There were about 20 of us: the engaged couple, their parents, the bridesmaids and groomsmen who were going to be in the wedding the next day, and Nell and me. We had just left the wedding rehearsal, and now we were seated around a long table in the upstairs room of a Mexican restaurant. It was the joyful celebration dinner that follows the wedding rehearsal.
The bride's parents had been members of our church for about a year, and they were wonderful people. Only a year or two earlier, they had become Christians. It was all new and exciting to them, and they were growing and serving the Lord. And now their daughter was marrying a fine Christian husband.
There was lots of laughter and fun at the table. I remember saying real loud to the father of the bride, so everybody else at the table could hear, "Hey Gary. I asked a man once what it was like to give away his daughter in marriage. He told me, 'It's like taking your finely tuned Stradivarius and handing it to a gorilla.'" Everyone laughed. But the mother of the groom stood up and said, "I'm the mother of that gorilla, and I resent that." More laughter.
Just then the waitress brought in margaritas and set one down in front of everybody. When everybody had one, Gary got up with his margarita in his hand to make a toast—a toast to the happiness of his daughter and her wonderful husband. Some people at the table reached for their margaritas; others looked down to see what I was doing. They all seemed to be asking, Is it okay to drink alcohol? What would the pastor think? What should I do?
Gary was finishing his toast, and my mind was spinning fast. Gary is absolutely innocent in what he's doing, I thought to myself. To him as a new Christian, it's perfectly natural that he would toast his daughter with a margarita. If I don't join in, he and his wife will be mortified. They'll think they've made a terrible mistake, that they've done something terribly wrong. They'll worry that the pastor will forever look down on them. If I don't join in, they'll take it as my disapproval of them spiritually.
But if I do join in, I continued, I know there are other people in the church who think it's a sin to drink alcohol. In their mind, Christians don't drink. If I do join in, they'll hear that I drank, and they'll think it's terrible—'The pastor drinks! What kind of a pastor is that?' And they'll sit in judgment of me and ignore my preaching from then on.
Situations like that one, in which you need to the best choice, come up all the time.
A few months ago we had a wonderful booth at the Armenian Festival in the park. People came by, learned about our church, and took our literature. Suppose next week I get a phone call: "Pastor Sunukjian, you don't know me, but I saw your booth in the park. My fiancée and I want to get married. We're not really church people, but we'd still like an Armenian pastor to perform the ceremony. Would you be willing to do it?"
Donald Sunukjian is Homiletics Chair and Professor of Christian Ministry and Leadership at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.
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