What a weird week in Evangelicaland. Yesterday, Eugene Peterson was interviewed about his recent and final book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, and somehow the interview was steered into a discussion about same-sex marriage. As I said in a blog yesterday, I found Peterson’s response to be fairly ambiguous and unclear. When asked a hypothetical question about if he’d perform a same-sex marriage were he a pastor today—he hasn’t been one in over 25 years— Peterson said “yes” with no further explanation or comment. And that was it.
Some took this as a clear switch in view; Peterson now believes in same-sex marriage. I had my doubts, but I went ahead and responded to this assumption while reaffirming my love and admiration of the man who’s had such a massive influence in my life.
But now, when asked more directly what he believes about marriage, Peterson has clearly said: “To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman.” Peterson went on to apologize for any confusion he may have caused. He said he was caught off guard and didn’t feel like his response to the question was rightly interpreted according to the context in which he said it. You can read his entire statement HERE.
Pastor Peterson, thank you for your apology and clarification. I too am sorry for assuming you had changed your view of marriage. Even if you do change your view in the future, this won’t nullify the many wonderful ways in which you’ve influenced my own life and the kingdom of God as a whole.
As I reflect on this whole fiasco—not so much the interview, but the ways in which it was hyped up by both the right and the left—it’s clear that we have much to improve on in how we go about the LGBT+ conversation. I’m all for dialogue. I’m all for friendly debate. I’m all for rigorous, thoughtful discussion. I’m all for combing through and weighing arguments on both sides, listening to people, trying hard to see things from the “other side”—whichever side that might be—and letting sound reasoning rule the day. But using a precious man of God well into retirement who’s given his life in serving millions of people around the globe as a pawn in a rhetorical power play—whether we make him into our latest hero or our latest villain—does nothing to advance this dialogue. At best, it's irresponsible. At worst, it's unloving.
It’s also telling that those on the right were troubled by some of Peterson’s statements, like: “I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do.” Or “I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over.” These comments are not, in themselves, contradictions of the historic biblical sexual ethic. If you don’t know any gays or lesbians whose spiritual lives are just as good as yours, then you probably don’t know very many gays or lesbians. The freak-out session that happened yesterday shows that evangelicals still have a hard time separating our stereotypes from actual gay people--many of whom are committed to following Jesus in sexual integrity according to a historic biblical sexual ethic. Every pastor worth his or her salt should echo the heart behind Peterson’s original words, even if they wouldn’t say “yes” to the theoretical question about performing a same-sex wedding.
I’m glad to hear Peterson clarify his views. But we still need to ween ourselves off the need for having our views validated because well-known people hold them. Certainly, if there’s a massive, wide-spread consensus from a diverse group of people on a particular issue—like the historic, global, Christian view of marriage for the last 2,000 years—that should caution us from departing from it. But if angel from heaven or a pastor from Montana changes their view of marriage, that doesn’t change the meaning of marriage.