[Note: Questions and Ethics is a new monthly series in which Dr. Russell Moore provides insight into how Christians should navigate through life’s most challenging moral and ethical issues.]
Dear Dr. Moore,
I am an evangelical Christian, and I work as a wedding photographer. By conscience, I hold to an orthodox view of human sexuality, with all that entails. I’ve been asked to photograph a same-sex wedding service (legal in my state), and I’ve said no. I wonder if I did the right thing.
After all, this is a business, providing a service. Would it be right for me to refuse to serve a gay couple if I owned a restaurant? I don’t think so. If a same-sex marriage isn’t a marriage at all (as the historic Christian view teaches), then how is this different from just photographing people at a birthday party or community festival (in which case it wouldn’t matter what’s happening with them sexually).
Moreover, I’m not sure that photographing an event is an endorsement of that event. I have photographed weddings of people who were divorced (and I didn’t investigate the background), people who were probably cohabiting, people who were most likely unequally yoked to one another, and so on.
So I’m kind of caught. My conscience bothers me because I turned this couple down, and my conscience will bother me if I photograph this wedding. What do you think?
The Wedding Photographer
You’re right that this situation is more complicated than whether to serve someone at a restaurant (yes) regardless of that person’s sexual or marital situation. I would also argue that the situation is very different from photographing some other event, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the clients’ sexual or marital context. The fact that this is a wedding means there’s a different moral question for you.
You are also right that your role as a wedding photographer is different from an officiating minister, a member of the wedding party, or even an invited guest. All of those people are part of the wedding itself, the assembled witnesses who affirm the lawfulness of the union and pledge to hold the couple accountable for their vows.
If you were, say, a photojournalist for a news service, there to report on the first same-sex marriage in your state, for instance, there would be no issue for your conscience. As a wedding photographer, though, you are in a third place between participant and neutral observer.
A same-sex wedding is different, I think, from the other problematic marriages you mentioned, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, while a biblical view of marriage would see that such people (fornicators, believers to unbelievers, unlawfully divorced, etc.) should not get married, and that the church has no authority to marry them, we also would affirm that such people, when married, actually are married. A pastor who joins a believer to an unbeliever bears an awful responsibility for doing something wrong, but the end result is an actual marriage.
The same-sex marriage differs not in terms of morality, but in terms of reality. It is not that homosexuality is some sort of wholly different or unforgivable sexual sin. It’s that the historic Christian view of marriage means that without sexual complementarity there is no marriage at all.
More than that, you are right to note that your situation takes place at a moment of concerted cultural revisionism on the question of marriage as conjugal union. A same-sex wedding service right now is not merely personal, but, whether the couple intends this or not, political, with all sorts of corresponding questions.
Your conscience is conflicted right now, but suppose there’s in the near future an evangelical or Roman Catholic or Muslim photographer whose conscience would be morally opposed to participating at all in a same-sex marriage ceremony. There’s a real question as to whether the civil state will penalize this person’s conscientious objection, at least in some parts of the country. And a state that will do that has over-stepped its authority.
I would say that the decisions you’ll make, generally, as a wedding photographer will correspond often with the Corinthian dilemma of whether to eat meat that had been offered to idols (1 Cor. 8).
The Apostle Paul says, first of all, that the idols don’t represent real gods (1 Cor. 8:4), in the same way that you would argue that a wedding without a bride or a groom isn’t really a marriage. If something’s put before you, the apostle writes, eat it to the glory of God, no questions asked.
But, the apostle says, if the food is advertised as sacrificed to idols abstain from it for the sake of the consciences of those around you (1 Cor. 8:7-9). This is the difference between investigating a doughnut shop owner’s buying habits before eating there and stopping in for doughnuts when the sign out front flashes: “Eat here and support our owner’s cocaine and prostitutes habit.”
You need not investigate as a wedding photographer whether the wedding you are photographing is Christ-honoring. But when there is an obvious deviation from the biblical reality, sacrifice the business for conscience, your own and those of the ones in your orbit who would be confused.
That said, don’t be mean.
The couple asking you to do this wedding aren’t your enemies (Eph. 6:12). They are made in the image of God and are loved by him, and so should be loved by us. As orthodox Christians we don’t believe this leads to the happiness they’re looking for, but we must stand with kindness as well as with conviction. Tell the couple that you wish them well, but that you have beliefs about marriage that won’t allow your conscience to participate in this way. Thank them for asking you but recommend a photographer who can click away with a clear conscience.
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