Photographing a Wedding

With permission, here is a question I was asked by email yesterday and my response.

PhotographerI have been following your blog for some months now. Keep up the good work.

My brother has just set up a wedding photography business. He is anxious in case he should be called on to shoot a gay wedding and doesn’t know what to do. Depending on the day and the mood I am in I swing from yes one day to no the next!! Could you shed some light on this?? It could be an evangelistic opportunity. Jesus Himself had the strictest of sexual ethics yet shared His life openly with prostitutes and others.

My response.

Dear Anne,

The fundamental question I would ask myself is – what is my general attitude to doing business with sinners? For example, almost every wedding that your brother is going to take photos at will be of two unrepentant fornicators (for want of a better word). Why should it be different because of the particular style of fornication? In practice, what your brother is doing for unbelievers is giving them the best possible service on a day that is special to them, even if their lifestyles are not ones he would approve of, and for most of them that is the case! Whether a fornicator is sleeping with someone of the same-sex or opposite sex is neither here nor there.

Of course, one thing that it is possible to say to a couple is this – “I would be delighted to be the photographer at your wedding. However, you should be aware that I’m an Evangelical Christian and whilst I will do everything possible to record your day in pictures as well as I can, there might be parts of the day that make me feel uncomfortable and you might not get the best service from me than you would from someone else. If you still want to go ahead we can book you in, but if you felt that someone else might be a better choice I won’t be offended and I can even recommend a few people to you”.

If you say that then the decision for your brother to do the work is in the clients’ hands. You haven’t said “no” (and you should be willing to do the job and do it well if they say “we want you”) and the couple can’t feign “offence” because you’ve been as polite as possible, offering them your work but pointing out that because of what you believe you might unintentionally not give them the best service possible.

Does that make sense?

Thoughts?

17 Comments on “Photographing a Wedding

  1. My thoughts:

    “What is my general attitude to doing business with sinners?” Well, that depends on whether my doing business with them or not could be seen as facilitating or encouraging their sin, and whether I would be expected to realise that or not.

    For example, if I sold tools to the locksmith trade, and a foul-mouthed hoodie-wearing “oik” turned up at my shop, I would think twice about selling him a lock-picking kit, unless he could make a convincing case that he was not going to use it in furtherance of illegal activity. On the other hand, if I ran a general hardware store, and the same “oik” turned up to buy a screwdriver, I might have my suspicions about what he intended to do with it, but I would probably sell it to him, since there are plenty of legitimate uses he could put it to.

    If I were a photographer, I’d have no problem running a photo-shoot for a same-sex couple; I would not be facilitating any sinful act of their relationship. But I think I would not be comfortable doing their wedding/civil-partnership photography, since I would be both encouraging them in the continuation of their sinful lifestyle, and indeed, in a small way, facilitating the continuation of those sinful activities.

    I think there’s a difference between the same-sex couple and the previously-fornicating-but-now-marrying other-sex couple, in that their marriage is “regularising” their situation. They may not have repented of their former sin, but now they are married, something has qualitatively changed about their sexual relationship, and it is no longer sinful. Therefore, by my participation, I am actually encouraging (and in a small way, facilitating) their transition from a sinful relationship to one that, however poorly, reflects what God intended, and demonstrates, however weakly, the relationship between Christ and the Church. That has to be a good thing!

    That principle is also why I would find it impossible to run a B&B nowadays. By offering a bedroom to an unmarried couple (regardless of their same- or other- sexedness), I am facilitating their sexual sin — and it seems that even having a clearly advertised “married couples only” policy does not protect you against claims of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, even before same-sex marriage has been recognised in law.

  2. Peter, you are absolutely correct in pointing out what is blindingly obvious in retrospect, but so hard to see in the context of fear that surrounds us: we deal with sinners all the time. An important note to add is that Christians also are sinners, albeit under grace. We have an unfortunate habit of demonising certain sins, whilst tacitly believing that other sins aren’t really all that bad. But all sin leads to death and we all face the same curse and we all need the same saviour to deliver us. This is true whether my sin is, to name two extremes, the socially acceptable sin of having a one night stand or the socially very much unacceptable sin of child abuse. There cannot be, in a Christian world view, the idea that someone else’s sin is worse than mine.

