I wrote this piece in May 2016, but never got around to publishing it. Which sucks because I spent a lot of time considering this topic.
So here I am, a year and a half later, not even really a wedding photographer (semi-retired), and ready to publish. Figures. Oh, well. It’s a long one, though, so buckle up and enjoy!
As of late, it’s been a hot button topic regarding those of us that are Christian business owners, specifically those of us in the service and wedding industries, and this all impacts me greatly. In 2010, I began building a photography company. In 5 years, I worked dozens of weddings and photographed probably a hundred people or more. In 2015, I went into business with a good friend of mine and sister in Christ, Kelly, and we formed Maid & Anchor Photography in the Cleveland-Akron, Ohio area. Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court decision came down legalizing same-sex marriage and it caused us to take a long hard look at where we stood as Christians and what we would do if approached by same-sex couples to document their wedding.
At the time, we came to a conclusion as to what we would do, and I’ll get to that in a second, but this topic has resurfaced because of laws passed in a few states that are intended to guard religious liberties of Christians who want protection under the law to refuse service to people based on their sincere religious convictions. As a Christian AND a photographer AND a blogger, I felt I would be remiss to not at least share on my blog the conclusion I’ve come to after searching the Word and seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit because it has definitely been a definitive moment for me as a follower of Christ.
I recently listened to a podcast weighing in on these new laws and debates where one gentlemen put forth six well-thought-out questions regarding the issue that caused me to rethink the stance I took last year. And being that this is not the black-and-white issue we all likely hoped it would be, and it is incredibly difficult and controversial to cover, I chose to share my answers to those questions. But because I didn’t seek this answer out alone, I invited Kelly, my business partner and friend, to join me in the discussion as well (***2017 edit: but she wasn’t able to participate, though she did offer me a stamp of approval back when this was originally written***). So this is about to be the longest blog post of mine ever. Just bear with me/us.
So, here goes…
1. How are Christians perceived in culture because of this issue? Does the public perception of Christians matter?
Sam: As far as how Christians are perceived in American culture because of this issue, I think it’s quite obvious: I think we are viewed as hateful and rude individuals that seek to just beat everyone without God with our Bibles and Constitutional right to religious freedom. Which I don’t think is fair because I don’t think I do that to people. Actually, I know it’s true because it’s happened to me in the comments on my blog. No matter how gracious I try to be or actually AM about delicate issues like this, I usually wind up accused of bigotry, and I think that’s because some Christians can be pretty hateful and angry when the world doesn’t look like the Kingdom. But the hard truth is that it’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to be in direct opposition to us. Darkness is the opposite of light and it’s not supposed to be anything else. We’re supposed to expose and rid the world of darkness just by being light, not by trying to make the darkness itself be light, if that makes any sense written out.
And in that, I will say that, yes, I believe the public perception of Christians does matter. Christ says in Mark 13 that “Everyone will hate you because of me,” (v. 13 NIV), but just because they will hate us doesn’t mean that their perception doesn’t matter. One way or another, I identify as a Christian and therefore I bear the name of Christ. I represent Him. I want to represent Him accurately, truthfully, and well. So, yes, if we, as a group, are going to wave any banner, I want it to be the banner of love that Christ raises over me (Song of Solomon 2:4 NIV) so that when someone who doesn’t know Christ sees me and judges me, they will see and judge Christ in me.
2. Jesus showed love and compassion to sinners and anger toward the religious. Are we reflecting that also?
Sam:If we are refusing service to sinners in our own self-righteousness, then no, we are not a picture of this at all. When I think about how Christ actually interacted with people, I come to the stories of Matthew becoming a disciple of Christ in Matthew 9 and of Christ performing His first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in John 2. I think of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and the woman caught in adultery in John 8. He was gentle and kind with these people and they were not religious or righteous people.
Matthew was a tax collector, and they were known at the time to be swindlers and robbers, working for Rome and charging more for taxes than required so they could skim some money off the top for themselves. The people at the wedding that ran out of wine, well, think about it – they’d already consumed ALL the wine. It’s not like there wasn’t any and Jesus let everyone have just a taste. It wasn’t grape juice. They drank it ALL, they might’ve already been a little tipsy! The Samaritan woman was supposed to be off limits to a Jewish man because they weren’t even really regarded as people of equal value or stature. The woman caught in adultery, I mean… she was found with a man who wasn’t her husband and pulled out to be stoned according to the law of Moses. I think that speaks for itself about where she was at spiritually and emotionally.
