What would you do?

What would you do? November 4, 2013

A letter from a reader, and I wonder what you would advise her?

Hello Dr. McKnight!
I’ve been following your work recently at the recommendation of a friend, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve absorbed so far. In fact, I was one of the questioners during the Q&A [at an event I spoke at some time back].

I can only find three clear passages (in Romans, 1 Cor, and 1 Tim) that speak to homosexuality but have no advice in regards of application. Speaking from the New Testament, where is the line drawn when it comes to homosexuals? I have many gay friends and I am constantly finding myself in uncomfortable situations with them and others that I meet. I love these people, I want to love them like Christ does, but I have a predicament.

I photograph weddings for a living, with a big emphasis on pure love and creating an everlasting covenant with God. As much as I know it isn’t unrighteous of me to have these friends over for dinner, help them move a couch, or drive them to the airport what I don’t know is if I would be doing something greatly offensive to God if I accepted a wedding request from a gay couple. I currently have a gay friend that has repeatedly stated that when she finds the perfect girl that she is going to have me shoot her wedding. I’m terrified. I don’t know when “providing a service” ends and fully advocating something greatly offensive to God begins. All the information I have sought out on my own has been very ambiguous as I assume nobody wants to speak boldly about this topic given its current political heat.

I don’t know if there is a clear answer to this, but I would be so blessed to have your thoughts on this matter. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and I apologize for the lack of eloquence.

A sister in Christ,


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  • I’m not trying to speak for God or anything, but it seems to me that in the Bible Jesus usually gets offended when one of three things happen: 1. People in positions of authority actively or passively oppress those under them 2. People actively or passively do something with the intention of harming another person 3. People use their status or belief system to exclude others.

    So, as far as offending God, I’m not sure that you photographing your dear friends’ wedding would fall into any of those categories. You gotta do what you think is right and I can’t speak for your relationship with your friends or with God, but I think God is generally in favor of Love and of celebrating good things, and it seems like this wedding would fit that bill.

  • As I understand them, using the 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy verses relies on a particular Greek word that we just don’t know the meaning for. In this case, the two verses can’t honestly be used in the discussion.

    Otherwise, I’m in the same boat. I’m stuck on the fence when it comes to Romans 1 and the Levitical commandment, because I don’t know the extent of either context. Is the Leviticus verse restricted to an anti-pagan context (like eating pigs and shellfish), or is it universal? And if it is universal, did it ‘pass away’, or was it ever applicable to Gentiles?

    Is the Romans 1 section (which looks like a paraphrase of Wisdom 13-14) condemning people with raging lust, or is it condemning homosexuality as a whole, even those relationships that genuinely do seem based on love?

    And from there, even if they *do* condemn it all, where do we draw the line in ‘supporting’ them in their relationships?

  • mattrcoulter

    Take the pictures… ten years ago, I would have said the exact opposite, but the way in which I’ve grown to understand the Kingdom of God since then would lead me to say, take the pictures.

    Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners, and when he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton he did nothing to defend himself or counter those misperceptions. If you photograph your friends’ wedding, some will perceive you as being an “advocate” (as you put it) for gay marriage — and you will know the truth. The truth is you are doing exactly what Jesus did: eating and drinking with gluttons and drunkards. Loving people who need to be loved. Stepping out and doing something radically uncomfortable for the purpose of being Jesus to someone.

    Additionally, let’s look at the practical ramifications of this decision. If you choose not to take their pictures, they are still going to get married. They will still have the wedding. Will you go? Would you read Scripture for them? Sing a song for them? Sit in the audience and not say anything during the service? Would those actions all not provide the same “advocacy” as photographing the wedding? But not going (or not participating) means two things: your friends will be married, and they will have done it without you. You would have sacrificed a bit of loving friendship simply to make a theological point. In my mind, that wouldn’t be worth it, and it seem like that’s not what the Kingdom is about.

    Instead, I’d embrace this opportunity to show the kind of radical love that Jesus showed, and when people accuse you of supporting sin, respond like Jesus did: don’t bother defending yourself, because your accusers won’t understand the crazy ways in which the Kingdom operates.

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t believe God would be offended in either case… Personally, I don’t know if that’s the best language to use when talking about these sorts of things. It reminds me of the trope of the old church lady fanning herself to keep from fainting upon hearing some off-color language.

    But, anyway, I think the best place to start would be to have an honest conversation with your friend. Tell her you love her and want nothing but the best for her, but you have some some hesitation about photographing her wedding. I would think from a practical standpoint, even, you could make the case that it would be hard to do your best work when in such a situation. If she still insists, I guess personally, I may still do the wedding. I don’t see providing such a service as an endorsement of anything. The wedding would go on even if you weren’t there. I know many of my Christian friend wouldn’t agree with me on this, and would see providing any type of service as a tacit approval, but I think we all draw these lines differently.

  • Animal

    Jesus dined with sinners. Eating their food didn’t mean He approved of or supported their lifestyles. Photographing a gay wedding doesn’t mean you approve of their lifestyle. Go, and simply share and show the love of Christ to them. How else are they going to hear truth and see the love of Christ?

  • Jeff Martin

    I would say that Jesus’ eating w/sinners is a whole different scenario. While they were eating they were not in the midst of committing themselves to a life of sin. She should not do it but give the reason why so they are not left confused. If they are good friends they should understand why. But more importantly she should feel strongly that it is a wrong lifestyle before she would say no, otherwise it would be succumbing simply to peer pressure from one side.

  • Jon Altman

    Jesus never required “repentance” before he extended love.

