Back in 2012, an American couple that rented out their barn for weddings ran into trouble when two ladies wanted to reserve it for a gay “marriage” ceremony. Cynthia and Robert Gifford, both Catholic, refused – they didn’t want their farm used to celebrate what God condemns.
The lesbian couple lodged an official complaint, and the New York Division of Human Rights ruled in their favor, fining the Giffords a total of $13,000 for their refusal. Two years later New York’s Supreme Court Appellate Division upheld the ruling. The appeals judge, Karen Peters, said that the Giffords could “profess their religious beliefs that same-sex couples should not marry,” but as long as they allowed heterosexual couples to use their farm, they had to let same-sex couples do so too.
The “perfect solution”?
So what could the Giffords do? A March 23 Faithwire.com article detailed the couple’s response. They are continuing to rent out their barn and farm, but on their website they’ve announced that a portion of the proceeds from any wedding will be donated to support traditional marriage. The notice reads:
At Liberty Ridge Farm, our deeply held religious belief is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and the Farm is operated with the purpose of strengthening and promoting marriage. In furtherance of this purpose and to honor and promote our moral and religious beliefs, we donate a portion of our business proceeds to organizations that promote strong marriages such as the Family Research Council.
The couple’s response got a couple of media outlets quite excited, with Faithwire’s Will Maule suggesting they “may have just solved the gay marriage dilemma” and The DailyWire’s Hank Berrien describing it as the “perfect solution.” This, they thought, was the way forward for Christian wedding cake bakers, and wedding photographers, and wedding venue owners.
By declaring their support for traditional marriage, the Giffords are sure to dissuade many gay couples from even considering their farm. And the activist sorts who want to push the issue and rent it anyway? Well, if they know that using the Giffords’ barn means, in effect, making a donation to the conservative Christian lobby group, the Family Research Council, that might just dissuade them too. This would seem an approach that Christian wedding photographers, and wedding cake makers, and more, could readily imitate.
But it is it really the perfect solution? On the very same webpage the Giffords promise that all “couples legally permitted to marry in the state of New York are welcome to hold their wedding at Liberty Ridge Farm. We serve everyone equally.” This statement is probably a requirement from the judgment against them, but it would seem to concede too much. On the one hand the Giffords are speaking up for traditional marriage, but on the other, they are promising to host and help with same-sex “marriages.” This is a muddled message.
Still, is there something that we can be inspired by here, and perhaps improve on?
Shrewd and innocent
In Matthew 10:16 Jesus told his disciples that in their dealings with the world, they should be shrewd and innocent:
I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.
The Giffords’ approach is certainly shrewd. It seems sure to decrease and maybe even eliminate the requests they might otherwise get from homosexual couples.
What might be missing in the Giffords’ approach is the “innocent as doves” part. When Christians oppose gay “marriage” we’re not going to be portrayed as innocent doves, but as bullying bigots – we’re going to be accused of simply hating those who are different. That’s why it’s important we explain ourselves. And it’s just as important that our motivations be truly godly.
We can applaud the Giffords for their desire to stand up for traditional marriage but if we’re going to build on what they’ve done, we shouldn’t overlook where there is room for improvement. In their explanation, they speak of honoring and promoting their “moral and religious beliefs.” They also speak of traditional marriage as being a “deeply held religious belief.”
Something is missing here. Or, rather, Someone. We don’t oppose gay “marriage” because of our deeply held religious beliefs. We oppose it because God made us male and female (Gen. 1:27), and because a man is to leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh (Gen. 2:24). We oppose gay “marriage” because that is not how God intended marriage to be. We oppose it because we know that homosexuality is a sin, and that unrepentant sin separates a person from God. We oppose it, because if we love our gay neighbor then we want them to know that a commitment to continuing to live this sinful lifestyle “until death do us part” is a commitment to rebellion against God. It sets them on the road to hell. That’s why we can’t help them celebrate. Out of concern for the couple themselves, we don’t want any part in these ceremonies – we know it’s going to harm them!
Of course, a reporter from the 6 o’clock news isn’t going to give us the time and space to communicate our concerns. But when it comes to our own websites, we have all the time and space we might need, so let’s spell it out there, with clarity and love.
“Ewww!” is not an option
To be clear, this isn’t simply about finding the right words, so we can say just the right thing. This is about living out the love God calls us to. If we’re saying we oppose gay “marriage” out of concern for the salvation of homosexuals, but we don’t actually feel that in our hearts, it’s going to come out. We can’t be a light to the world, if we’re faking it. So if we’re not feeling concern for them, then, before anything else, we need to ask God to work on our hearts, and to help us better love our neighbor as ourselves.
While the Giffords’ approach is shrewd, it’s also more than a little confusing. That’s in large part because, even as they are conceding they will host gay “marriages” but don’t want to, they don’t make it clear why they are opposed.
Christians still have the freedom to speak our beliefs, including what we know to be true about marriage and homosexuality. What would happen if all the Christian wedding cake bakers, and wedding photographers, and wedding venue owners did so? What would happen if we all stated our concerns that these sinful commitments separate the couple from God? And what if we stated that, if a gay couple uses the law to compel us to be a part of their ceremony, then we are going to donate all funds to homosexual outreach so we can express these concerns to many more?
Is that a stance we can, in good conscience, take? Or does it concede too much? Might there be another better way for us to be both clever and clear?
If it’s not clear just yet what exactly the “perfect solution” is, this much is clear: Christians need to explain our opposition to gay “marriage” with clarity and charity. Our opposition isn’t first and foremost because it undermines traditional marriage, or because it offends our “deeply held religious beliefs.” We oppose gay “marriage” because it is a commitment to life-long rebellion against the one true and holy God, and if the couple keeps to that commitment, then they are going to hell. That’s the clarity. And the charity is in expressing that in all sincerity, and with genuine concern.