will have their religious beliefs stifled. And this is true because of free market capitalism.  The reality is that there are a plethora of wedding service providers in the states that allow same-sex marriage, & few, if any, places where homosexuals would fail to find such services. Thus free market capitalism works to allow for religiously conscious individuals to run their businesses as they please & for those with views affirming homosexuality to do the same. Anytime we interfere with the invisible hand of free markets we must have clear moral & ethical reasons for doing so. Here such is clearly not the case. The markets work - let business owners decide & not the courts. And more importantly may Christian business owners have the right to glorify God with their own decisions & let not Powers, Merritt, or the govt say otherwise.

27 On Feb 24, 2014, at 8:09pm, Edward wrote:

After reading this article, I cannot get out of my mind the thought that being forced by the government to provide services to a gay marriage is really a backdoor attempt to force doctors and nurses to perform abortions..

A doctor is a business as much as a bakery.  If the baker can be forced to participate in a gay marriage, the doctor and nurse can also be forced to perform an abortion.

This would not be the first time that a law intended to address one activity is stretched and molded to fit another.

28 On Feb 24, 2014, at 8:11pm, Nan wrote:

Homosexual acts are a sin that cries to heaven. Those who participate in mock marriages are participating in sin, which itself is a sin. The first amendment provides for freedom of religion; therefore the state may not make laws that force people to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

29 On Feb 24, 2014, at 9:08pm, Susan Fox wrote:

Thank you so much for your courage in standing up for the Truth. For He shall set us free.

30 On Feb 24, 2014, at 9:12pm, Miguel wrote:

To #13: Any first year law student will tell you that the government can declare certain contractual provisions invalid for sake of public policy. Courts do this all the time. Thus, gay marriages were deemed invalid for public policy concerns. Of course, in response to Mass. deciding to grant marriage licenses to gay couples in 2004, states have codified the obvious.

31 On Feb 24, 2014, at 9:24pm, Paul Fekete wrote:

I think that if Christians did not support adulterous remarriages then we would not be called out for being inconsistent. I refused to attend an adulterous remarriage of a family member and all the evangelical friends, family members, and pastors supported and attended the wedding. I know some people follow through on the teachings of Jesus on adulterous remarriages, but I think the greater church has a lot of room to improve in this are. Where is the article on the gospel coalition or by Russell Moore on how we should not attend/support an adulterous remarriage ceremony? Or an article defining on how to recognize an adulterous remarriage? Something tells me that if people who get divorced have to experience public shame and could be denied access to remarriage in their church, then less people might get divorced in the first place and more legally divorced people could seek reconciliation. Isn’t that why Jesus shut down the practice of no-fault divorce in Matthew 19?

32 On Feb 25, 2014, at 10:59am, Doug Parker wrote:

So there should be no problem for Christians to subvert their Beliefs in accommodating the beliefs of others, according to our governnment.  I’m wondering how the public schools justify setting aside rooms for Moslem children to pray in five times a day and menues being rearranged for their religion under the no religion in school policies while Christians can’t sing in celebration of their religion.  Seems to me the AZ SB 1062 would go a long way toward eliminating one of the thousands of double/triple standards our government has been chaining us down with.

33 On Feb 25, 2014, at 1:28pm, Belinda wrote:

Please cite examples of other religions which face the same penalties as Christians.  That would prove wherein lies the true hypocrisy.  Christianity is not the only religion that does not believe in same-sex relationships.  Did the photographer pursue their business and then deny them?  No.  Why didn’t the same-sex couple seek out same-sex businesses to perform all their requests?  Time to reverse the lawsuits.  But then again, the courts’ intepretations of the law are immoral as well since they do not follow God’s laws, they follow the laws of the humans who took away our choices.  I boycott, change channels, don’t purchase things I do not believe in and will continue to do so.  Throw me in jail and fine me too.  Political correctness reeks.

34 On Feb 25, 2014, at 2:16pm, Judy wrote:

I really find so sad how nowdays christian are driven to believe sin is not a sin.
While we are living and should stand with the bible as our guidancw i totally can get in the bible any verse supporting sex of the same.
In if it is not bibilically, what is it then?
And why should a christian be involved in such things which can defile them?.
Preaching to them that what ww should.do, but not congratulating them when they are falling into a sin.

35 On Feb 25, 2014, at 6:40pm, Richard Winger wrote:

The Great Commandment is to go out in the world and teach all willing listeners about Jesus.  If a Christian cake-maker were to tell a gay couple, “Sorry, your wedding is immoral so I won’t work for you”, the result of that interchange would make the gay couple less likely to ever open themselves up to hearing about Jesus.  But if the cake-maker said, “In the spirit of my Christian love, I will help you celebrate your wedding, and I hope that you will consider accepting Jesus into your hearts”, wouldn’t that be a far better outcome?  We aren’t put on earth to tell others that they must not engage in this sin or that sin; we are put here to witness to God’s truth and to be examples of kindness.

36 On Feb 26, 2014, at 10:08am, Mary wrote:

Very thoughtful and insightful article. In a very loving but firm, way, you have clearly
stated why we as Christian Bible believers and followers object to homosexual unions, not hating the persons but not condoning this sin..
God bless.

37 On Feb 26, 2014, at 12:17pm, Sook wrote:

The problem with the Arizona bill is that it is so broadly worded that it could be used to deny gay people (and other groups) all kinds of services regardless of what those services are being used for.

Personally I support strong civil rights laws that broadly prevent denial of service to protected classes by most businesses. Such protections should extend not only to gay customers, but religious customers as well. However I would be O.K. with a narrow compromise where services that involve significant artistic [removed]ie cake-baking and photography) are exempted if the provider objects to the event. This exemption would NOT extend to bed-and-breakfasts, vehicle rentals, etc as these services do not provide a significant artistic narrative for an event. Religious people, however, should understand that this would work both ways. Such a compromise would also allow artistic entrepreneurs to refuse participation in religious events such as baptisms, bar mitzvahs, and religious weddings.

38 On Feb 26, 2014, at 9:40pm, Kent Kelley wrote:

The naïve reasoning many thoughtful and sincere Christians take on the same-sex marriage issue floors me. You don’t change people by agreeing with or enabling their behavior. We are “light”; light doesn’t change darkness by turning itself off. We forget the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 “Avoid every kind of evil.” and the warning of Ephesians 5:11 “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them”. Without question we shouldn’t approach anyone, including gays or lesbians, with hatred. Voicing honest objections to any lifestyle or moral behavior one finds repulsive or disturbing isn’t the same as foaming hatred. It’s voicing a conviction. Most troubling isn’t the confusion the average believer has about homosexuality or same-sex marriage but that pastors and leaders seem confused and lost too. Some leaders seem more bent on lecturing the “sheep” about love and tolerance than facing the wolves of moral relativism.

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