(“Best of” blog)
“Hi Annie, I’m Mary.” Her smile mirrors Annie’s. “Welcome to my studio.”
“I’m friends with Emma and Ryan Glassman. I love how you photographed their wedding. You just…you do great work.”
“Thank you.” Mary glances at the Bride magazine tucked under Annie’s arm. “Your turn coming soon?”
“Yes!” she beams. “Next spring. So I’d like to talk to you about your pricing and packages.”
Mary grabs her brochure and hands it to Annie, pointing to two chairs pulled up to a coffee table full of wedding albums. “Can I get you some coffee?”
Annie looks at the chair and hesitates, “Umm before we get into this you should know…I’m gay.”
Mary knew this day might come. It just came much sooner than she expected. “I’m glad you’ve told me up front…because there’s something you should know. I’m a follower of Jesus.”
Annie’s smile fades just a bit. “Well…what does that mean?”
Not one week earlier Mary had been working on a new spreadsheet. Under “What it would take to expand the business” she had listed: “New camera and equipment-$8000,” “New part-time photography assistant $20,000,” “Larger studio $2000/mo.” Moving and redecorating expenses followed and, with a new address, a new publicity package. The bottom line would require a sizable loan and she had wondered, “How much am I willing to risk?”
That had prompted her to read more about the recent defeat of legislation in Arizona and Kansas to protect religious liberties. She agreed that the Arizona law was poorly written, but the Kansas law was written more narrowly just to protect the liberties of people working in the wedding business. It was also defeated.
She also read about how gays have picketed and defamed and sent hate mail and death threats to other wedding professionals who had refused to contract for gay weddings. She felt the first twinges of fear that a gay couple might unsuspectingly or knowingly come to her and ask her to photograph their wedding.
Mary thought about photographer friends that had told her that, if approached by gays, they would try to show Jesus’ grace and love and consent to photograph their wedding. She was glad they could do that in good conscience.
For Mary, the Bible was true north. She believed that God had created and ordained marriage for husbands and wives to become one and offered it as a common grace to believers and unbelievers alike. For Mary a wedding was by its very nature religious–a gathering in the presence of God and witnesses. She would celebrate with every couple and bless them as best she could.
She would spend anywhere from 3-7 hours with her clients on their wedding day and maybe 10-40 hours more retouching the photos and making an album or video that celebrates the story of that wedding. In her conscience before God she didn’t see how she could use her artistic gift to celebrate a sexual union as something good when God was on record condemning it as bad. It would feel false. Hypocritical. Enabling.
Mary wanted to follow Jesus as closely as possible. And her photographer friends really challenged her. She dug into her New Testament. Yes, Jesus was a friend to and hung out with sinners. He died a terrible death to pay the penalty of sin because he loves sinners. However she did not see Jesus enabling or endorsing sin anywhere.
To the woman caught in adultery he showed great compassion– “neither do I condemn you.” But then he said, “From now on sin no more.” Sometimes, she concluded, the great act of love is to show mercy. But Jesus demonstrated that it is also a great act of love to call sexual sin “sin” and tell people to forsake it.
Mary drops her gaze for a moment and then looks steadily into Annie’s eyes. “It means…I wish you just wanted a sandwich or a pedicure or even to rent my over-the-studio apartment. I would gladly serve you. But photographing a wedding…it’s not just “business” to me. I know it sounds really quaint and so last century. Or two. But I really believe in “Holy Matrimony.” A sacred moment. We’re there in God’s presence asking his blessing, at least every wedding I’ve ever done included a prayer.
“And I’m not just a machine clicking away…the reason these,” her gesture swept the wedding canvases that lined her wall, “…the reason these fairly glow with beauty is because I’m all in. I see the real beauty. I’m celebrating before God with you. I feel like I’m endorsing your celebration—this is good.” Annie looked away and Mary’s voice faltered. “I’m so sorry. But I…I just can’t…”
Silence. Finally Annie said, “Of course,” and gently handed the brochure back to Mary. “I totally understand.”
“Do you?” Mary’s eyes pleaded.
“Absolutely,” said Annie. “My mother feels the same way.” She walked toward the door. “Thank you for your time.” And then she was gone. Mary watched her walk to her car, her throat tightening.
In her car Annie sighs and opens her Bride magazine. She finds her list of recommended photographers, puts the next address in her GPS and waits for reception. She doesn’t understand gays who can’t just walk away from deep differences like this. Yes, it hurts, but it isn’t worth dragging someone along, forcing them to do something completely against conscience. She’s not Rosa Parks. There are plenty of other seats on the bus and lots of other upscale lunch counters happy to serve her a lovely sandwich.
