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Alistair Begg Stands by LGBTQ Wedding Advice with Sermon on Jesus’ Compassion

Despite his opposition to same-sex marriage, Begg’s “grandfatherly” pastoral counsel cost him his place on American Family Radio and at the Shepherds Conference.
Alistair Begg Stands by LGBTQ Wedding Advice with Sermon on Jesus’ Compassion
Alistair Begg

For the past few weeks, Alistair Begg, pastor of Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and host of the Truth for Life radio program, has been caught in what he calls “a storm in a teacup” over advice he gave about attending an LGBTQ wedding.

That advice, he said in a sermon this past weekend, was based on Jesus’ command for Christians to love even those they disagree with or disapprove of.

“Jesus said you are supposed to love your enemies,” said Begg, drawing on a series of Bible texts to claim that Christians should show compassion—and not condemnation—for those who have gone astray.

The sermon was a response to a controversy over comments Begg made during a promotional interview for a book last fall, which recently went viral on social media. During the interview, Begg recounted talking to a woman whose grandchild was getting married to someone who was transgender. Begg, who opposes same-sex weddings, suggested she go to the wedding and bring a gift. By doing so, she would show her love for her grandchild—even though she did not approve of the wedding.

“Your love for them may catch them off guard, but your absence will simply reinforce the fact that they said, ‘These people are what I always thought: judgmental, critical, unprepared to countenance anything,’” the evangelical pastor said. He added that Christians would have to take risks in order to show love to those around them.

Begg’s comments set off a firestorm among some of his fans and supporters—in particular those in conservative Calvinist and other evangelical communities. White evangelicals remain one of the least likely of all US religious groups to support same-sex marriage, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

Thirty-eight percent of white evangelicals say they support same-sex marriage, according to PRRI. By contrast, 87 percent of nones, 81 percent of Jews, 77 percent of Buddhists, 77 percent of white mainline Protestants, and about three-quarters of Catholics approve of same-sex marriage.

Begg had been scheduled to speak in March at the Shepherds Conference, a major Reformed evangelical pastors’ gathering led by California pastor and author John MacArthur. After Begg’s comments became public, he and MacArthur talked and decided the controversy would be “an unnecessary distraction,” according to a spokesman for Grace to You, one of the conference sponsors.

“Pastor MacArthur’s counsel on that issue would be completely different from the counsel Alistair Begg said he gave an inquiring grandmother,” said Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You told Religion News Service in an email. “So both agreed that it was necessary for Pastor Begg to withdraw.”

American Family Radio, an evangelical broadcasting network, droppedTruth for Life, a program based on Begg’s sermons, last week after his advice resurfaced and went viral.

It also led to a series of articles by other Christian leaders, saying Christians should not attend LGBTQ weddings. “After all, attendance so as to show ‘love’ or avoid giving offense is a form of blessing, just without the name,” wrote Carl Trueman, professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, for the Catholic publication First Things.

Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, hosted a special broadcast explaining why the group parted ways with Begg. Wildmon said the ministry got calls complaining about the broadcast—and reached out to Begg, whose radio program had appeared on AFR for more than a decade.

“The goal of the call was reconciliation, but reconciliation with truth,” said Walker Wildmon, an AFA vice president. He added that Begg refused to back down from his comments, which Walker Wildmon compared to a dad offering to drive his alcoholic child to a bar.

A staffer from Parkside Church told Religion News Service that Begg has no comment about being dropped from American Family Radio.

Begg, a native of Scotland who has lived in the United States for four decades, said he has long taught that sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is wrong—and so he was surprised at the controversy over his comments and the accusations that he had abandoned Christian teaching.

“Now, we can disagree over whether I gave that grandmother good advice. Or not,” he said. “Not everybody on the pastoral team thinks I gave very good advice.”

During the sermon, he drew from the New Testament parable of the prodigal son—which emphasizes forgiveness over judgment—and the parable of the good Samaritan, which emphasizes compassion over claims of holiness. Both stories, he said, showed the power of God’s grace.

He also drew from a story Jesus told of a shepherd who had 100 sheep and lost one of them—and left the 99 behind to find the one that was lost.

“I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent,” Jesus says in Luke 15.

Begg warned his congregation about Christians who seem unwilling to show grace or forgiveness to others, telling his congregation to be wary of pastors who are eager to loudly condemn sinners. Begg said he was thinking with his “grandfatherly hat” when he gave that advice, hoping to help that grandmother show God’s love

“All I was thinking about was how can I help this grandmother,” Begg said, adding that he didn’t want her to lose her grandchild.

To a different person in different circumstances, he said, he might have given different advice. But he has no plan to repent of his advice, no matter what happens on social media.

Begg also said he was glad his advice to this grandmother—rather than his other sermons about sexuality—had gone viral.

“Because If I’ve got to go down on the side of one or the other, I’ll go down on this side,” he said. “I’ll go down on the side of compassion.”

[ This article is also available in español and Français. ]

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