  • To me, it’s as simple as this. As a photographer, you’re not in a position to pass judgement on the advisability of any marriage. Sadly, people get married for all kinds of reasons, not all of them good. There are those who do need to, or at least should, take part in the evaluation process of the decision to marry — pastors, marriage counselors, etc. — not photographers. I don’t think it’s that hard a position to be in as a photographer because you are simply providing a service for hire. That said, as a friend it might be a little more complicated I suppose and I’ll stay silent on that part since I don’t know any of you. Ultimately, let the Holy Spirit and the example Jesus set guide you on how to best be a friend in this situation.

  • Preston

    Jason Bilbrey from the Marin Foundation just posted on a topic somewhat related. You may find his discussion helpful, if not persuasive:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/loveisanorientation/2013/11/why-you-should-attend-your-gay-loved-ones-wedding/

  • Carl Axel Franzon

    For me, one of the challenges is that for me this is not as clearly addressed in Scripture as I would like (but then again, most things are not though we want them to be).

    Does “Jesus ate with sinners” apply? Would there be times when that would not be? What if your friends invited you to a launch party for their new pornography movie? Or, a “we are getting divorced party”. I don’t know. Yes, Jesus was willing to associate with people, but is eating with them the same as attending an event that institutionalizes a sin?

    I am not saying I wouldn’t. I think that I, as an evangelical, have been too quick to distance. So, there is also some measure of thinking about how this affects the relationship with the person.

    So, am I waffling? Yes. Because I think it’s a challenging situation and requires wisdom and not just a few random verses or Jesus jukes thrown at it.

  • Kristen

    One thing that my pastor pointed out to me a few years ago when I was wrestling with something similar was, “when in doubt, err on the side of grace.”
    People get married for all sorts of different reasons, and have all sorts of different understandings of marriage. Is marriage essentially companionate or essentially procreative? Does the photographer only offer services to Christian couples? Only Christian couples who understand marriage in a complementarian light? Only Christian couples who understand marriage in an egalitarian light? If eventually they have every reason to believe that staying in this marriage will make them decidedly unhappy for the rest of their lives, do they stick with it regardless because that’s what vows mean or decide eventually to cut your losses and move on?
    These are all really important questions about marriage and family and society. They matter. But I’m guessing the photographer doesn’t run through that list of questions generally before accepting clients. I’m sure there are some couples who have very different understandings of marriage. Can the writer think of a same-sex in a similar sort of way?
    And when in doubt, err on the side of grace.

  • Rebecca Cynamon-Murphy

    Whatever you decide to do, please do not steal joy from your friend by sitting her down to explain your reasons. She knows your views on homosexuality and clearly loves you anyway. She doesn’t need the added stress of dealing with your internal conflict as you figure out your right relationship with God. Weddings are stressful enough as it is. A simple, “yes, I would love to” or “no, I’d rather not” will be appreciated. And if she doesn’t know how you feel about homosexuality? Tell her now, before she gets engaged.

  • Tim

    Well, first you have to decide if Scripture speaks clearly on this matter. While certainly there is an argument that can be made that Scripture denounces these type of unions, I think the case is hardly overwhelming. Particularly given all the cultural issues, such as temple prostitution and rampant promiscuity that Paul intertwined in his treatment of homosexuality. Not to mention the allowances we make for cultural relativity in other passages (hair length anyone?).

    But if you do decide that the Bible is very clear that monogamous, committed homosexual unions are sinful, or that you can’t tolerate the uncertainty, then you are indeed in a conundrum. And if you resolve this conundrum in a manner that deligitimizes your friend’s union, and limits your participation in what they may see as the happiest and most important day of their life…well, you would have run into an aspect of religion often denounced by its critics. Religion can divide. It can limit our ability to connect and participate in the lives of others outside the fold, or outside the doctrinal dictates of the fold. And that, to me, is sad. Maybe this sort of thing is what Lennon had in mind when he asked us to imagine a world without religion? Maybe you could empathize now as to why.

  • TomE

    Does the logic of “they are going to get married anyway” apply if I’m not a photographer but I’m the person presiding over the ceremony?

  • Animal

    Straw man?

  • Say you have non-Christian acquaintances who are getting married for all the wrong reasons. (They’re incompatible, but too attracted to one another to see it; they’re selfish, and in no way ready to submit to one another; they’re not monogamous; you name it.) Would you photograph their wedding?

    Most of us never bother to analyze the reasons people get married. We just shrug and say we’re happy for them. Until they’re gay. Then suddenly we get outraged and try to hold them to a Christian standard. Why is that? Bluntly, it’s because of our own prejudices. If we were truly concerned about marriage per se, we’d show a lot more concern over every marriage, and not just the ones which we superficially consider more sinful than others.

  • Carl Axel Franzon

    Would you please elaborate what you mean here Greg. I am simply wondering if the argument that “Jesus dined with sinners” has any limits? Or, does it suggest that we go and support our friends no matter what they are doing. A friend gets a job at a strip club – do we go and support their first night on the job? The neighbor invites you to the ribbon cutting of their new adult bookstore?

    I agree we are called to radical love and being willing to associate with people with whom we disagree, and display grace. But, for my part associating and approving are not always easy to separate.

  • John Haselton

    I say take the pictures. You can’t very well show Christian friendship by refusing. Do what you love to do for the person you love. You can make it clear that you’re not approving of everything that is going on while making it plain that you love the people that God created who are doing it.

