On Weddings and Conscience: Are Christians Hypocrites?
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quotes me telling the photographer that he need not investigate the background of every wedding he performs, but they do not quote the next sentence: “But when there is an obvious deviation from the biblical reality, sacrifice the business for the conscience, your own and those of the ones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)