Eugene Peterson Reveals A Power Struggle
Over the past week the internet-church has been all a fluster when Jonathan Martin shared an interview he did with Eugene Peterson. Peterson is famously known for The Message translation of the Bible, which took the church's sacred texts and made them widely understandable to the casual reader.
Here's how it went down
Peterson begins responding to Martin's question,
"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?"
"...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."
Martin's follow up is where Peterson created a sticky-wicket for himself.
"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?"
And with Peterson's "yes", the conservative-evangelicals lost their minds, while at the same time, progressives began shouting for joy.
“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.”
Twitter did not remain silent either:
Truly, how sad that a creative voice like Eugene Peterson would forsake the Scriptures and the Tradition that he so eloquently wrote of.
— Andrew T. Walker (@andrewtwalk) July 12, 2017
Eugene Peterson's reasons here are even less compelling than Rob Bell's. Which is saying something. https://t.co/cVSu543BBi
— Andrew Wilson (@AJWTheology) July 12, 2017
Progressives were pretty happy too.
Evidently, white evangelical gatekeepers are more upset by Eugene Peterson being compassionate than they are by Donald Trump.
— Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) July 13, 2017
The non-affirming position makes people feel shame for something they need not feel shame about. Grateful for Eugene Peterson today.
— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) July 12, 2017
Y'all if I see one more tweet from a conservative about their "indescribable heartbreak" about Eugene Peterson... Heartbreak? Really?
— Laura Jean Truman (@LauraJeanTruman) July 12, 2017
Just a few hours later the story changed. Peterson changed his position, saying,
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.
This may be overreacting but I really don't want to hear anything from Eugene Peterson anymore & I will NEVER shop Lifeway again.
— Richard Jones (@richardinaz) July 17, 2017
In less than 24 hours, Peterson revealed a few things.
First, the Church is still divided over human-sexuality.
For those of us in the UMC this is nothing new as we are awaiting the report from the Commission on the Way Forward. But while we wait, the divide is growing deeper as groups with the Wesley Covenant Association and Reconciling Ministries Network strategize for what they think is to come.
Second, the division over human-sexuality is not about sex. It's about power.
Honestly, Eugene Peterson's about face today does more damage to the LGBTQ community than not saying anything in the first place.
— Jayson D. Bradley (@jaysondbradley) July 13, 2017
I do not deny there are faithful readers of scripture who truly believe, and truly being an important word here, homosexuality is against God's law. I do not happen to be one of those people, but for those who believe this as the result of study, prayer, and reflection I can at the least respect their position.
The problem is that many conservative-evangelicals are fighting against the rights of LGBT couples because there is power at stake. If conservative-evangelical leaders lose this fight, there is not another big ticket item for them. This is it.
And Peterson's quick about-face on the issue shows how much power is being wielded in this
I use the term "blood-bath" for two reasons. One, those in the LGBT community, especially teens, are more at risk of suicide and self-harm than their straight counterparts. Blood is literally being spilled. According to the CDC, LGBT teenagers are 4x more likely to attempt suicide (2016. Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.).
Here's a stat that underlines where the blood is being spilled in this struggle for power, according to The Family Acceptance Project, "LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection." Churches are families. Close-knit churches are in my experience more family-like that some families. Telling LGBT teens that the were somehow "defectively" made by the same creator who made a sinful creature like me, is the ultimate way of exhorting power of a minority who has been fighting for equal-standing.
Two, when (because the time is coming) conservative-evangelicals lose this battle the only issue they will have left to defend in the church is guns. Again, literally a blood-bath (and this is a harder sell because Jesus wasn't packing a concealed handgun during the sermon on the mount).
We saw the same thing when World-Vision pissed off conservative and progressive Christians in a similar manner.
Feels like World Vision again, huh? Such carelessness. LGBTQ friends, I'm so, so sorry. You deserve better. #EugenePeterson
— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) July 13, 2017
This is not about Eugene Peterson being open and affirming. It's about controlling the various mouthpieces the SBC and it's allies control.
Finally, because the division is not over an issue but rather over who has the power, the division within the church over human-sexuality will take generations to resolve.
With more and more millennials throwing their arms in air, giving up the title of disciple for "none" or "done", the damage being done by the SBC and others like it will take generations to undo. We have families who are already 3 generations removed from the church and while that might not scare those of us who see this as a time for revival in the church, the anti-LGBT attitudes should scare us all.
The Church is at a crossroads. Eugene Peterson's flip-flop is nothing new, nor should we be overly excited over it. We should however see this as an opportunity to call out the struggle for power that conservative-evangelicals have been fighting over for decades. Peterson didn't do anything new other than exposing conservative-evangelicals' obsession over sex and power.