One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court changed the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. American Christians are beginning to grapple with practical and ethical questions from this decision, such as “Should I attend my child’s same-sex wedding ceremony?”, as they seek to live out their faith.
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) put this question to its leaders in the May Evangelical Leaders Survey. The majority of evangelical leaders (61 percent) would counsel Christians to attend their child’s same-sex wedding ceremony.
“Protecting and maintaining the parent-child relationship drives the responses to this survey,” said Leith Anderson, NAE president. “The values evangelical leaders hold in tension — though there are different ways of expressing them — are communicating a biblical view of marriage and showing unconditional love. Upholding both grace and truth.”
Jay Barnes, president of Bethel University, advises attending the wedding. “Maintaining the relationship is vital and provides the best chance for change over time,” he said.
Likewise, William Bohline, founding pastor of Hosanna! Church in Lakeville, Minnesota, said, “Presence at the wedding expresses unconditional love. Jesus showed us that that is the only power that transforms the human heart. While there might be heartache at the wedding, non-attendance only adds more mortar to the wall of separation.”
One issue for many evangelical leaders is whether attending the ceremony implies endorsement of the union, with some suggesting that clear communication may provide more liberty to attend.
“Failing to attend is something you can never undo, and while I recognize that it may appear that you are giving your blessing by your presence, you can set the parameters of your participation with the couple,” said Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of Presbyterian Lay Committee.
She suggests sharing the biblical understanding of marriage privately with the couple and giving them an opportunity to share how their understanding differs. Parents can also share what kind of role they would feel comfortable with during the ceremony and surrounding events. For example, they might not want to speak a blessing, but would want to stand with the couple in their wedding party photos.
“Find what you can do without compromising your conscience or your position as parents to speak into their life at a later time should the Lord turn their heart. Don’t burn a bridge that one day they might yet return across,” Fowler LaBerge said.
Some of those who would not advise attending a same-sex wedding ceremony urged that unconditional love be shown to the couple.
John Hopler, director of Great Commission Churches, said, “My recommendation is that a Christian respectfully and lovingly decline the invitation, but then double his or her efforts to show the love of Christ to the family member or friend in other ways.”
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.