These were definitely not the cream of the religious crop. Yet according to what Jesus said Himself in Matthew 9:12-13, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” And I guess the way that I apply that concept is that I myself was called to Christ BECAUSE I too am a sinner. Romans 3:23 makes that obvious: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I’m a part of “all.” And I’m a sinner that was saved by grace and by mercy through Christ’s own sacrifice. I don’t have to make any sacrifice other than to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27), and because of His grace and mercy, I choose to extend grace and mercy to sinners, meaning everyone. Meaning same-sex couples. Meaning same-sex couples seeking me for my photography services.
On the flip side of that, however, Christ was really harsh in dealing with those folks that were the religious elites, the Pharisees. He flipped the table in the temple in Matthew 21 and called them self-absorbed, hypocritical, wicked, lying, “broods of vipers in Matthew 23. Read it; Jesus throws the hammer down in Matthew 23. Then in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul talks about not being associated with the sexually immoral, but what I think a lot of people miss is that the person he’s making an example of was INSIDE the church, was a religious person. He says in verses 11-13, “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” (NIV). Again, the way that I apply that verse to my own life is that I should be much more concerned with how my brothers and sisters claiming Christ are reflecting His character and how they are living their lives than the people outside the church. Again, the world is supposed to be the world. It belongs to Satan (John 14:30, 2 Corinthians 4:4). Why do we expect it to be anything less? But for us who claim to belong to Christ – the percentage of us getting divorces, addicted to porn, having pre-marital sex and co-habitating before marriage, or gluttonously hording our wealth and living extravagantly lavish and immodest lives should be much more a concern for the church than the sins of the world. In my opinion.
3. If a Christian provider is to refuse service to homosexuals based on Biblical principles, should they then also refuse service to those who are divorced, living together before marriage and engaging in premarital sex, addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, etc?
Sam: This was an issue that came up for me in a really real way. Prior to the Supreme Court decision, I was discussing what I would do in this case because it seemed inevitable that the Court would decide in favor of same-sex marriage, I did a maternity session for an old friend. At the time, she was not married and was living with the father of her unborn baby. I’m sure you can see the conflict of interest here. To me, if I’m going to refuse service based on Biblical principal, then I have to do that across the board. I’m a big fan of consistency, even if I’m not always good at it.
However, some of these issues are much more difficult to discern. For example, I might not know if a pregnant mother is married or not prior to her shoot. I might not know if a couple is living together or not, or having sex or not before I shoot their wedding. In order to know, I’d have to some really creepy things or I’d have to ask in hopes they’d tell the truth. And then, I’d have to refuse service to anyone who sinned in anyway. And to take that a step further, because I myself am a sinner, as previously stated and Biblically supported, do I then even have a right to be taking the pictures in the first place? I mean, the implications of the statement “I won’t serve them because they go against my religious convictions” are infinite, because even I go against my own religious convictions from time to time – see Romans 7.
4. Are there any circumstances in which a Christian provider would or should refuse service to someone/anyone? For example, a contractor building or repairing a Planned Parenthood building, a videographer documenting a Wicca convention or a painter commissioned to paint something for the KKK, etc.
Sam: This one is much harder to answer and is the reason why I said in the opening that this isn’t as black-and-white as we’d like it to be. If I say that, yes, I would serve anyone under any circumstances then, who knows? Maybe I would get asked to document a Wicca convention or to do work for the KKK. For the circumstances listed above, or in any circumstance, I really believe it should be up for interpretation based on the specific convictions of the service provider, and that’s the most practical way I can put that. On the flip side of the practical side, the purpose of the work is important to consider. Think of the photographers that go into some pretty crazy places and they document what’s happening there for, say, a ministries promotional material or maybe an article about why a particular cause needs attention and funding to end a particular abusive or sinful practice. In those circumstances, the photographer is there taking pictures of different rituals or what-have-you in order to help bring a solution to that area, or who knows, to bring Christ to that area.
If I was invited to a Wicca convention to take pictures, I might go just for the opportunity to talk to people about Jesus and learn more about what makes them gravitate toward that religion, because that’s what Jesus would do. He’d get to their hearts, not their behavior (1 Samuel 16:7). Sometimes, someone has to do the dirty work and maybe it SHOULD be Christians. After all, we’re the ones that pray to the God of everything. Who better to learn these things, get to know these people, and pray, really PRAY for them and who is to say that God doesn’t deliver us some of these assignments to make these people that are different from us really real to us so that we pray earnestly and out of real love for them?
