A Review of Inclusive Marriage Services: A Wedding Sourcebook
By S. Donald Fortson*.
Several mainline writers have collaborated on a recent book, Inclusive Marriage Services: A Wedding Sourcebook. Contributors to the short volume, not surprisingly, come from denominations such as the UCC, TEC, ELCA and PCUSA – bodies that no longer confess Christian teaching on human sexuality and marriage. This book, and others like it, is a capstone to the great ecclesiastical debate of our time by suggesting language for publicly invoking God’s blessing on homosexual “weddings.” The mainline churches, having abandoned biblical authority in their affirmation of homoerotic behavior, now complete the circle of rationalization in these marriage services.
The editors claim that the book does not seek to reinvent the wedding or redefine marriage.
The introduction describes how the book’s liturgies intend to reflect the language of historic marriage rites but modify them by utilizing language that is broadly inclusive for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people. The editors state, “What is different about these services is the language for couples is not gender specific. There is little emphasis on procreation as a chief purpose for marriage.” In addition to gender neutral services, there is also a liturgy for couples in which one partner is not Christian – a violation of biblical teaching (1 Cor. 7:39, 2 Cor. 6:14,15).
For example, the Presbyterian liturgy is adapted from The Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Throughout the liturgy one finds “two people” not language of male and female or husband and wife. So “two people become one just as Christ is one with the church.” The vows speak of taking one “to be my beloved” or “to be my own” not taking one as a husband or wife. The exchange of rings is in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – unchanged language but an abuse of God’s name.
In a section on “Scripture Suggestions” one finds many traditional texts associated with wedding ceremonies. On the Ephesians 5 text which speaks of wives being subject to husbands, there is a long editorial comment in italics (only text with a comment) about “centuries of misusing this liberating text to preach women’s second-class position” – a pejorative comment about past saints with no corroborating historical evidence. One of the suggested biblical texts is 1 Samuel 18, which speaks of the love of Jonathan and David for each other. Of course, this text has nothing to do with anything of a sexual nature but since both men were married, the authors must be implying that David and Jonathan were bisexuals. That is misusing a text!
The book includes a special section on “Same-Gender Weddings” addressing the love-hate relationship that gays may have with a church that has rejected them. Many have left the church so they could “live as the people God made them to be.” So it is important to welcome them back to the church: “At weddings of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people, there may be many who have experienced the church as hurtful and judgmental. The welcome is opportunity to speak a new word that many may have not heard from the clergy. These words of welcome can be an important announcement of the gospel of love that Christians know in Jesus Christ.” Historic orthodox Christian teaching knows nothing of such nonsense. God does not make people gay. The book of Genesis provides the foundational narrative for Scripture’s understanding of marriage and sexuality; it is affirmed by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament. According to the Genesis account males and females are sexually designed for each other, and the Fall explains the sexual brokenness that pervades human experience.
One of the recommended “words of welcome” for a gay wedding is very revealing of the sub-Christian theology behind these new liturgies: “We celebrate here the love that welcomes everyone, regardless of whom we love, where we have been, what we believe, or what we have done.” There is much bad theology in this statement – so persons can love whomever they want, believe anything and don’t need to worry about repentance? Does this sound remotely Christian in any sense? This may be politically correct language, but it is not a proclamation of the gospel of love in Jesus Christ who died because of who we are – sinful human beings who need redemption.
Ironically, on the acknowledgments page one finds this statement: “Finally, we give thanks to our ancestors in the faith who shaped the marriage rites from which these liturgies have grown, with prayers that those who use these services will find them to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ and a source of blessing for their unions.” Protestant ancestors would be scandalized by the blessing of same-sex unions.
John Calvin commenting on Romans 1:
“Paul here records those abominations which had been common in all ages, and were at that time especially prevalent everywhere; for it is marvelous how common then was that filthiness which even brute beasts abhor: and some of these vices were even popular . . . he calls those disgraceful passions, which are shameful even in the estimation of men, and redound to the dishonoring of God.”
Martin Luther commenting on the Sodom and Gomorrah story:
“They departed from the natural passion and longing of the male for the female, which is implanted into nature by God, and desired what is altogether contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversity? Undoubtedly from Satan, who after people have once turned away from the fear of God, so powerfully suppresses nature that he blots out the natural desire and stirs up a desire that is contrary to nature.”