  • patriciamc

    Photographing your friend’s wedding is not the same thing as endorsing the union, and attending certainly isn’t going to cause you to sin. So, look at it this way: what is going to open the door to people possibly accepting Christ? If you take the pictures, then the dialog with your friend is open. If you don’t take the pictures, then that door is probably closed. Sometimes we Christians get so wrapped up in our own holiness that we forget others. I say do what will more likely lead people to God, and here’s it’s being a kind friend and taking the pictures.

  • Barb

    Wow–personally I think you should gladly and without reservation photograph this and other weddings. The church has inflicted great harm on homosexuals–your actions can help restore the relationship.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I don’t understand the psychology of her thinking the union is inherently sinful if she’s truly friends with these people and celebrates in their happiness. I don’t think she’s a bad person, but I don’t get how the cognitive dissonance overrides natural empathy and solidarity.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I think there needs to be some clarification on the examples used of Jesus eating with “sinners.” First off, the “sinners” Jesus consorted with were declared sinners by the general population because they were outsiders, either from their profession (tax collecting, prostitution) or physical condition (leprosy, mental illness). They were not sinners as in people who routinely hurt/mistreated other people.

    In addition, in the 1st century context, eating with people DID mean that you accepted them . . if you thought a person was morally deplorable, you did not share your table with them. Jesus in eating with the people deemed outcast for various reasons was signifying that they were as much a part of God’s family as anyone else.

    Way too much bad theology has turned the radical nature of this message (expounded very nicely in Mr. Frye’s postings here) into Jesus basically consorting with sinners ie the immoral to “save” them . . .which is completely missing the point.

  • I believe we have strong theological grounds for accepting gay people within the Church:

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/on-the-sinfulness-of-homsexuality-von-der-sundigkeit-der-homosexualitat-deutschunten/

    Given the relative importance of homosexuality and social justice in the Gospel (and the whole Bible) I am truly dumbstruck by the amount of time Conservative Evangelicals spend on homosexuality while not only tolerating atrocious discrepancies between the healthcare for poor and rich children but also OPPOSING every attempt to change this tragic situation.

    “You will recognize a tree by its fruits…” Jesus warned us.

  • Susan_G1

    I photograph weddings for a living, with a big emphasis on pure love and creating an everlasting covenant with God.

    I don’t think you do this. If so, how do you measure it, by the number of times they mention God? Ask if they’re virgins? Check out the situation with the minister to see if he/(she??) thinks they are in good faith creating an everlasting covenant before you decide to shoot?

    There is lots of good and loving advice already given. I’d like to offer a different perspective.

    I don’t know when “providing a service” ends and fully advocating something greatly offensive to God begins.

    I don’t think you should be in the service industry if you really believe this. Throughout Scripture, God condemns lying, pride, adultery, failing to provide for widows, orphans, the poor, the marginalized. By your standards, the Good Samaritan should have checked the injured man’s references before he rendered assistance, let alone provide funds to rehabilitate him. But in Christ’s parable, he didn’t. He simply loved the man as he would have wanted to be loved, that’s all. That’s what Christ calls us to do: to love God and love our neighbor. If you want to be certain your photography is not abetting sinfulness, maybe you should specialize in non-human subjects, because we are all sinners, we *all* fall short of the glory of God.

    I work in the ED. Once very early on, we had two gunshot victims come in at the same time from a bar. One was shot in the chest and was basically dead on arrival. My colleague took that one. The second had a gunshot to the thigh. I was naive enough to believe back then that they were shot by the same person. So (and this was long before patient privacy was an issue), while I started taking care of this man, I expressed my sympathy for his friend. He said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “That wasn’t your friend who was shot with you?” He repeated his first response. By then he was undressed and I was examining the wound, and realized to my horror that the thigh wound was self-inflicted. It turned out that he had shot himself while putting the gun back in his pants. This man was the shooter. I was rendering service to a murderer.

    Of course, once I realized he was the murderer, I pulled out his IV, pushed him off the litter to the floor, and told security to drag him out of my ED until the police arrived to take him away.

    Actually, you probably know that’s not what I did. It’s not even what I wanted to do. I just did my job, the same as always.

    In the ED, we get all the offenders (for medical clearance) before they go to jail. I’ve taken care of rapists, child molesters, murderers, DUIs who’ve killed innocent people, perpetrators of domestic abuse, and many other criminals. I’ve taken care of their victims, too. I long ago learned not to ask the police what the patient had done, unless it was pertinent to their medical care, because I don’t want to judge them. I want to treat everybody like a child of God, loved by God, entitled to my best. And I have never worried even once that I was complicit in their sinful lifestyles. I leave that to Christ to judge someday. Till then, I’ll just do my job, and hope that God’s love comes through.

    If I have offended you with my preachiness, I do ask for your forgiveness. I just wanted to offer up a flip side to your dilemma, hoping to help you see if you have a dilemma.

  • “I am simply wondering if the argument that “Jesus dined with sinners” has any limits.”
    It does. If we are to emulate Christ, it’s limitied by your death after a lifetime spent in service to those sinners. I hope that date is very far in the future.
    In the interim, err on the side of grace.

  • EdinburghEye

    Hello. I’m coming at this from a different direction, as a lesbian who proposed to her girlfriend yesterday and is very much looking forward to getting married.

    Miss Manners points out, rightly, the difficulty of asking friends to perform professional services for you. Not only is there a difficulty about payment, there’s also a difficulty about intent.

    If your friend asked a professional photographer to take their wedding photos, then it would be none of her business what the professional’s personal views on LGBT people and marriage are, because a professional should do the job they’re hired for to the best of their abilities regardless of their personal views.

