Recently, I had the blessing of attending a college youth meeting in which they were discussing the sanctity of marriage in Church and society. Not surprisingly, the issue of same-sex marriage came up and the servant asked the youth, “If you were invited to the same-sex wedding of a close friend, would you attend?” Quite surprisingly (at least to me), a couple of Orthodox Christian youth indicated that they would indeed attend out of a sense of love and friendship. For them, to not attend was to essentially end the relationship, because their friends would immediately disown them if they did not attend. Sensing some tension between this view and the Christian Church’s unequivocal rejection of same-sex relationships and marriage, one youth bravely offered that he would go only after he made it clear to his friend that he does not support same-sex marriage, but is only going out of friendship.
While the youth who said they would attend a same-sex wedding were a clear minority that day, I’m sure there are many youth who may feel the same way or have even been put in this exact situation. For this reason, it’s a good time to meditate on what our Lord Jesus Christ would have done and what the mind of the Church is on such matters.
At the very outset, I commend the youth who said they would attend a same-sex wedding for the sake of their friend, even though (as we shall see) I absolutely disagree with their choice. No one can deny the love in their hearts for their friends and for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. When they reasoned that going to a same-sex wedding was the right choice, it was not necessarily because they agreed with the lifestyle, but rather, because they wanted to express a Christlike love towards their friends.
I commend them for their love, but sadly, their way of expressing that love reflects a distortion of love that is easily identified in modern society. Today, love is equated with unrestrained acceptance. People are taught to be tolerant of others even when they engage in behaviors that lead to spiritual death (such as same-sex relationships).
But that is not a Christian love. The Holy John Chrysostomos summed it up nicely when he said, “Show me a Christian who is not concerned about the salvation of his neighbor and I will show you no Christian.” In other words, Christian love compels us to admonish others for the sake of their salvation. It stems from our general duty to care for others. If we heard, for example, that someone was physically sick, wouldn’t we be eager to call and ask about them? Or better yet, to visit them and speak a compassionate word? If we are this sensitive to one another’s physical sicknesses, how much more sensitive should we be towards one another’s spiritual sicknesses, which, after all, are much more dangerous and life threatening?
When a person tells us they are living in sin, we cannot simply pretend everything is okay and turn a blind eye. Instead, we must find a way to accept the person while making clear we don’t accept the sin just as our Lord Jesus Christ did when He told both the paralytic and the sinful woman, “Sin no more” (Jn 5:14, 8:11).
Throughout the Holy Scripture, we are reminded of our duty to admonish one another. In his prophetic book, the Holy Prophet Daniel said, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Da 12:3). What a beautiful promise found here in the OT! “Those who turn many to righteousness” will shine like the stars forever and ever. Later, in the NT, the Holy Apostle John teaches us, “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death” (1 Jn 5:16). Where is the focus in this verse? It is on the man who sees his brother committing sin and works to remedy it. This is love, brothers and sisters, not simply to see sin and ignore it. Consider what the Holy Apostle James says on exactly this topic in the final verse of his epistle:
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins (Jas 5:19–20).
This passage teaches us clearly that we have an obligation as Christians to admonish sinners. In his Sermons on Leviticus, Origen of Alexandria wrote, “A man who converts others will have his own sins forgiven.” If you look at the verse carefully, you will see that the soul saved from death is the soul of the sinner, but the one whose multitude of sins are covered is the person doing the admonishing. This is the beautiful promise God makes to all of us. If we admonish others, we might save a soul from death and cover a multitude of our own sins.
There are many ways to admonish others. If possible, we can speak with them directly, and so long as it is done in love and humility, they will listen. When it’s impossible to speak directly, there are nonverbal ways of admonishing others. For example, if a person tells us about a particular sin for which he is not repentant, we might respond by looking away with a pained expression in order to send a clear message that we are not okay with this. Another example would be to apologize and not attend an event at which a the person plans to commit a sin, like a same-sex wedding. The nonverbal communication can be anything that relays the message that we are in pain and anguish over this person’s sin.
Regardless of whether we admonish others verbally or non-verbally, our disposition must be loving and humble with absolutely no contempt or judgment. In the end, we are all sinners; even if we admonish another person in one matter, we ourselves need to be admonished in many other matters. People today oftentimes refuse to accept correction, because they feel the correcting person has a “holier than thou” attitude. He approaches the sinner from a sense of superiority, which immediately causes the sinner to become defensive. This is not, however, the proper way of admonishing sinners. Any admonishment must be done with the understanding that the admonishing person is more of a sinner than the person he is admonishing. Otherwise, it simply does not work.
What if we try to admonish someone, but are not successful? The Holy Hilary of Arles teaches us, “Someone who preaches to sinners in order to convert them will save his soul, even if the people he preaches to are not actually converted.” How beautiful is this promise! Our sins will be covered if only we try to admonish sinners; success is not necessarily required for the reward.
From all of this, we learn that admonishing one another is a Christian duty and responsibility. We all need to regularly admonish one another, because this is how we encourage each other to mature in the faith. If any one of you was weak and falling into temptation, wouldn’t you want your brothers and sisters to love you enough to speak to you about it? Or would you want them to be indifferent and leave you alone? Just as we want this done to us, we should do it to others. This is one of the many things that binds us together as the Church, the Body of Christ. Our salvation cannot be accomplished individually, but rather, it must be accomplished through koinonia, through the fellowship brought about by mutual admonition.
So, what should a person do if their close friend invites them to a same-sex wedding? If it were me, I would tell my friend that, although I love him dearly and want every joy for him, I simply cannot agree with this lifestyle, because my first love is for God.1 If he is open to understanding my viewpoint more, I would share the good news of the Gospel and speak about the life of holiness to which God has called all mankind. If he is not open to my viewpoint and quickly labels me a bigot or as one who is intolerant, I would remind him that my love for him has not changed and that I will always be there for him in anything that does not contradict my loyalty towards God. If that friend chooses to abandon me, it will be because of his intolerance, not mine. As for me, I will be content in the blessings God promises to those who show love by admonishing others in all love and humility.
- “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:26). ↩