Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Photographing Idolatry?

Since we have been studying 1 Corinthians 8-10, I want to draw your attention to this perceptive application of that text by Russell Moore. In answer to a photographer's question about whether or not to photograph a same-sex 'wedding ceremony', Dr. Moore astutely points out that this question has parallels with the Corinthian dilemma regarding food offered to idols.

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.

Dr. Moore closes with a challenge to love those involved in this sin and to show kindness 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.

This advice is helpful, and the reminder to love is so appreciated. Yet I believe the advice could be much more helpful if it clearly represented the teaching of 1 Corinthians 8-10. In that text, the apostle teaches us that participation in idolatry is always and everywhere wrong. We must flee idolatry, both for the sake of saving others and for the sake of saving our own souls. Now, he also makes clear that mere association with idolatry is not necessarily a problem, for the earth is the Lord's. The mere fact that something has been used in idolatry or is associated with idolatry does not make it off-limits for Christians. But as soon as we cross the line into participation with idolatry in any given situation, then we must abstain.

I would argue that photographing a same-sex wedding ceremony is participation in idolatry, for a same-sex wedding ceremony is by definition clear-cut, in your face, public idol worship (Rom 1:18-32). It carries this meaning no matter what anyone's conscience says about it. Why is this so? Marriage is by definition a public, not a private, institution.

In this regard, photographing a wedding ceremony of any kind is not analogous to a Christian restaurant owner serving a gay couple who came into his restaurant. Eating a meal is a good and right act, and a Christian does no sin in helping others to eat. In fact, it is a good way to show love even to our enemies (Rom 12:20-21). A same-sex wedding is a sinful act. Period. Always. No possibility of it being anything other than sinful. Moreover, it is a sinful act which is by its very nature demands public support and approval. Christians must never support, condone, or encourage such things.

Participating in any way in a same-sex wedding ceremony is a good contemporary equivalent to "reclining at table in an idol's temple" (1 Cor 8:7). We ought not to do for the sake of fellow Christians with weak consciences (1 Cor 8:9-13), and we ought not to do it because we cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons (1 Cor 10:14-22). If the law of the land tells us that we have to do it, we must simply obey God rather than men and take what comes.

Speaking of consciences, I suspect that Dr. Moore's piece misconstrues what Paul is talking about with regard to conscience in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. In particular, 1 Corinthians 8:7 is not talking about what someone thinks is wrong but is actually right. Paul says that some "through a pattern of behavior fixed by tradition and sanctioned by society eat food as offered to an idol." By doing this, their moral self-awareness is rendered unfit for the presence of God. Advocates and practitioners of same-sex 'marriage' are trying to make their practice fixed by tradition and sanctioned by society. Christians with weak consciences may be swayed by such community recognition into thinking that it is okay. This would be a real stumbling block for them, and it could lead to their falling away from Christ. If you wish, you can hear more about this in this sermon "Love Your Brother."

Dr. Moore's last piece of advice is not wise. The reason you will not photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony is not that "you personally would feel guilty about doing it but you refrain from making any public moral judgment about it" (which is how "you have beliefs about marriage that won’t allow your conscience to participate in this way" translates in today's society). The reason you will not photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony is because you want to rescue those involved in this sin from the wrath of God (Gal 5:19-21; Heb 13:4). You thus should not recommend another photographer to participate in the idolatry. By doing this, you have condoned the evil. You have also missed a tremendous gospel opportunity. Only by dealing honestly with their sin can homosexuals come to repentance and salvation, as is true of each and every one of us. Better to lose your photography business honestly pointing people to Christ than to keep your business preaching "Peace, peace" when there is no peace. This is real love.

One last thought. As we evaluate our actions, we can never reduce them to an amoral "providing a service." If 1 Corinthians 8-10 makes anything plain, it is that we are responsible moral agents acting in real social contexts with real responsibilities both to the Lord and to others. I am grateful that the photographer who prompted these thoughts declined to participate in idolatry, and I hope he or she never feels guilty about it again. I also hope that we as Christians will gain the moral clarity we need to glorify God and advance the gospel while living in a land of false gods. Dr. Moore brought a perfect text to bear on this discussion. We need to take its full weight seriously.

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