So yesterday I was on Facebook and numerous articles came across my news feed, all relating to someone I’ve had a lot of respect for over the years, that is Eugene Peterson. For those who don’t know who Peterson is, he is best known for his work in putting together one of the world’s most popular paraphrase Bibles, The Message. The Message came in at number 10 of the most popular Bible translations of 2016 according to Nielson. Because of the success of The Message, Peterson has long been in the public eye. But this past week he has come under a little scrutiny because of an article that was released by Religion News Service entitled Eugene Peterson on Changing His Mind About Same-Sex Issues and Marriage.
However, as with most stories that come out on the internet, there’s a little more to this story than meets the eye, so let’s investigate and try to get to the bottom of this issue that has the Christian online world in a bit of a storm. Let’s dig in shall we.
The RNS Article
The article is quite interesting, the contributor Jonathan Merritt introduces the piece by saying he wants to investigate Peterson’s views on homosexuality and gay marriage, as it is a very hot topic in the world today. This is certainly the case when you look at the way the world is today.
The question Merritt asks Peterson is interesting here, as is Peterson’s response. The question asked is what is the morality of same-sex relationships, and has your view changed on this over the years? Below is Peterson’s response to the question.
“I haven’t had a lot of experience with it. But I have been in churches when I was an associate pastor where there were several women who were lesbians. They didn’t make a big deal about it. I’d go and visit them and it never came up for them. They just assumed that they were as Christian as everybody else in the church.”
He goes on to say the following:
“In my own congregation — when I left, we had about 500 people — I don’t think we ever really made a big deal out of it. When I left, the minister of music left. She’d been there ever since I had been there. There we were, looking for a new minister of music. One of the young people that had grown up under my pastorship, he was a high school teacher and a musician. When he found out about the opening, he showed up in church one day and stood up and said, “I’d like to apply for the job of music director here, and I’m gay.” We didn’t have any gay people in the whole congregation. Well, some of them weren’t openly gay. But I was so pleased with the congregation. Nobody made any questions about it. And he was a really good musician.”
Peterson closes his answer by saying:
“I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.”
One thing to be immediately aware of here is that Peterson answer does not actually bring Scripture into play, but solely focuses on his experience with people who are of a homosexual persuasion who identify themselves as believers in Christ. Peterson also states that this would not have been his answer 20 years ago, the question is why? This is an assumption, but here’s my guess, gay marriage was not being pushed down the throats of society in 1997, whereas it is now.
Merritt then follows this initial question up with the question of would you ever perform a same-sex wedding ceremony, Peterson’s answer is YES.
However, that is not the end of the story here, as Peterson has since retracted his comment on performing a same-sex marriage.
Peterson’s Retraction in the Washington Post
In an article released yesterday (13 July) entitled Popular Author Eugene Peterson: Actually, I Would Not Perform a Gay Marriage, Peterson retracted his comments on being willing to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony, saying.
“When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that.”
Peterson says a lot more on the subject than this, so I would encourage you to read the full article as we won’t be covering every detail covered in the retraction story. However, Peterson did clarify what his view on homosexuality and gay marriage was in the following statement:
“To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.”
Peterson carries on with this:
“When I told this reporter that there are gay and lesbian people who “seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do,” I meant it. But then again, the goodness of a spiritual life is functionally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. We are saved by faith through grace that operates independent of our resolve or our good behavior. It operates by the hand of a loving God who desires for us to live in grace and truth and who does not tire of turning us toward both grace and truth. There have been gay people in a variety of congregations, campuses, and communities where I have served. My responsibility to them was the work of a pastor—to visit them, to care for their souls, to pray for them, to preach the Scriptures for them.”
Peterson closes the statement by saying that he regrets the confusion caused by the interview, this coming on the back of the statement earlier in the article that he prefers questions ahead of time to allow him to prepare appropriately for the interview that is to come.
RNS responded to this in an article released yesterday entitled Eugene Peterson Backtracks on Same-Sex Marriage. The article basically goes down the line that Peterson’s retraction is yet another blow to those who identify themselves as gay Christian’s and that God doesn’t love them any less because yet another prominent voice in the Church has stated that they do not affirm same-sex marriage.
Peterson’s retraction also came on the heels of Lifeway Christian Stores saying that they were considering pulling Peterson’s work out of its stores due to Peterson’s apparent new view on same-sex marriage.
So with all this information, and more in the sources linked below, what are we to make of the comments of Peterson on the subject of homosexuality and is it even relevant?
Getting to Grips With All of This
The honest answer to this subject is that there is no straightforward answer that will please everybody. However, on the question of is this relevant, the answer is a resounding yes.
A number of weeks ago I came across a comment on a Facebook thread about homosexuality, where a commenter asked: “Why are Christian’s so obsessed with homosexuality and gay marriage”? I responded to that question by saying that we are no more “obsessed” with the subject than those who are for homosexuality and gay marriage are. In fact, if you look deep into the debate, most of the time Christian’s are responding to something on the subject, not actively seeking out ways to predicate our view.
The hard truth is that the Bible does not affirm homosexuality, people can argue that Jesus never directly talks about homosexuality and therefore does not have a view on the subject, and therefore we should be “more like Jesus”. However, this argument is an argument from silence and is extremely lacking. For starters it ignores what Jesus says about marriage, that is to be between one man and one woman (a la the book of Genesis), and it also fails to have done a strong investigation on Jesus’ last days’ prophecy, which seems to include a reference to gay marriage in it. So, in reality, Jesus may very well have addressed gay marriage, without using the words gay marriage.
This may upset people who are wanting God to affirm this lifestyle for any reason. However to get the Bible to do this would require the altering of doctrine, ignoring God’s instruction in His word, or manipulating that said instruction to make it what those who want this affirming to say. But I do need to be blunt here and say that homosexuality is just like any other sin noted in scripture, the only real difference between homosexuality and any other sin is the mainstream attention it gets and the twitching ears who listen to big-name “Christian’s” who support same-sex marriage and homosexuality.
The fact of the matter is that as Christian’s it is not our responsibility to judge on this issue, and I mean judge in the Biblical sense of pronouncing a punishment on someone, that’s God’s job, not ours. We are to teach people the word and show what God says on the subject in a manner that is full of grace and truth. It’s like the cliche says, we are called to love the sinner, not the sin. There is a vast difference between saying that God says what someone is up to is a sin, and saying they heinous and full of sin. Because without the grace of God we are all heinous and full of sin.
Whatever your views of Peterson’s comments are, people need to know the love of God and the truth of His word. This means that we shouldn’t cave to societal pressure that tells us that tolerance is affirmation and acceptance, rather than what it actually means. As Christian’s we need to let the love of God be what stands out, and that is a love that is so loving it tells people the truth.
What do you think about Peterson’s recent comments? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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Mark is the Lead Writer at Theology Review. Mark is currently studying theology at Spurgeon's College, working towards completing the Church Training Initiative before moving on to their degree course. Mark has been a Christian since 2001, and now spends a lot of his time studying and researching various topics affecting Biblical and Church History. This has led him to start Theology Review, a place for thought and discussion on historical and current theology.