    If your friend asks you to take the wedding photos, it would be because she loves and respects you and believes that you love and respect her. I admire the Christianity of the people in most of these comments who say “take the photos anyway” but if you’re planning to take the photos with private reservations about how these people have relationships inferior to your own, then don’t. If you feel that way, you really don’t love or respect your friend: you can’t love or respect from a position of judgemental superiority.

    And speaking for myself: If I asked a friend to take our wedding photos, and found out later – no matter how many years later – that the friend was privately thinking thoughts about how you shouldn’t condone our relationship and shouldn’t look like you were by taking our photos: it would spoil the photos for me. What I’d thought was a testament of friendship would have turned into a testament of bigotry.

    That said: I honestly don’t get from your letter that you want to be in a position of judgemental superiority: what I get is that you think you’re supposed to feel that way, but you don’t. I’m intensely happy that the woman I love has agreed to share her life with me. I wish your friend the same happiness when she meets her partner: and I wish you to let go of the feeling that you “ought to” cast a blight on their happiness, and go take those photos.

  • While it’s true that Jesus dined with sinners, I believe that the biblical evidence points toward those sinners not continuing on in their life of sin after having encountered Jesus. The tax collectors did not go on collecting taxes (Matthew), or they repented of their cheating ways and paid back those whom they had extorted (Zaccheus). The prostitutes did not go on prostituting, but found new life in supporting Jesus’ ministry (Mary Magdalene). While the woman caught in adultery was not judged or punished by Jesus, he did command her to leave her life of sin. Jesus’ heart was always open wide to sinners, including them in radical and scandalous ways, but he never celebrated their sin. He always demanded repentance, and most (with the exception of the rich young ruler) seemed happy to oblige this demand. You might even say that Jesus dined with sinners in order to bring them to repentance.

  • I wish I could give this +1000.

  • Ben English

    I think it’s also important to note that the Pauline references to coercive homosexual activity are rather far divorced from the loving and committed relationships of your friends. There is no prescriptive action to take because the scenario you describe was not even an inkling in Paul’s mind.

    I would encourage you to err, if you must err, on the side of love. Your friends love you in spite of your beliefs about their hypothetical marriage; should you show any less compassion for them despite your misgivings about their request?

  • I am dismayed that not a single comment mentions the keyword ‘conscience’. 1 Cor 8, 1 Cor 23-33, and Rom 14 are very instructive. See Acts 24:16.

    So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

    Recall that the passages I referenced above have to do with eating meat sacrificed to idols, observing a specific day as Sabbath or not, etc. From these passages, it is very clear: It is sin to take the photos if doing so would stain your conscience. This isn’t to say that your conscience is fully-developed and doesn’t need changing—it always does, given that we are not yet perfect as our father in heaven is perfect. This being said, having a seared conscience—one which has been continually violated—is one of the two reasons Paul advocating that someone be turned over for the destruction of their flesh (1 Cor 5:1-5, 1 Tim 1:18-20).

  • I’m no bible scholar, so take this all with a grain of salt, but I’d say that if you combine what we know about homosexuality (that it’s innate rather than just a “lifestyle choice”), and consider that within the context of those verses, they’re not verses against homosexuality per se rather than about choosing the spirit vs. the flesh. And what meaty bits go where is trivial when it comes to the spirit.

    First, let’s look at Romans, where Paul talks about people abandoning God in exchange for idols and thus being given over to their “shameful lusts” and trading the “natural” use of their bodies for “unnatural,” homosexual ones. The standard reading would be that people worshiped idols, and this made God mad, so He turned them gay because being gay makes Him mad too and He wanted to hate them more. *This makes no sense.* I get that God’s ways are not our ways and His sense of morals is more advanced than what our puny ape brains can grasp, but that is simple, flat-out insanity.

    However, look at it like this and it starts to make sense: people traded God – a spiritual thing, *The* Spiritual Thing – for worldly things. Worldly goods, worldly pleasures. However, those provide a very shallow sort of satisfaction…and, as many an addict can tell you, it’s only so long before the stuff you start with doesn’t cut it and you need bigger and bigger fixes. So these folks who decided to go after flesh and sex needed crazier and crazier things to get them off – so they started “experimenting.”

    That says nothing about folks who are already homosexual, or how they or their gay sex are somehow inherently bad; it says a lot about sex addicts and the route that hedonism takes.

    As for 1st Corinthians, look at what “homosexuality” is paired with: drunkenness, idolatry, adultery, slander, grifting, and other things associated with the wickedness of the world. While traditionally we’ve read that as “gays are naturally amoral hedonists,” we know that they’re not (at least, not more than any of the rest of us). Hence, I’d read that not as “gay sex is bad” but “anonymous gay bathhouse sex with strangers is bad.” It’s a diatribe against hedonism and worldliness, not homosexuality; homosexuality is only bad when it’s worldly and hedonistic. Same goes for 1st Timothy: it’s paired with other worldly, hedonistic activities.

    Look a little earlier in 1st Timothy, and you’ll see Paul talking about “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” *These* are the important qualities in a Christian. If you have those, you’re doing it right.

    Read the rest of Romans, but replace “circumcision” with “homosexuality” and you’ll find the same principle holds true for both. Serving God is done in spirit and truth and love. Sexual immorality comes from using other people as nothing more than objects for your own pleasure; not from whether you have the “correct” set of meaty bits for the objects of your affections. To behave otherwise is to put your faith in the flesh, and not the Spirit.

  • Christyinlosangeles

    I’m wondering if your friend knows that you think homosexuality is wrong? I get the impression that perhaps she doesn’t, if she wants your to photograph her future wedding. If that is the case, then I would encourage you to put yourself in her shoes: She thinks the two of you are good friends, she meets the love of her life, and then, when she asks you to photograph her wedding, you drop the bomb that you think her relationship is sinful. It’s not hard to figure out how hurtful that would be, and how betrayed she might feel.

