Former President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara attended a wedding last year that made national news. According to The Washington Post, the elder Bushes attended the wedding of two lesbians, Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, held at Kennebunkport, Maine.
No one should be surprised by the opening line of the Post report: “Another prominent Republican has come out in support of same-sex marriage—or, at least, in support of one particular same-sex marriage.” Similarly, the “Daily Intelligencer” column at New York Magazine declared that George and Barbara Bush are apparently in favor of same-sex marriage “since they not only attended a lesbian couple’s wedding on Saturday, but served as witnesses as well.”
The news coverage of the Bushes’ attendance at the same-sex wedding points to a reality that must be understood—and fast. Attendance at a wedding is not a neutral act. The history and context of the wedding ceremony identify all those present as agreeing to the rightness of the marriage. This is why the language used in the overwhelming majority of Christian weddings calls upon anyone in the audience who believes that the proposed union is invalid to speak now “or forever hold his peace.” Anyone remaining silent is affirming the rightness of the marriage, and all present are counted as witnesses who celebrate the union.
We must certainly understand the relational challenges and the predicaments this poses for Christians who do not believe that same-sex marriage is right in the sight of God. God created marriage as the union of one woman to one man (Genesis 2:18–25). Christians cannot affirm what the Bible defines as sin (Romans 1:26–32), and yet that is what our current culture demands of us. One of the hardest issues for every Christian is how to respond to our friends and acquaintances with both love and truth.
But truth protects love from dissolving into mere sentimentality. Likewise, love prevents truth from being reduced to impersonal abstractions. At some point or another, many of us will be asked to attend a same-sex wedding. Declining to attend will come with undeniable relational consequences, but so will attending. We cannot allow our love to lapse into sentimentality, even as we love those who plan to enter into what we know is not and cannot be marriage. Note carefully that Bonnie Clement spoke of the Bushes’ presence as a powerful affirmation that the union was “real and normal.”
But this is not just about the Bushes. The same predicament remains, even if we are not the former leader of the free world. To be present at a wedding is to affirm that it is right, whether you sign a legal document or not.
No one said this was going to be easy, and this is hardly the end of the predicaments and perplexities that will challenge Christians who stand on biblical teaching in the days ahead. This is one question, however, that Christians had better think through fast. A wedding invitation might soon be headed your way.