She resents the gay activists that have descended upon people like Mary, bent on ruining their reputation and livelihood. She deeply believes in pluralism–the freedom to believe in many different truth claims. She doesn’t understand why God might condemn what she finds so life-giving, but she won’t hold Mary responsible for what the Bible says. She doesn’t wish Mary or her mother would renounce the most important thing in their lives.
Mary walks over to her desk and picks up the spreadsheet. She doesn’t want to be a wimp about this. She doesn’t want to be some kind of crusading Joan of Arc either. She just wants to worship God with her art and then give it as a gift to others. She sees Annie just sitting in her car outside. Plotting her next move? Looking up the website of the human rights commission?
Annie’s GPS arrow points left and she drives away. Mary watches her tail lights disappear in the traffic. She thinks of her gay friends…maybe she should start spending more time with them, strengthen the relationships. Hopefully they would not report her. Or maybe she should spend less time with them…give them fewer opportunities to ask whether she would photograph a gay wedding or not.
She crumples the spreadsheet and throws it in the trash.
All that evening—driving home, cooking dinner, loading the dishwasher, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling—her creative mind writes “the book” of where this will go…a letter, a summons will arrive…no, police will bang on her door…reporters will swarm as she gets in her car…protestors will camp outside her studio door…she is a hater, bigot, enemy of the State, a social pariah. She will lose her reputation, her business…. She knows she’s giving in to fear. “Oh Jesus…” she whispers and turns over again.
Submitted by Patty LaRoche (not verified) on Sun, 03/09/2014 – 23:04
I love the “love” that is shown throughout this piece, for true followers of Christ are constantly caught in the crossroads of “mercy” and “justice.” You did well to NOT make Annie resentful or vindictive but rather to show her dilemma between “mercy” and “justice,” too.
Nice job, my friend. I am proud of you.
do justice and love mercy
Submitted by Lael Arrington on Mon, 03/10/2014 – 13:37
Thank you, Patty. Isn’t that where we all live? Smack in the tension between justice and mercy. Makes me think of Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” We’re to DO justice. But we’re to LOVE mercy.
Reminds me of something that John Piper said, “If God’s justice can be preserved it is the apex of his glory to show mercy.” That’s the astonishing beauty of the cross. It preserves God’s justice, but for our great need it tips the needle way over to the mercy side. I do believe that we need to show, mercy, mercy, mercy. But we also need to preserve justice. That’s a hard msg today.
Enjoyed the article!
Submitted by Paula Smith (not verified) on Mon, 03/10/2014 – 08:51
Enjoyed the article!
Submitted by Lael Arrington on Mon, 03/10/2014 – 13:40
Thank you, Paula. I hope it helps us all think deeply about how to “do justice and love mercy” as in Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Submitted by Kathy Hooks (not verified) on Wed, 03/12/2014 – 13:27
I also want to commend you for your observations and your article. This is such a difficult choice for devout Christians. Just last week our pastor spoke on the subject of homosexuality. He was graceful and loving but said it was wrong. Then my husband and I had a lengthy conversation about it on the way home from church. Because I took the side of couple who are being sued for not making a wedding cake for a gay wedding, my husband accused me of being legalistic and mean-spirited. I was deeply grieved by his response and told him that I didn’t find any satisfaction in opposing homosexuality. I wished I could just go along with it and not become embroiled in the conflict. He said that all we have to do is make it known that we are Christians and gays would know where we stand on an issue. He thinks that’s what the couple who is being sued for discrimination should do. I disagreed, citing the fact that many churches now endorse homosexuality. He said that it wasn’t necessary for me to air my opinion and asked why I felt the need to do so. I told him it was because I felt that’s what everyone was doing. We all are so determined not to appear biased that we just keep quiet. And now see where it is leading us—towards total acceptance, and even endorsement, of homosexuality
I don’t hate gays or lesbians. As a matter of fact, I was the one who scolded my husband and son for making fun of them about five years ago when they made derogatory comments about gay men. I believe that Jesus loves gays and lesbians, just as he loves all people, and I should also. I also believe that they should not be demeaned, mistreated, or treated with contempt. They should receive equal treatment under the law but I also believe that marriage to me is a sacred institution, not just a legal union. How then can I endorse something that clearly is in violation of God’s wishes? I can’t, even if it means I’ll be hated or misunderstood.