    So, if you genuinely think that it would be sinful for your friend to marry her (at this point hypothetical) girlfriend, you owe it to her to let her know NOW that you think supporting her marriage would be offensive to God. This is probably not going to go over well, and will probably damage your friendship, but I think it’s unfair to your friend to hide the fact that you morally disapprove of something fairly central to who she is. (Assuming this is a close friend, and not just an acquaintance.)

    Having said that, there was a point in my life when I officially believed that homosexuality was wrong – not because that was what I really felt, but because there wasn’t any space in the evangelical world to think otherwise and I was afraid of having my evangelical membership card revoked, so I had a fair amount of cognitive dissonance. If you find yourself in the same situation, go with your gut. You won’t be sorry in the long run, even if you experience some short-term fallout.

  • Cuniraya, Antichrist

    So there is a cheap solution to this problem. You, the letter writer, do not want to do this for free because you feel it is actively condoning gay marriage; but you wouldn’t have a problem photographing a gay marriage as a job, why not just ask for a symbolic payment? Ask for a second bag of jordan almonds, a bouquet of flowers, or the cheap pot holders that Aunt Nora gets everyone. It means you are being paid for your work, but also doing this because you love your friend.

  • Ben English

    By that same logic, one could argue that her conscience is telling her that kindness to her friend is more important than her fear. She says she fears doing something very offensive to God, as though Grace only covers her so far as who she chooses to take photos for. Social stigma, especially when reinforced by religion, is more likely to quench conscience than sincere effort at friendship.

  • Ben English

    If you as the presiding minister believe homosexual weddings are inherently wrong, then I rather doubt your friends would ask you to officiate in the first place.

  • I’m not really sure what you’re saying. Instead of offering a negative argument, how would you explain what the Bible says about ‘conscience’? If you were to teach on it, what would you say? Let’s compare our two approaches; I think that would be the most productive course of action, if you are willing.

  • Ben English

    I’m simply saying she should not mistake fear for conscience. Conscience occurs when you do something you know is wrong or fail to do something you know is right. This is not that case here. The Bible does not have any specific instruction on what to do when a homosexual friend asks you to photograph their wedding because the concepts of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘photography’ and all the numerous inventions and constructs that made this dilemma possible did not exist when the Bible was written.

    She is not being asked to do something she knows is wrong, but rather she’s being asked to photograph an event that her religous beliefs lead her to believe is sinful. Applying what the Bible says about conscience to this case where conscience is not really an accurate descriptor of her feelings doesn’t help us. The issue here is that she comes from a Christian tradition that teaches that a loving and committed relationship between two women is wrong if that relationship becomes sexual, and therefore (and for other reasons, presumably) a marriage uniting this couple is also immoral. Or to put more simply, her religious beliefs are leading her towards perpetuating, however accidentally, the exclusion of a sister in Christ over a religious and social stigma.

    My argument is that if one must err in a morally ambiguous dilemma, then err on the side of grace and compassion. To act against grace and compassion is a violation of conscience; to act against a social and religious stigma is a matter of fear and guilt, which there should be none of in Christ.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “He always demanded repentance,”

    No, he didn’t. Matthew voluntarily left his job to follow Jesus. Mary was never a prostitute, and Zaccheus didn’t change his ways until after Jesus had already accepted him by wanting to enter his house as a guest.

  • Conscience occurs when you do something you know is wrong or fail to do something you know is right.

    This does not seem to be valid exegesis of the Bible. One of the contexts is the eating of food sacrificed to idols. Paul knew that this wasn’t an issue. But he also knew that some people’s consciences ‘knew’ it was a sin to eat such food. So they ‘knew’ something which was actually false. Paul’s response was that they ought to obey their consciences.

    You seem to think that one’s conscience is always correct; it isn’t and I thought I made this clear:

    This isn’t to say that your conscience is fully-developed and doesn’t need changing—it always does, given that we are not yet perfect as our father in heaven is perfect.

    We as Christians believe that God will lead us toward perfection if we are humble and open to the ministering of the Holy Spirit. This involves things like realizing that it is ok to eat food sacrificed to idols—that one’s conscience was wrong.

    My argument is that if one must err in a morally ambiguous dilemma, then err on the side of grace and compassion.

    This isn’t precisely what the Bible says. Why are you ignoring its teaching on conscience? I’m not advocating any given response on the homosexuality issue—I’ve very intentionally not said anything about it. Is the Bible’s teaching on conscience not sufficiently clear?

  • I’m simply saying she should not mistake fear for conscience.

    I don’t mean to discount this as a valid concern. But I also question whether you are trying to let her make this decision, or whether you are imposing your ideology on her. One can very subtly do violence to someone else’s conscience. Or one can appeal to scripture and the Holy Spirit’s witness in that person. “These are some scriptures I find relevant, but it is up to you and the Holy Spirit for what you do with them.” You don’t quite seem to be doing this. You seem to be pushing an agenda. This concerns me—regardless of the agenda. I don’t care if the agenda is world peace!

    I implore you to do more pointing-out-scripture and less imposing your particular view on others. Scripture and the Holy Spirit are just more reliable than we are! We can’t completely avoid imposing our view, because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to talk. But there is a balance, just like there always is. I see almost no scripture from you, which seems to indicate it doesn’t take a prominent role in your life. Maybe it does and I can’t see it—I’m just going off of what you’ve written and it isn’t much.

