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Matching actions and words

We cannot attend pagan rituals in the name of love

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Matching actions and words
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The American Family Radio Ministry recently announced that it has dropped pastor Alistair Begg’s popular Truth for Life program from its daily broadcast schedule. The decision followed the recent circulation of some remarks from a September interview in which Begg said he had counseled a grandmother to attend her grandson’s wedding to “a transgender person.” As long as she made her personal disapproval of the union known, Begg impressed strongly on her that attending the wedding (with a gift in hand) was the loving thing to do. Otherwise, he warned that her absence would “reinforce” her grandson’s perception that conservatives are “judgmental” and “critical.” He concludes this story by encouraging all Christians to make the same decision, for the sake of “building bridges” to the “hearts and minds” of our nonbelieving loved ones.

Begg says he’s aware that “people may not like” this answer, and indeed, these remarks caused a stir when they were brought to light. I speak for many when I say Begg is a personal hero, a faithful minister of the Word with sermons ranking among my all-time favorites. That ministry has included strong messages like this series on the sin of homosexuality. Sadly, while there was some hope he would reconsider and recant after the interview began widely circulating, the AFRM reports that he refused to do so.

This sad news provides an opportunity for conservatives to refresh our reasons for respectfully disagreeing with Pastor Begg here. Some people prefer not to even think about the question, hoping it’s a choice they’ll never have to make. But such a decision can’t be deferred to the moment when we are under pressure. We need to think it through well in advance so that we already know exactly what we will say and why.

The problem with Begg’s response is that he has given the grandmother directly conflicting counsel. He tells her she should make it clear with her words that she doesn’t approve of the wedding, yet he advises her to take an action that traditionally signals that very approval. While most weddings no longer have a moment when the guests are asked to “speak now or forever hold your peace,” such moments historically reminded wedding guests what purpose their attendance served: to bear solemnizing, dignifying witness.

Christians are obligated to treat every person with dignity, but this does not mean treating all their choices with dignity.

Christians are obligated to treat every person with dignity, but this does not mean treating all their choices with dignity. To urge Christians to attend gay weddings so that gay family and friends will feel loved implies an inherent tension between loving our neighbor and refusing to dignify his sin. Christians should understand better than anyone that no such tension exists. We practice such loving refusal for friends and family in all kinds of sexual sin, which might also mean not attending some male-female weddings. For example, while not all divorces and remarriages are unbiblical, we shouldn’t solemnize remarriage after frivolous divorce. Or we might prefer to stay home from the wedding of a couple who’d been unrepentantly living together throughout their engagement (although their union is still a marriage in God’s eyes, hence still fundamentally different in kind from the wedding of a gay couple). 

Recently, I heard Sam Allberry give similar advice that Christians should follow their individual consciences, but in the end it was a “wisdom issue.” He spoke on a panel moderated by Australian pastor-scholar John Dickson, who chimed in that this was just like Paul’s advice about meat offered to idols. Perhaps, Dickson suggested, it would become wrong to eat the meat if the meal was bound up with a dedication in the moment to a false god, but if not, then it’s also a “wisdom issue.” 

Of course, a gay wedding ceremony is precisely an idolatrous dedication. It takes an inherently sinful action (unlike meat-eating) and then symbolically consecrates it in the name of Eros. The true analogy would be attending a pagan worship ritual, which Paul would never countenance.

Meanwhile, as Dr. Robert Gagnon discusses in his response to Pastor Begg, there are many other legitimate ways Christians can “build bridges” to family and friends in grave sin. We can be available when they’re in need, give them gifts for other occasions, and celebrate other milestones or worthy achievements that aren’t bound up with their sin. If, despite all of this, we are still rejected as “judgmental” or “unloving,” then contra Begg, the fault will not lie with us, but with the loved one who has sinfully hardened his heart.

So, with concern and respect, we say no, Pastor Begg. This is not “a fine line” to walk. And to that grandmother and to others like her, we say don’t be deceived, and don’t be manipulated. By staying home, you will communicate that you mean what you say, and you say what you mean. That may not please your gay loved one, but it will please God. In the end, that is what matters.

Bethel McGrew

Bethel McGrew is a math Ph.D. and widely published freelance writer. Her work has appeared in First Things, National Review, The Spectator, and many other national and international outlets. Her Substack, Further Up, is one of the top paid newsletters in “Faith & Spirituality” on the platform. She has also contributed to two essay anthologies on Jordan Peterson. When not writing social criticism, she enjoys writing about literature, film, music, and history.


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