Less than 24 hours after Christian author and translator Eugene Peterson told a journalist that he didn’t believe homosexuality was sinful — even saying he would perform a same-sex wedding ceremony if asked — he’s retracted his words.
I guess he remembered who buys his books.
Here’s what he said yesterday to journalist Jonathan Merritt, in an interview with Religion News Service:
RNS: You are Presbyterian, and your denomination has really been grappling with some of the hot button issues that we face as a culture. I think particularly of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Has your view on that changed over the years? What’s your position on the morality of same-sex relationships?
EP: 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…
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.
RNS: A follow-up: If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?
Within hours, LifeWay Christian Stores announced Peterson’s books, including his acclaimed The Message series, would be taken off their shelves because they only stocked authors who adhered to the “biblical view of marriage.” (Which, if the past election is any indication, is one man and as many women as he wants as long as it’s not at the same time.)
Peterson is now saying he didn’t mean anything by his words and he still condemns same-sex marriages.
Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.” To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.
That’s the conservative Christian way of saying, “Gay people still don’t deserve equal rights under the law. Also, please buy my books. Don’t forget my books.”
I’m not sure how he squares today’s statement with yesterday’s comments that marriage equality is “not a right or wrong thing.” It’s not like he didn’t understand Merritt’s questions. He’s not clarifying. He’s backtracking.
After stressing that he was only responding to a hypothetical question, he added in a message to Christianity Today:
“I’ve never performed a same-sex wedding. I’ve never been asked and, frankly, I hope I never am asked.”
Wouldn’t want to get those love-the-sinner gay cooties all over him, I suppose.
But how does that comment make any sense after saying he would perform the gay wedding?
“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. That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such a couple as their pastor. They’d be welcome at my table, along with everybody else.”
In short, he’s no different from the other Christians who think they can tell a gay couple, “I think your marriage is immoral and you’re denying God’s will by going through with this ceremony… also, wanna come over for dinner?” As if those couples would go along with it.
What an incredible thing to walk back from. He could’ve been one of only a handful of influential voices in the evangelical world to courageously come out on the side of love. Instead, he had to clarify that he was, indeed, still a bigot.
This is what modern evangelical Christianity looks like, and don’t you forget it.