  • Ben English

    It’s sufficiently clear, but the question is how does it apply to the writer of this letter. She is not the one engaging in the activity believed to be sinful–the homosexual relationship. She is asking us to help her choose between violating one conviction (perpetuating discrimination against a class to which her friend belongs) and another conviction (being seen as endorsing her friend’s marriage in spite of her church’s teaching).

    My argument is that conscience itself is an inadequate metric and that something more primary to the Christian faith–the injunction to love your neighbor as yourself–should be given more weight. The issue of meat sacrificed to idols is not an equivalent issue because in refusing that food, they were not hurting the seller.

  • There is no prescriptive action to take because the scenario you describe was not even an inkling in Paul’s mind.

    This just isn’t true, as I point out. Conscience is always relevant to matters like this, and the NT talks about it quite a lot.

  • You are engaging in the fallacy of “you are either for me or against me”, which is a claim that only two beings can make: Satan and Jesus.

    Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

    The person who wrote to Scot will not be “perpetuating discrimination against a class to which her friends belong” by declining to take photos. You truly can love someone even if you aren’t sure that what they’re doing is correct. This is the core of Christianity: loving people even though they aren’t perfect. Loving people doesn’t mean approving of everything they ask you to approve of! This is evil.

    Who asks people to violate their consciences? Surely not Christians! So in terms of “love your neighbor as yourself”, I hope that the author’s friend wouldn’t want the author to take pictures if it bothers her. The golden rule, contra what you say, never asks Christians to violate their consciences. This is the way to seared consciences, group-style.

    Now, as I noted, maybe this isn’t a conscience issue. That is for the author to decide, not you. Love does not insist on its own way. It’s find to suggest it, but you’re insisting on it. I cannot justify such behavior with scripture; can you?

  • Ben English

    She may not be contributing to the broader hate the sinner mentality the church has taken towards gays and lesbians, but at the very least she is deeply concerned on whether or not she should take an action that may be emotionally hurtful to her friend. If I sound pushy, it’s because I sincerely dislike guilt-trips based on Biblical proof-texting without careful consideration of the context, which is what I felt your initial post I responded to was doing.

    I don’t mean to insist on my own way, but I felt that your appeal to the Romans passage about conscience is misguide because that logic can be extended well beyond the context in which the Roman church would have received that letter.

    If and when her friend actually asks her to take the photos, the writer should absolutely follow her conscience. But at this point, we’re still dealing with a hypothetical. I hope that she can resolve her doubts before she’s put in that position.

  • Wow, 6 down votes. I didn’t even know that was a thing we did here.

    Anyway, Andrew, thanks for responding. I would counter that Jesus’ ministry was built on a foundational call for repentance. Matthew records his first public words as, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (4:17) As for Matthew’s leaving his job as a tax collector voluntarily, I would say that’s exactly what repentance is. He had to leave that life behind in order to become a disciple. Mary Magdalene was a poor choice on my part, but the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet was certainly doing so, in part, as an act of repentance. Zaccheus did, in fact, change his ways as a response to the grace of Jesus. But imagine what Jesus would have said if Zaccheus had not repented!

    I understand Jesus’ eating with sinners not as a 21st-century liberal expression of acceptance, but as a way of demonstrating agape love through grace and forgiveness with the intent of wooing “sinners” to repentance and, through that, to fully devoted discipleship.

    I also never said one way or the other what I thought the photographer should do. I was simply responding to what I thought were several somewhat sloppy applications of Jesus’ eating with sinners.

  • scotmcknight

    I agree with your orientation, Andy.

  • I sound pushy, it’s because I sincerely dislike guilt-trips based on Biblical proof-texting without careful consideration of the context, which is what I felt your initial post I responded to was doing.

    You certainly seem to be laying a guilt trip on nice and thick based on not-Bible, though? How was I proof-texting? The only passage I mentioned which got near sexuality was 1 Cor 5:1-5, and that was merely to give both examples where Paul advocated “turning people over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh”. The point is that doing anything—anything—to contribute to the searing of a fellow believer’s conscience will not be viewed kindly by our Lord and Savior.

    I don’t mean to insist on my own way, but I felt that your appeal to the Romans passage about conscience is misguide because that logic can be extended well beyond the context in which the Roman church would have received that letter.

    This comes out of an attitude of fear and distrust of the Holy Spirit. I suggest reading the Screwtape Letters, and recognize that anything can be perverted. Anything! Any scripture can be misinterpreted. Any passage! The guard that each of us has is our conscience which, if we are submitting to the Holy Spirit and to another (Eph 5:21), will guide us. You are welcome to challenge the author as to whether these inclinations are from her conscience or from something else, but you’re going beyond that. You are were dismissing conscience. That is not the Christian way.

  • TomE

    That what I would have thought as well but is not what happened. They have asked.

  • Darrin Snyder Belousek

    Agreed–the call to repentance is the overriding premise of Jesus’ ministry, as Andy observes, and the synoptic Gospels are replete with varied calls to repentance (not all using the explicit term “repent”). Indeed, Jesus’ call “follow me” is itself a call to repentance–to turn away from what one was doing and where one’s life was headed and redirect one’s life along the way of Jesus.

    An aside, about the “down” votes: I’ve noticed with the Disqus system that it will show you who has voted “up” but not who has voted “down.” We thus don’t even know who voted Andy’s post “down,” much less why. That, I think, is a troubling lack of transparency and accountability: it allows “down” voters to hide behind anonymity, which contravenes the rules of posting on this blog (as I understand them). I think there should be parity between “up” and “down” votes (i.e., names visible for both), or there should be no voting either way

  • Andrew Dowling

    “with the intent of wooing “sinners” to repentance and, through that, to fully devoted discipleship.”

