Alistair Begg is a well-known pastor who, until recently, had his program “Truth for Life” broadcast on American Family Radio (AFR).
AFR dropped Begg’s daily radio program following Begg’s counsel to Christians about attending LGBTQ+ weddings.
In a recent interview for his latest book, Begg shared that he counseled a grandmother to attend her grandson’s transgender wedding. Specifically, she should make it clear to her grandson that she didn’t affirm his choice to marry a trans person, but after that: “Well then, okay. As long as he knows that, then I suggest that you do go to the ceremony. And I suggest that you buy them a gift.” He went on to tell the grandmother, “Well, here’s the thing: Your love for them may catch them off guard, but your absence will simply reinforce the fact that they said, ‘These people are what I always thought: judgmental, critical, unprepared to countenance anything.’”
Despite the fallout, Begg stands by the advice he gave.
This is not about a theological “drift.” Neither I nor Begg affirm a homosexual lifestyle. But does that mean it is never appropriate for a Christ follower to attend a gay wedding?
Let’s break that down a little—first by addressing whether it is okay to participate in one, and then second, whether it is okay to attend one. I would argue that participation and attendance are distinct from one another.
Participating in a gay wedding means lending support, helping to facilitate it, enabling it to happen. It’s being involved in such a way as to bring it about. Biblically, that isn’t something a Christian can do.
This is why I am in support of the bakers and florists, bed and breakfast operators and caterers, who are being sued for not wanting to engage in activity they deem supportive of a gay wedding.
I know that many Christians are conflicted about such stories, not to mention verdicts. No one wants to see true discrimination take place. But there is a significant difference between serving a wedding and, say, serving a meal. For example, many in opposition to a florist’s stand want to link it to the civil rights movement and the abhorrent Jim Crow laws that were in effect until the mid-1960s.
That’s not a fair analogy.
In fact, it’s offensive to every African American civil rights leader I’ve ever talked to or heard speak about it. A wedding has always been a deeply held religious event. Among many Christians, it is one of the holy sacraments. It is not about a general refusal of service on the basis of race, gender or even sexual orientation. It is about forced compliance in regard to what has historically been, and continues to be for most, a sacred act, and people being forced to participate in what they would consider a sacrilege of that sacred act. No one is trying to stop the wedding or refusing them the ability to purchase things like flowers for a wedding. These are people who simply don’t want to be participants in that wedding.
So when Christians refuse participation in a gay wedding, they are following important Christian convictions. For a photographer to shoot it, or a baker to make the cake, or a florist to design the centerpieces would be a violation of conscience and conviction. As would serving as a singer, musician, bridesmaid or groomsman. If your participation is enabling it to happen, facilitating its act, then the answer on whether to participate has to be no.
But what about just attending, as Begg advised the grandmother to do? Let’s say you have a gay friend or family member and you’ve been invited to their wedding. Is it okay for a Christian to attend? You’re not participating in a way that is making it happen or helping it to happen—you’re just at the happening. Didn’t Jesus dine with tax collectors, hang out with prostitutes, and go to parties hosted by people of ill repute?
Yes, He did, but let’s confess that weddings are trickier.
And here’s why.
There’s no doubt that being there, in attendance, is offering your tacit support. It’s a celebration of an event, and you’re at the celebration which, as a Christian, you can’t celebrate. So if it’s not a close friend, perhaps just somebody from work, it’s probably best to decline. Why? Because it can be so misconstrued as to why you’re there.
But what if it’s someone close to you? A brother or sister, daughter or son? Or in this case, a grandson? And no one would misunderstand why you’re there—it’s clear you’re there for them.
I have been through this. Not for a gay wedding, but for weddings involving people I knew and loved, but couldn’t affirm the marriage itself. I have been asked to perform such weddings, and biblically, could not. But I have told them that I would be there in attendance if they would like me to be in support of them as people I love and care about, and that God loves and cares about. I could not be there in support of the event, but I could be there in support of them.
I believe this is an important distinction.
There are times to express love for someone while disagreeing with them. To make your commitment to them clear, no matter what choices they might be making in life. To let them know that your love for them is not something doled out on the basis of good behavior. That your love for them is simply your love for them.
So while you might not be able to participate, or celebrate,
...give the gift of your presence to affirm your love for them.
James Emery White
Jesse T. Jackson, “American Family Radio Drops Alistair Begg Following Controversial Remarks About LGBTQ+ Weddings,” Church Leaders, January 24, 2024, read online.
Preston Sprinkle, Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on X, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
Image credit: ©GettyImages/nito100
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.