  3. Very relevant article: http://dougwils.com/s7-engaging-the-culture/the-hamfisted-jackboot.html .

    “But doing business is not the issue here. Christian photographers,
    florists, caterers, etc. are absolutely right to refuse to do such
    events. And the reason for this is the reason these professions are
    being singled out in these court cases in the first place. This is not
    about economic exchange, but is rather about mandated social approval.
    The demand is we must all applaud.

    And is the reason why photographers and florists are going to be at the
    center of this next round of fights. The homosexual agenda is not to
    make us do business with them. The point is to make us approve of them.”

    So that’s the difference. Christians should applaud when a male ‘unrepentant fornicator’ and a female ‘unrepentant fornicator’ get married, because (the Christian hopes) they will be fornicators no longer. Heterosexual marriage is a creation ordinance, and it’s available to unbelievers, and it’s a good thing when they enter it and commit to it. So there should be no problem with him doing the wedding of two non-Christians.

    (The wedding of a Christian and a non-Christian, on the other hand, would be a much tricker question!)

    Gerv

  4. What I love about these kinds of posts are the implied terms, like ‘wedding’ (or in the case of Hall and Preddy vs. Bulls the legal meaning of ‘boarding house’) that are never fully scrutinized until a judge has to decide whether, in terms of the Equality Act, a refusal to provide a service constituted direct or indirect discrimination. It’s only then that we are held to the strictest dictionary definition.

    In this case, then, how does the dictionary describe a wedding? ‘the ceremony where people are united in marriage’

    If as a Christian, you reject the validity of assigning marriage status to same-sex relationships and will continue to campaign against it, to provide a wedding photography service to a gay couple is tantamount to affirming the status of the couple as married.

    To claim that you only hold that distinction privately is to accept that your beliefs protected under Article 9 are not serious or weighty enough to justify making a public distinction…Or that the legal consequences are far too heavy to face.

    Again, I wonder if a wedding photographer re-located to Georgia or Florida where cousin marriage is permitted, would they maintain scruples about the immorality of incest over there? The major difference is that incest is not dignified socially as an identity, And if it was, those who refused to acknowledge it would end up in court.

    Sometimes I wish that those who cite this as an inscrutable moral quandary would own up to that very real fear of rejection. They hate the idea that they could be rejected and persecuted. Ever.

    To me, just saying that they love their business and popular acceptance; that they would hate being tarred with the ‘homophobic’ epithet would, at least, be honest. As it would be to say: ‘I love my happy, clappy church. It gives me that warm and fluffy feeling inside. But, I also like to chop and choose from that bunch of books and letters called the Bible written so long ago. It’s certainly not my code of life and I ain’t suffering for standing by what it says’.

    All I want to hear is a bit of honesty from the double-minded.

  5. I suspect it would need to be in the Terms of Business.

    I wonder what the OFT would say?

    I am not aware that Wedding Photography is exempt from the duties imposed in the Equalities Act (was that the name of the legislation?).

  6. ‘Judge not lest ye be judged. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As a card carrying gay rights activist, I hope I would never single out Conservative Christians for poor treatment, not just because that’s a lousy way to behave, but also because I would be a lousy witness to my Lord and saviour.

    Admirable words. Tell that to your friends at the Thinking Anglicans fan club who know how to ‘moderate’ Conservative Christians, like me out of comment threads. The perfect oxymoron: liberal censorship.

  7. Excellent advice Peter.

    While you’re at it, I don’t suppose you can advise on an equally important matter of morality and ethics – how to get out of an invitation to a “party” to look through any wedding photos?

    Perhaps I’m just an old grinch but it’s the sort of invite that fills me with the same sort of horror as those other dreaded words – “Oh you must come and see the photos of our recent holiday….”

    Now if I could only find a reason in scripture for forbidding that…

  8. An issue that has long been on my mind, as a Christian running a wedding band. Peter, we’ve had a brief chat about this as well (via facebook)

    Here are some thoughts…

    1. Our mandate is to love our neighbours, preach the good news and teach them to obey.

    If all homosexual relationships are always sinful, then they are always bad for the people involved. If a Christian believes this, then participating in, and facilitating the celebration of such a relationship is to act against their conscience, and to knowingly damage the people involved. We celebrate something which we believe will, or can be a good thing. This is never the case with homosexual relationships.