This is going to be a huge issue among families, in society, and in the church. We all had better pray now for guidance and strength!
This story was written to communicate w/ my own familily
Permalink Submitted by Lael Arrington on Thu, 03/13/2014 – 17:31
Kathy, I agree. This issue is already dividng families, even mine. That’s why I originally wrote it…to help someone in my own family understand that conviction is vastly different from prejudice or bigotry. You may not agree with Mary’s conclusion, but it is a well-reasoned, logical conclusion that flows straight from her desire to follow Jesus.
Even gays like Andrew Sullivan who are beginning to grant that gays should not compell Christians or Jews or Muslims to serve gay weddings out of conscience still hold that it is a view that is bereft of logic or moral standing. They equate “conviction” with bigotry and prejudice. Hopefully this piece shows the difference.
Submitted by Stephen Moose (not verified) on Thu, 08/21/2014 – 12:16
You wrote…”They equate “conviction” with bigotry and prejudice.” and I agree it IS bigotry and prejudice. Would you ask a potential bride or groom if they had been married before that ended in divorce? no you wouldn’t… I’m sure you have never asked that of a potential customer. Its none of your business. You have demanized the gays, while looking the other way when christian divorces want to get remarried. I’m so glad the laws are changing and we finally have marriage equality in this country. Its very similar to the changing laws about “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” for the military. There were many of you who were claiming how terrible this would be if they let openly gays serve in the military… but in reality, look what happened when they did… Not a single problem with gays serving in the military. You are a “Chicken Little” screaming “The Sky is Falling”…. Time will surely tell who is correct, and I hope posterity remembers people like you.
What Do I Say to a Friend Who’s Gay?
Submitted by Emily Chase (not verified) on Fri, 03/21/2014 – 14:01
Lael, thanks for this gentle and very human picture of the struggle to balance love and integrity. My husband (who is an ex-gay) and I have ministered to those facing same-sex attraction for over 25 years. My book, What Do I Say to a Friend Who is Gay? (Kregel 2006) is written for those who struggle to stand firm on the integrity of scripture but who also want to reach out with compassion to those who are gay. Too often people hang a sign around the neck of person, a sign that says “Gay,” and we forget to see them as a whole person with complex needs and gifts. – Emily
responding with truth and compassion
Submitted by Lael Arrington on Sun, 03/23/2014 – 21:59
Thanks, Emily, for your words, your ministry and your book. With all the cultural changes it’s time to step up the love as never before.
What Do I Say to a Friend Who is Gay?
Submitted by Stephen Moose (not verified) on Thu, 08/21/2014 – 12:26
No one cares about what YOU say to a friend who is gay… You’re just plugging your book. I’ll check back in 5 years and see how the public reacts to your message…. I’m sure you’ll be though of as a relic of past generations and young people will not understand why this was such a big deal.
Who is on the right side of history?
Submitted by Lael Arrington on Fri, 08/29/2014 – 19:34
Stephen, perhaps you believe that a modern/postmodern worldview that disregards the importance of revelation and God are on the “right” side of history. Not sure, but it sounds like it from your comment. Maybe you believe that history is moving irreversibly in the direction of valuing freedom and choice over regard for what God says makes for a good life and community. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
If there’s anything that history shows us it’s that the more people try to scrub God and his Word from the public square and our understanding of what makes for a good person with good relationships, the more people long for transcendence–a story larger than their own. Look at all the jihadists fleeing modern secular liberalism. All it offers is the small stories of our own lives–a tournament of narratives. Pick one. But our small stories cut us off from God and his larger story.
Without God and his Word it’s all about us and our desires. And we bend and ignore the rules to accomodate our desires. But there is a hidden danger there. I just posted a new blog on that subject.
It could also be that the people who demonstrate that they are on the right side of history are those whose lives and love show that there is substance behind their beliefs. When people read your comment…do they see a heart of love for people you disagree with? A gentleness and respect?
You presume that my friend just wants to sell her books. But what if her heart is really to share truth that will help people love God and others? How can you be so sure of her motives? Are you so all-knowing that you really can see into another person’s heart?
Hopefully young people of the future will see the value of speaking the truth in love, especially the truth that points to a God who loves them and gives his commands for his glory and their eternal joy. Who knows we are all sinners. Who gave his only Son to die for us and restore us to close relationship with him and our place in a kingdom story beyond imagining.