5. If a Christian provider is to refuse service to someone because of their sexual orientation, what does that look like/feel like/sound like?
Sam: I really think that this can be done in a loving way, even if it’s not received as very loving. And I think that if we offend someone with a rejection like this, we need to just love harder. The act of love, though, varies from person to person. The way I would lovingly say something to someone, Kelly would say it differently. But I really think that if you are a wedding service provider who intends to say ‘no’ to someone based on religious convictions, I would recommend just saying that you are not available that day – you are not obligated to tell them why, for any reason – and prepare a list to give to give to these people of wedding service providers that you know will provide excellent service but feel differently than you do about providing it.
Now I know some people think we are obligated because we’re Christians and called to share the Gospel with all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), but nowhere does the Bible say we have to do that with our words. Furthermore, sharing the Gospel is completely different than being moral police to the world (I would refer you back to 1 Corinthians 5).
5. Does the actions of a Christian’s business imply endorsement of customer behavior? And specifically, for us as photographers, does our photographing a same sex wedding imply endorsement of our clients’ lifestyle?
Sam: In general, no, I don’t think so. I think a lot of people disagree with their bosses, and it’s a joke to say that I am my own boss when I am on paid, client time. I disagree with mine at my day job frequently, but I still work for her, and for all her bosses above. And just to be clear, I know she is not a Christian and I know she and her boyfriend live together, but above her, I have no idea what their religious preferences are. I come in and I do my job as unto the Lord. I read things in the Bible like Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3 and 1 Peter 2 about serving our masters “in reverent fear of God” (1 Peter 2:18 NIV) and no where do I read that these masters were Christ-followers.
Historically, I know that Paul made tents for people in order to fund his ministry, and I’m going to make a stretch here, but I really think it would be naïve of me to believe that he only made tents for perfect, sinless, Christ followers. I mean – gasp – he may have made a tent at some point that a homosexual engaged in homosexual activity in! Does that reflect Paul’s endorsement? Of course not! If anything, it’s his service to those around him that speaks to his endorsement which belongs to Christ.
Jesus said that He came to serve and not to be served (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, Luke 13:1-17) and that is how He loved us, He served us to the point of DEATH while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). How can I, if claiming to reflect that love, not serve a sinner in any way I can when while I was sinning Christ was lifted on the cross for me? I really believe that my willingness to serve despite my difference in conviction speaks more to my endorsement of Christ than it does to their behavior.
I think that, by now, you know where we stand. As Christians who own and operate this business, our ultimate goal is to use it to share the Gospel and to serve our God with excellence in our creative work and in our service to others. And when it comes to serving people who have sought us out for photography, we will make no secret of our convictions and stance on the issue, but that won’t affect our service to those people. We will choose to work for and with them in love and grace and mercy, sacrificing our own reputations with the religious in order to serve those that still need to see and hear Jesus.
I know that so many people – because they have already – will say that if we are photographing their wedding, isn’t it a little late to be claiming that our service will show them the gospel? Shouldn’t we be trying to stop their wedding? And to that I say, ‘you of little faith’ (Matthew 8:26).
No one is beyond the reach of our God and as long as they are alive and breathing, it’s never too late. How God may work that out in their life is beyond us and isn’t for us to understand, quite honestly, because His ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). But no, it’s not up to us to stop their wedding; it’s up to us to love them with all we have and to pray without ceasing, in hopes that maybe it plants a seed in their heart that they and the Holy Spirit are responsible for growing.
We refuse to put ourselves in God’s place, believing that we can control the universe around us, and instead choose to intercede in prayer and love by serving and sacrifice for those outside of the Kingdom in hopes that it will change their minds about Christians, and maybe someday, change their minds about Christ.
And that is how we choose to carry the Gospel to the world with our business. Not by refusing service to sinners, but by service despite sin. We can’t make our clients earn our service based on their works and obedience to God any more than our salvation depends on those things, because ultimately, that is what the Gospel is about.
*side note: the photo I included with this post is from a shoot I did with a beautiful set of people, Leah and Audra, from back in 2015. To date, they are the only same-sex couple I have had the pleasure to work with. They are recently married.
You can see more of our portfolio at Facebook.com/maidandanchorphoto