    But you are completely reading this into the text. Jesus never says anything to the effect of “you can join me, if you repent now” or “if you repent later.” Which is partly why he was so considered so radical. A Jewish rabbi calling “sinners” to repentance is not radical at all . . that is standard Judaism.

    With your comment about “21st century liberal acceptance,” you are applying a 21st standard of “sinner” onto 1st century people and texts. These weren’t “sinners” anymore than an abused 17 year turning tricks to feed her baby is a “sinner.” Certain diseases were also attributed to “sin” as it was a common belief that “sins of the family” found their way onto the adherents through physical affliction.

    Jesus upset people because he through his actions basically said “these arbitrary boundary lines are crap; those who are true sinners are those who mistreat their neighbor and exploit others.” He goes ape in the Temple and against certain temple priests because of the latter points . . those are who need to repent, but Jesus never shows any anger towards anyone simply because of their profession or circumstance, and he never in the Gospels mandates that they “repent” to follow him. You seem to think I’m turning Jesus into a free love hippie, but that’s assuming those people classified as “sinners” are the true ones sinning. They wern’t. Jesus had lots of anger towards those he considered the real sinners.

    And even then, he didn’t mandate repentance for inclusion into his family. He had faith that God’s power would overcome “God raises the sun on the just and unjust.” Repentance came through radical love and mercy . . that’s why the Prodigal Son parable was and is still such a scandal and a hard pill to swallow . . it turns our traditional notions of deserved justice upside down.

  • You reminded me of a passage—I think it’s in a prophet—where God switches up the order of blessings and repentance. One might expect it to be:

         (1) first admit you were wrong
         (2) then I bless you

    What shocked me was that the order was (2) → (1)! Sadly, I can’t seem to find it now. My wife recalls me talking about it and examining the passage herself, so I know it’s there. 😐

    The above being said, I think you are entirely wrong to reject that Jesus “always demanded repentance”—unless you have an issue with ‘demanded’? I can see a Romans 2:4-type objection:

    Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

    This is that (2) → (1) phenomenon that could be called ‘The Gospel’. 🙂

    So, do you agree with my modified version of Andrew Holt’s argument, or do you mean to say that Jesus would be ok with no repentance at all?

  • Jesus had lots of anger towards those he considered the real sinners.

    I reject the premise that some people aren’t “real sinners”. I would re-frame the difference to be between:

         (1) those who know they are sinners in need of a savior
         (2) those who think they are alright in God’s eyes

    It is here that Luke 18:9-14 (Pharisee and tax collector) and Matthew 21:28-32 (parable of the two sons) are relevant. We are all sinners; only some of us know we need a physician. Jesus tried to expose the Pharisees’ need for a physician by his repartee, and it worked on some of them. Jesus healed and fed many who knew they needed a physician, and it worked on some of them. We should remember the sad verse of John 6:66, which described the effect of Jesus’ “church shrinkage program”: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

    Remember that in the parable of the prodigal son, both sons were in sin. Both needed Jesus. Both needed repentance of their heart-attitudes. After all, it was Israel’s heart that God wanted circumcised: Deut 10:16, 30:6. The New Covenant has God replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh. Every Christian is called to continually reorient himself toward God—the process is never complete, although we do get transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

  • I think you may be getting pushback from the word ‘demand’. This is contradictory to the nature of agape love:

    Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

    Regarding Jesus’ exhortations to “sin no more”, I can only actually find John 5:14 and John 8:11. Were you thinking of others? Some specifics would be useful for your case, I think. Now, we do have:

    You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    That’s, ahem, a pretty high expectation! But how exactly is that expectation held? We’re all aware of parents who hold impossibly high expectations for their kids, and how destructive this is to the kids. Somehow—and I’ve only scratched the surface to how—Jesus both holds us to an impossibly high standard, and yet helps us work toward it, in a way that isn’t downright demoralizing.

  • Christopher Erik

    I have three words: love, love, love. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have said that but that was before “love came to town!” There are some people who think that Jesus came to raise a “standard of righteousness” but he came to love the world. People don’t need more truth they need more grace. Jesus was about grace and taking the side of the underdog not about straightening people out. Remember “Love is God!” Say “no” to fundamentalism with its obsession with right and wrong and learn to love the world like Jesus!

  • Perhaps the nature of comments sections and their intended brevity has precluded me from making my point as clearly as I could. I haven’t said, nor do I believe, that Jesus withholds his love until we repent. In fact, I believe that Jesus loves us, in part, so that we will repent, because we all need to repent of something. (The Pharisees of their self-righteousness and the tax collectors of their extortion, for example.) However, I would argue, and perhaps this puts me into a very specific camp, that the benefits of the kingdom of God–and inclusion within it–do not come to us unless we repent of our sin. But the foundation is love. It goes like this: Love -> Repentance -> Inclusion. The rich young ruler could not be included because he did not repent, but the text is clear that Jesus loved him. As for the case of the Prodigal Son, it was his repentance that brought him back to the Father, and thus inclusion back into the family.

  • Hi Patriciamc,
    I’m curious, why do you presume the lesbian woman isn’t Christian?