    2. We cannot lie by saying we’re already booked. Can we mislead by saying we’re unavailable? Supposing the instant that an enquiry comes in for a date, can we then decide that we will remain unavailable on that date? Or can we decide that, for the duration of the phone call, we won’t be available, but then, later decide to make ourselves available (just at the point that it so happens that another opposite-sex wedding client calls)? This is hardly honest behaviour, and certainly it would fall foul in court if we were asked to testify about our motives.

    3. Suppose I say to them (like you mention above) that as a Christian I cannot endorse gay unions, because to do so would be unloving. My creative skill as a professional musician/photographer/florist is tied to my conscience, and I cannot perform as well when this aspect is compromised. Therefore if I did your gay wedding, I would probably perform badly.
    Is this the equivalent to making a sign saying “gay business is not welcomed here”? I don’t think that would get very far in court… Arguably (and worryingly) any notice, or confession of faith might be treated as such.

    3a. Remember, the person is not asking your opinions on gay marriage – they’re asking you to provide a service. You can’t legally refuse to provide a service based on their sexuality, but you probably shouldn’t *socially* give your opinions unasked. They’re not inviting you as a guest…it’s different.

    4. Making a stand will make you a target. The biggest problem in the gay marriage debate is that people do not venerate marriage – this is why our politicians have been keen to throw it as a bone to the gay lobby. Society does not venerate marriage as it should. Therefore, some gay people will decide they want to get married just so they can expose the (alleged) bigotry of those who do not endorse their lifestyle – that will be central to their agenda. Their commitment will be to their sense of entitlement first, even perhaps over their commitment to each other, and certainly over the institution of marriage.

    5. If we, as wedding suppliers, wish to highlight our views on marriage specifically to a gay couple, they might well ask whether we make our Christian views clear to other people getting married. If we say no, or if we have been inconsistent in the past, this possibly puts us foul of discrimination laws. Choosing to speak up when it’s a gay couple but not making the same effort to espouse your views with other couples will get you the way it got the Bulls BnB people.

    6. Can wedding suppliers rebrand themselves as “Christian wedding suppliers”? TWrite it into your brand identity that your core principles are to help celebrate and promote Christian marriage. Perhaps a society membership might be the best way to do this. Can we create a “Christian wedding suppliers alliance”? This would have to demonstrate that it is not excluding ONLY gay couples though, and to be honest, I don’t think it would survive any legal challenges.

    7. To what extent is a wedding supplier actually endorsing the event they are supplying? By shopping at tesco, I don’t think I’m endorsing everything they stand for and their corporate policies. But then, maybe I am complicit if I do.

    8. I can donate the profits from any gay wedding to a charity/group that works to undo the damage that surrounds homosexual unions. But I don’t know if those charities would be entirely comfortable with that – profiting from the folly of others…Arguably, it is offsetting the folly of others.

    9. Can suppliers legitimately price themselves out the game whenever it’s a gay wedding enquiry? Again, that’s going to be seen legally as discrimination (and it is.)

    10. Is there a legitimate witnessing opportunity? By conducting yourself with professionalism and loving courtesy, yes perhaps. Is it better for them to see that you get really excited to support and affirm the traditional definition of marriage, and have that be the only rebuke you issue? I can wax lyrical about why I think heterosexual marriage is a truly wonderful gift, and not say a thing about any other kind of union, and no-one can sue me for not mentioning it.

    11. There’s no reason why you can’t put e.g. bible verses on your business card, or website etc..On the one hand, you will probably scare off a lot of anti-Christian clients, but on the other, your values will be more clearly seen by the people you want to witness to.

    12. I think that it’s rare that we get good witnessing opportunities as wedding suppliers, but maybe that’s not the case for everyone. Weddings suppliers, in my experience, rarely get into deep and meaningful conversations with their clients any more than waiters do.

    Perhaps the best course is one of humble affirmation of the marriage model that you endorse. If people ask you to do a gay wedding, you can say it’s not something that you usually get asked to do, or which you actively seek, probably because of your Christian values. If the person is insistent and wants to hire your services, of course you can come and provide the advertised service – but you would understand if the client preferred not to engage you.

    That’s easy to write here, but entirely different when you have to speak to, or email a client who enquires…

    Interested to hear people’s thoughts on any of the above. Please note, it’s all predicated on the first two sentences of point 1.

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