When Judy Peterson was a chaplain at North Park University in Chicago, she was placed on paid leave and had her ordination suspended by the Evangelical Covenant Church because she committed the religious crime of… officiating a same-sex wedding. That was in January of 2018. She has since been fired.
Speaking about that situation now, in an article for Religion News Service, she says she has no regrets.
I was fired because some within my church and my school were shocked that I could be so “scandalous.” Others quickly proclaimed the need to punish my act as treasonous and expel me, “the immoral brethren,” from the church. Still others have practiced the subtler religious art of shunning.
Even as a 48-year-old, heterosexual, married, white, privileged and resourced evangelical, I’ve found that “coming out” in full support of the LGBTQ+ community has been a brutal experience.
All of these responses could be expected from a religious community that believes that purity is the goal of Christian life and that holiness is a fragile condition that must be protected. For me, the goal is to help people know a God who left his privilege behind to put on skin and walk with people in the person of Jesus.
But either way, our disagreement is not nearly as harrowing as its impact on a gay teenager walking this road alone. And the next steps the church takes will have life-and-death consequences.
She’s right about that. The “fruit” of anti-gay rhetoric from Christians has proven to be poisonous, leaving a trail of bullied, disowned, and dead people (from either murder or suicide) in its wake. Homosexuality as we understand it today — an inherent, biologically ingrained aspect of a person’s identity — was not understood that way in biblical times. Neither is homosexuality deemed important enough to be mentioned in any of the Orthodox creeds that state the foundation of the Christian faith.
In a nutshell, Peterson was fired for showing too much grace and not enough judgment:
I maintained the same standards for all my students: Honor God with your whole life, love your neighbor with your full self and keep your pants on. When you trip and fall, come see me and we’ll get you dusted off so together we can make another reasonable run.
I find it important to articulate this because people watching from a distance have wrongly accused me of not being clear about the standards of God, simply because I offer the grace of God. They say to me, “Scripture is very clear that Jesus said to sinners, ‘Go and sin no more.’” To this I will continue to respond, “Do you think they did?”
This thorough and gracious embrace, especially of its LGBGTQ+ children, made my evangelical denomination increasingly uncomfortable. Many believed that simply being gay, and certainly being partnered as a gay person, was sinning some more. There were letters asking for my removal, petitions for churches to withdraw their financial support and increasing pressure for me to be clear that for the LGBTQ+ community, there was an additional requirement for inclusion in the evangelical church — a commitment to celibacy and singleness for the rest of their lives.
Peterson’s commitment to equal rights not only resulted in losing her job, but caused a battle within her denomination over whether she should be able to keep her ministerial rights. But she doesn’t seem to mind any of the decisions that led her to this point. She concludes her article by noting that following God is sometimes scandalous — albeit not for the reasons people may think.