  • Thanks for responding. I would push back on this in a couple of ways. First, Jesus began his ministry (at least according to Matthew) with the imperative, “Repent!” If this was his first “sermon,” I take it as foundational to his ministry. Second, each of the negative descriptions of agape love in 1 Cor. 15 assumes a relationship between sinful humans: envy, boast, arrogant, rude, irritable, resentful, rejoice at wrongdoing. These are all things that come from sinful hearts. In the middle of this is “insist on its own way,” which I take to be also descriptive of a sinful heart. But God can insist on his own way because his way is what is ultimately best for us. If sins like envy, boasting, and arrogance are ultimately destructive, then God has every right and responsibility to insist on their opposites because this would be the most loving thing for him to do. To put it another way, God didn’t go through Incarnation, Rejection, Suffering, Crucifixion, and then Resurrection to merely offer suggestions on how we ought to live and how we can take hold of the benefits of his kingdom and enter into his family. I hope that helps explain a bit more where I’m coming from!

  • Andrew Dowling

    The Father threw the party the welcome home party and brought forth the seat of honor before the son ever repented. I think one point is that repentance follows/is borne out of unconditional love, not judgement. This goes against a basic concept of fairness that humans hold dear, which is why we turn Jesus’s words around like we do. I’m not even saying I personally always like it, but it’s there.

    As for “Kingdom inclusion,” I agree with you to an extent but you seem to be thinking of the Kingdom as a place, whereas I contend the Kingdom is a reality that one experiences with a pure heart, which may occur after they repent and do good. If you concur on the latter, we are at least on the same page there 🙂

  • Andrew Dowling

    To clarify, I think Jesus was emphasizing a couple of things:

    i) Those who society labeled as “sinners” were not always that, and were as much a part of God’s KIngdoms as the highest of high priests

    II) A concern for justice and how we treated others.

    III) In the face of one who is injust/doing wrong, the proper response is radical love and mercy, not judgment, which ultimately leads to repentance. Repentance is not “demanded of” because demanding it doesn’t work and doesn’t change hearts.

    Hope that clarifies what I was saying. I admit I was not always clear.

  • Andrew – I don’t necessarily agree with your perspectives (I’m not sure God “insists” on anything – certainly not to “enter into his family”), but I do appreciate the grace with which you present them. I’m not sure who would down-vote this comment – I think that’s just dumb. So I just wanted to say thank you for your thoughtfulness.

  • Thanks, Ford. I appreciate that.

  • patriciamc

    Beats me. I just assumed — maybe she is. My advice is still the same for other Christians in a situation like this.

  • Nicole Chase

    This. Amen. Do it because you love your friend, because you want her to be happy, because you welcome and celebrate blessings in her life. Don’t let any sense of obligation make you feel ashamed of that.

  • First, Jesus began his ministry (at least according to Matthew) with the imperative, “Repent!”

    One can plead with imperatives and one can demand with them. Why are you convinced that this imperative is a demand? Consider Ezek 18; it may seem like it’s full of demands, but the whole thing is actually God pleading with Israel.

    But God can insist on his own way because his way is what is ultimately best for us.

    I think you’re in danger of turning God’s “love” into something that is not copyable by human beings. 1 John 4:19 and John 13:34-35 have us loving as God loved and loves us. And yet you seem to want to differentiate the way God loves, and the way we are to love. It just doesn’t make sense to me that God actually insists on his own way. It doesn’t mesh with the whole of scripture—only cherry-picked parts.

    To put it another way, God didn’t go through Incarnation, Rejection, Suffering, Crucifixion, and then Resurrection to merely offer suggestions on how we ought to live and how we can take hold of the benefits of his kingdom and enter into his family.

    I object to your use of ‘merely’. I reject the premise that our being able to reject God’s gift makes the gift any less glorious. I find this to be a common Calvinist premise and I am unable to find a single bit of scripture which supports it. The most glorious way to treat another being—finite or infinite—is to not seek to control him/her like a puppet. Instead, we seek his/her best interest, in a way that he/she will ultimately view as such. And we don’t compel in the process.

    By the way, I’m well-aware of the position you are advancing. It is an extremely common one. It is a position of control, and I believe that a full reading of scripture shows that our God is not a god of control. Passages such as Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem in Mt 23:37-39 just don’t make sense to me if he could merely have insisted on his own way and still have the character of our God.

  • I think so. It just seemed like you were originally indicating that Jesus didn’t want repentance or people to realign their hearts with his heart. Are you comfortable with the following change?

    He always demanded pleaded for repentance,

  • Perhaps I have misrepresented myself, because I am the furthest thing from a Calvinist, and I completely agree with you about the issue of control. The point I’m trying to make is not that God controls us, but that he makes demands of us, much like I have certain demands of my children–Eat your vegetables; Mind your manners; Don’t hit your sister. I make these demands of my children (not harshly, but graciously) because I love them and I want them to flourish. The same is true, I believe, of God. He makes certain demands of us because he loves us and wants us to flourish. Love and salvation are not on the line here. He is not withholding those, or threatening to remove them based on our behavior. The kingdom of God has standards that he wants us to adhere to. I take that as self-evident, and that’s all I’ve been trying to say, really.

  • Andrew Dowling

    No, I’d say that repentance arose from the radical love and mercy expounded by Jesus. THAT changes hearts. He didn’t have to plead for anything.

  • Hmmm, when I think ‘demand’, it seems to come with ‘or else’. I’m also reminded by the idea—I think it’s from J.I. Packer in Knowing God—that in heaven we will get as much of God as we had always wanted. It’s one way to explain 1 Cor 3:10-15. In this sense, God doesn’t even demand more and more of us—he asks for it, and we are free to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

  • I get a sense that you’re thinking either/or, when maybe it’s a both-and. After all, Jesus did start off his ministry with “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” On the other hand, we have that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance”. Switching again, it’s not clear that the Apostle Paul got very much in the way of “radical love”.