Presbyterian ancestors, for example, would no doubt declare that “Christian” gay wedding services are a violation of the third commandment. Invoking the name of the Holy Trinity in these services is a perverse misuse of God’s name. And God will not hold person’s guiltless. Consider the old Presbyterian Creed, the Westminster Standards of the 17th C. The Westminster Larger Catechism Ques. 113 asks: What particular sins does the third commandment forbid? The answer includes, “misinterpreting or misapplying God’s word or perverting all or part of its meaning in any way; . . . or to promote sinful desires and activities; maligning, scorning, reviling, or opposing in any way God’s truth, grace, and actions; pretending to be religious or using religion for evil purposes.” Gay marriage services must certainly plead guilty.
What is patently obvious in these liturgies is how diametrically opposed they are to the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How is it that some professing believers have become so opposed to the gospel, and seemingly ashamed of its declared power to change lives, that sealing sinful practice in a religious ceremony is now the ministry of the church? Rather than encouraging homosexuals to seek repentance, forgiveness and deliverance from their sin through the gospel, persons are confirmed in sinful life patterns that will destroy them in this life and the next. If this twisting of the gospel is not inspired by the devil, I don’t know what is!
Contrast these devilish marriage services with the glorious power of the gospel as seen in the transformed lives of former homosexuals Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield . Yuan and Butterfield both bear witness to repentance, forgiveness and a changed life of self-denial – all which flows from the grace of Christ. After the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage, Yuan and Butterfield (who now live respectively in celibate singleness and conjugal marriage) jointly issued a response which included this statement:
“In 1999, when Jesus Christ revealed His saving grace and love to each of us, we learned that our unbelief, and the idolatrous sexual lusts that flowed from it, were no longer matters of personal choice. We accepted that following Jesus meant giving up everything. We understood that repentance meant fleeing from anything that embodied the temptations that we knew best and loved most. . . . when the Holy Spirit changed our hearts, we came to know this: the gospel is costly and worth it. . . . We affirm that God has ordained marriage to be the union of a husband and wife which Jesus himself restated in Mark 10:6-8 and Matthew 19:4-5.”
We should pray for professing Christians who deny that only conjugal marriage between two believers is Christian marriage. Pray for God’s mercy, that they would repent and return to the orthodox Christian faith. Affirming gay marriage is proclaiming a “false gospel” as the Anglican bishops of the majority world have called it. German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg observed:
“If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical grounds but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”
While soft persecution is starting in America against Christian’s refusal to buy the lie in the cultural elite’s pro-gay script, the mainline church is marching right along in the gay pride parade, refusing to call homosexual practice sinful. This false gospel is encouraging people in their sin rather than proclaiming the gospel’s call to repentance. Perpetrating the delusion that Christianity and homosexuality are compatible is the most unloving thing imaginable – affirming sinful behavior that wreaks havoc in this life, and judgment in the life to come. And to seal the deception, the church now provides marriage services invoking the blessing of God upon sinful behavior condemned in Holy Scripture.
Make no mistake about it – affirming homoeroticism through “Christian” marriage services will incur the wrath of God. Jude wrote to early Christians urging them to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” and warning them about those who “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” And what historic example did Jude use? He wrote, “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of fire.” (Jude 3-7, ESV). Following the commands of Holy Scripture, our Protestant ancestors did not bless homoerotic behavior among those who profess faith in Christ – neither should we.
*Donald Fortson is Professor of Church History and Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is co-author, with Rollin Grams, of Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016).
 Inclusive Marriage Services: A Wedding Sourcebook , eds. Kimberly Bracken Long and David Maxwell (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press) 2015.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. John Owen, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 19 (repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979), 79.
 Martin Luther, “Lecture on Genesis,” Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, vol.3 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1961), 255.
 Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechism in Modern English (Summertown Company, 2004), 105, 106.
 See Christopher Yuan & Angela Yuan, Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2011); Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012).
 “Something Greater Than Marriage: A Response to the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Decision” (June 30, 2015) by Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield. Accessible at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/something-greater-than-marriage
 “What Wolfhart Pannenberg Says About This Debate in the Church,” Christianity Today, November 11, 1996, 37.