I know the arguments defending the idea that the federal government should define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. On some level, I agree with those arguments. I believe that any other definition of marriage flies in the face of creational reality; it’s simply inaccurate. However, in this fallen world I don’t really expect my government to have the capacity to see that. I am a Calvinist, after all. I believe that depravity has implications for our ability to know things, so why should I expect the government of a pluralist country to base its actions on an accurate reading of reality? I don’t.
I am reconciled to the fact that in my country the laws about marriage are not going to be in harmony with my Christian convictions. And let’s be clear: this is not a new situation. Our government recognizes lots and lots of marriages that I wouldn’t be willing to recognize, marriages at which I would be unwilling to officiate and many I would even be unwilling to attend as a guest. It has been a long time since we in this country have expected our government to enforce Christian standards of marriage.
Let me be specific. As a pastor, I will not marry a couple unless both bride and groom are members in good standing of a Christian church and demonstrate their faith by their lifestyle. Which is to say I will not officiate at a non-Christian wedding, nor will I marry a Christian to a non-Christian. I will not marry a couple if they are already living together before being married. If they are living together, I require them to repent of this decision and separate for a time that we will negotiate before I am willing to do the wedding. I will not marry a couple if I know that they are already having sex, and our pre-marital counseling sessions will cover this topic. I will not marry divorced people without a lot of conversation about the reasons for the divorce, including some assurance that the divorced person’s church was involved in the decision to divorce and has blessed this planned new marriage. I once refused to marry a couple because they were incapable of getting through a single pre-marital counseling session without fighting. I won’t marry a couple unless they say to one another in my presence that they want to love God more than they love each other. And no, I won’t marry a same-sex couple.
I don’t do very many weddings.
I hope that my government will continue to defend my right as a pastor to say no to any wedding that doesn’t meet my standards. I also hope that my non-Christian neighbors and fellow citizens will be able to see that my understanding of marriage is deeply counter-cultural, but that it is not rooted in homophobic bigotry. Of the many couples I have refused to marry, thus far they’ve all been heterosexual.
So here’s the question I’ve been thinking about. How does this work for people who aren’t pastors – for the wedding photographers and cake bakers who have been so much in the news?
I think I would be more sympathetic to the plight of Christians working in these industries if they were turning down more weddings. The truth is that anyone who is making a living as part of the wedding industrial complex is facilitating a lot of weddings that don’t meet the Biblical standards of marriage. They have already compromised a whole lot, which makes it a little difficult to see why they can’t possibly compromise any more.
Really, shouldn’t you be every bit as offended by a Christian person being yoked in marriage to an unbeliever as you are by a same-sex marriage? If your business is premised on the idea that by agreeing to photograph or bake for a wedding you are somehow endorsing that wedding (which isn’t a necessary premise for all photographers or bakers, but some Christian photographers and bakers seem to be arguing from that starting point), then shouldn’t you be refusing to photograph or bake for the unequally yoked? If you were to refuse to serve all couples whose weddings failed to meet your Christian standards, it would be a lot easier to defend the idea that this isn’t about homophobia or bigotry, but rather about the free expression of your religious convictions.
Of course, you wouldn’t be able to support yourself financially if that were your business plan, any more than I could support myself on the wedding honoraria that I’ve received in my career. As I said, I do very few weddings. On the other hand, so far I have no divorces.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the current discussion about same-sex marriage ended up resulting in Christians withdrawing from participation in the wedding industry? Wouldn’t it be astonishing if as a result of these discussions we would return to thinking about Christian weddings as events organized by the couple’s family and church community rather than by wedding professionals? If Christian couples planning to be married would have a budget in the hundreds of dollars instead of in the thousands or even tens-of-thousands?
I can dream.