Some weeks ago I was asked a very blunt question by a gay activist. His question was, “Wendy, would you attend a gay wedding and bring a gift – or would you snub the gay wedding?” The question seemed to come a bit out of the blue, not particularly connected to the preceeding dialogue in the comments section …. but there it was in black and white waiting for my response.
Now looking back, I wish I’d thought to have been wise like Jesus – who often answered such “testing” questions with a question in return. Or I wish I’d had some revelation of just the right parable to tell in response.
But not being as wise as Jesus, I’m not sure I could have come up with a question in response that wouldn’t have just seemed evasive and gutless. And man, where is a good parable when you need one? Instead, partly impulsive and partly with a commitment to engaging with authenticity, I decided to answer the question directly.
I responded and said, “I would go to a close friend’s gay wedding and yup, I’d bring a gift. I know that all of my close friends know what I believe about sexual ethics and would not assume my beliefs had changed but that my attendance was a sign of my love and friendship. I’m sure I would get some serious flack for this decision – but at the end of the day, I believe loving people is what God asks of me.”
I suppose at the time I was most thinking of gay and lesbian people (if anyone at all) reading my response. And despite what could be read as a flippant tone in my response, this is a question and a scenario that I have given much thought and prayer to. My focus in responding to the question was seeing an opportunity to build a bridge and to give a practical example of unconditional love in action. Unconditional love doesn’t mean unconditional approval.
Joe Dallas in his book, “When Homosexuality Hits Home” speaks about both conscience and comfort needing to be considered when making decisions about engagement with those with whom we hold disagreements – about homosexuality or really any other number of issues. And different people have different sensitivities in terms of their own conscience and their own comfort levels.
In I Corinthians chapter 8 Paul speaks about the issue of food being sacrificed to idols – and he explains that some people could go ahead and eat such food with the understanding that there is no power behind it …. while others with a weaker conscience were best to stay away from such meat. Then he goes on to say, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”
And here is the dilemma. I am very comfortable around gay and lesbian people – no problem there. In looking at my own conscience, I have a secure sense of peace that God knows my heart in intentionally extending love and friendship to my gay neighbours and that attending any celebratory event of a gay couple or family would be an expression of that love and friendship. I am reminded in Luke 15 of the parable Jesus tells of leaving the 99 sheep (in the open country none-the-less where they could wander off, be attacked by wolves etc.) to go and search for the one who was lost. I want my presence in my friendships with the gay people in my life to sing with the presence of Jesus – so that if they don’t know him, they might encounter him – and if they do know him, that they would be encouraged in their relationship with him.
And so while I read Paul’s words – and would not want my actions or decisions to be a stumbling block to any other follower of Jesus (though, I hardly think that my willingness to attend a gay wedding is going to suddenly open the flood-gates of Christians showing up at the best decorated wedding receptions in the land) ….. I have to say that the words of Jesus are trump for me. I certainly do not seek to intentionally offend or scandalize other believers. But at the end of the day, they can go and find like-minded believers to hang out with and be encouraged by. God has called me to befriend and love my gay neighbours – and I will seek to love them with as robust a love as I can offer.
Truth is, this isn’t theoretical stuff for us at New Direction. These are real life decisions we need to prayerfully discern. And as Brian shares in the next post the practical out-working of such a decision, we pray that the fruit of our discernment and love will be evident for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. In the end, whether you agree or disagree, we will seek to embody the presence of Jesus in all of the unique and particular places God calls us to – and encourage you to do the same in your own circles of influence.