Eugene Peterson's "Reversal"

Retired pastor and author Eugene Peterson, known primarily for authoring The Message paraphrase of the Bible, recently made headlines when asked his stance on homosexuality and whether or not he would officiate the marriage of a same-sex couple. Peterson told interviewer Jonathan Merritt, “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.” (Religion News Service, “Best Selling Author Eugene Peterson Changes His Mind on Gay Marriage, 7-12-17). Merritt followed 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?” Peterson then responded, “Yes.”

Only a day later, Peterson claimed that he was “put on the spot” by Merritt and “said ‘yes’ in the moment” (The Washington Post, “Popular Author Eugene Peterson: Actually, I Would Not Perform a Gay Marriage,” 7-13-17). Peterson continues, “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.” Peterson continues, “To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.”

Since Peterson’s “reversal” a day after his interview with Jonathan Merritt was published,  Lifeway Christian Resources (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) has agreed to continue to publish and carry his books in their stores (after considering to discontinue selling them), and all the news seems to be centered around Peterson “recanting” his statement on performing a same-sex marriage and his “biblical view of marriage.” Yet what seems to be lost in all the noise is Peterson’s clear affirmation of homosexuality and homosexual relationships. While he claims that he would not perform a homosexual “marriage,” and that he affirms a “biblical view of marriage,” this is very different than where he stands in relation to homosexuality in general, and his original, in-depth statement to Merritt makes his position clear: “It’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.”

While it might not be so clear in Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, God’s Word  is clear about the issue of homosexuality. Three times in the New Testament, the authors of Scripture provide unambiguous declarations concerning this specific behavior (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:10). God has clearly declared His view of same-sex relationships, as well as other sinful behavior, and Christians today must unapologetically and uncompromisingly declare the truth in love concerning any sin—not just homosexuality—that is increasingly prevalent in our society and culture. May the Lord embolden and strengthen each one of us to be knowledgeable of His Word and to implement the truths we learn in order to stand fast in the faith as we serve as a testimony to others of the grace and mercy of God.

— Matt Costella and Gary Freel