Eugene Peterson and the Two Masters

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 6:24

Very few people were surprised when retired mainline pastor and author of The Message, Eugene Peterson, came out in support of same-sex “marriage” on July 12th.  His denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, has been theologically adrift for years.  In 2004, the denomination gave approval for its pastors to perform same-sex “marriages”.   So when Peterson responded to the following question from (same-sex attracted) reported Jonathan Merrit, with a “yes” it should have come to surprise to no one:

“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?”

Now, to any Bible-believing Christian, especially a pastor, the answer to this question is clearly “that’s nonsense.”  It can’t even be “yes” or “no” because there is simply no such thing as a gay couple who are “Christians of good faith.”  The Apostle Paul makes this exceptionally clear in his epistles to the Roman and Corinthian churches (unless of course, one is reading those epistles out of The Message).   That a liberal Presbyterian would answer “yes” in the year 2017 when pressed by a progressive religion reporter is about as expected as the Alabama Crimsons Tide winning ten football games next season.  That Peterson revealed that he had been the pastor to several lesbians who were “just as Christian as everybody else in the church” is also to be expected.  (Of course, there may be some kernel of truth to his statement in that a PCUSA “church” with several undisciplined and unrepentant lesbians is likely to have no Christians whatsoever.  So, these women may have been just as a Christian as everyone else in the church…not at all Christian).  That Peterson’s church hired a gay music minister is another pedestrian piece of news.  What was (but is no longer) shocking was the frankness with which Peterson let his opinion of homosexuality be known:

“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.”

The statement above is not something Peterson would not have said 20 years ago but now in the midst of the moral revolution, when being against “gay rights” is socially akin to being for racism, Peterson obviously felt comfortable enough to speak his mind freely.  That is, until he realized that the Southern Baptists were listening.  The Southern Baptist Convention controls one of the largest Christian retailers in the nation, LifeWay Christian Resources.  While that entity’s standards for Christian literature are shamefully low, it will not carry literature authored by gay-affirming authors.  Jen Hatmaker found this out the hard way last October after she came out in support of same-sex relationships and was promptly banned from LifeWay.  When LifeWay caught wind of Merrit’s report, it wasn’t long until LifeWay came calling.  The Baptist Press reported on the same day that Merrit’s story broke that LifeWay would “stop selling all works by Peterson if he confirms the views reported by (Merrit)”.  According to a LifeWay statement:

“LifeWay only carries resources in our stores by authors who hold to the biblical view of marriage.  We are attempting to confirm with Eugene Peterson or his representatives that his recent interview on same-sex marriage accurately reflects his views. If he confirms he does not hold to a biblical view of marriage, LifeWay will no longer sell any resources by him, including The Message.”

That meant Peterson would soon be off of the shelves at LifeWay.  Only Peterson began promptly singing a different tune upon being contacted by the retail chain.  As reported in Christianity Today,  Peterson sought to clarify his remarks from the previous day.  Peterson stated:

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything…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.”

Two things stand out here.  The first is that anyone who would welcome practicing homosexuals who are professing Christians to his table does not affirm a “biblical view of everything”.  Paul told the Corinthian church “do not even eat” with such a person.  The second is that a professional theologian who is in his eighties and worked as a pastor and Chrisitan author for his entire career made a theological statement about long-accepted Christian doctrine on Wednesday and completely reversed his position on Thursday.  That’s unbelievable.  Surely Peterson knows and has known what he really believes just as surely as he knows that LifeWay sells 12 different versions of his Message “Bible”.  Peterson’s widely accepted social views would have cost him money with the Baptist bookstore if he doubled down on them.  He realized this and he didn’t double-down.  He tried to take his money and run.

Peterson, it would seem, made a statement in service of his master.

It’s very apparent that Peterson lied at least one day this week.  It’s also quite apparent that Peterson may have been telling the truth when he said that he “knew of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life” as he did.  After reading about Peterson’s statements and actions for the last two days, that’s not hard to imagine.  That LifeWay will sell books by a woman who claims to be writing for Jesus himself, in the Lord’s voice, but not The Message if Peterson thinks it’s okay to be a practicing homosexual is another story. Sadly, it’s no less shocking than what has been seen this week from Eugene Peterson.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Member of the Evangelical Theological Society Certified Public Accountant