I knew the question was coming. Finally at a Church Board meeting someone asked, “If you are asked to perform a same-sex marriage, would you?” It is a fair question for a congregation to ask, but the layperson generally has no idea what they are asking. While it involves the Bible for sure, it also involves issues in the Bible that are far wider than the single issue of homosexuality.
“It depends on several things I said,” answering the question. “If someone unknown to me, just walked in off the street and wanted to get married, I would say no. That would be like rubbing salt in the wound of members who are, for whatever reason, not on board with same-sex marriage. If on the other hand, someone that had been an active part of the Church that I knew, I would likely perform the service. However, I would expect of them the same standards that I have required of all pre-marriage counseling.” Who didn’t anticipate the next statement? “Well, that means you condone homosexual unions!”
We pastors all hear the same story. What we do and the actions we take all reflect on the Church. There is certainly some truth in that, but it is not the whole story. Just because I perform a wedding service does not mean I condone or approve of this union. I have always required pre-marriage counseling of those whom I have married. I can think of at least twenty couples in my thirty-five year ministry that at the end of the counseling, I would say, “I don’t think it wise that you marry at this time.” Of those twenty couples only one has heeded my advice. The one that did, is now happily married and the other nineteen wished they had listened to me. Yes, I performed the wedding service, but it didn’t mean I agreed with their decision to get married, nor did it in anyway mean that the Church approved of the marriage. Look at the sheer number of unchurched couples that get married in the building every year. “Joe and Sally want to get married. All in favor say “I” and those opposed “NO.”
I remember when I first came to Hillside Christian Church as the Senior Minister. I was thirty-five years old, married with two children and still had a lot to learn. One of the things I noticed was that we were getting asked to perform a lot of weddings from a mega church in town. I assumed it was because they had such a large sanctuary that they didn’t want the wedding service to look swallowed up. What I noticed was that many of these couples would attend Hillside for a year or so and then return to the mega church. Most were asking for Dr. Boyle (long time Associate Minister and a really nice person) to perform their marriages. I asked Dr. Boyle, what is going on? It seems that all of these couples were living together before they were married. The mega church would only allow them to have their wedding at the mega church if they lived apart until the marriage. They were circumventing the requirement, getting married at Hillside, and then returning to the former congregation.
I ask Dr. Boyle, “Don’t you feel that you are being used?” His response taught me something about grace. “I want to show them the love of Christ, so that they may have a positive, not condemning experience with the Church.” If you knew Dr. Boyle, you knew it wasn’t because he condoned them living together. He was right. It is not my place to sit in judgement, the mega church was doing that very well; it was my place to act for Christ. I still haven’t figured out who married Adam and Eve. Whoever it was has a lot to answer for!
When in my former pastorate, I was asked to perform the funeral of the man who had been attending (not a member) our church, who in his earlier years had been the head of the KKK in southeast Arkansas. I was horrified at first; what would this say about ME? But I remembered something he had said to me one day at a pot-luck dinner. “Pastor, I have done a lot of things I now regret.” The service wasn’t about me, it was about him and Him! As the pastor he shared with, I knew something that had changed inside. My conducting the service was not about my condoning the things he had done, it was about showing the incredible love and grace of God to a sinner that needed a Christian funeral.
If I decide to conduct a same-sex service it will not be because my Church has condoned it or sanctions it. It will not even be because I condone or sanction the union. Just as there are some heterosexuals that shouldn’t get married, there are some homosexuals that shouldn’t get married as well. It is not my place to pick life mates for others. It is my place to heal broken relationships, extend grace and reflect God’s love. This I choose to do for all the lambs in the flock that God has graciously given me charge of.