The dismissal of the word arsenokoitai should have been everyone’s first clue. The second should have been that Jonathan Merritt promised that the final installment of his interview with the author of The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson, would ignite “spirited conversations“. Babylon Bee joking about “three people” being shocked at Peterson’s approval of same-sex relationships should not have been satire. Yet, for some reason, I was sitting at a coffee shop today and two men occupying the table near me were discussing their hope that the “truth” about Peterson’s position was still unknown. The scope of the firestorm since Merritt posted his interview has been positively biblical [I couldn’t help myself].
The background of this discussion is muddy, but the SparkNotes are this: one day, Peterson says he would officiate a homosexual wedding. The next day, he says his “yes” is based on a hypothetical wedding, not a real one. The accusations flew. This waffling was due to senility, and Merritt was too pushy with the poor old man. I find those assertions just about as distasteful and presumptive as the ones assuming that all the melee really boils down to is money. LifeWay, you see, announced that they would pull Peterson from their shelves if he’s actually gay-affirming, because for some reason the fact that he has said so in past interviews and clouded the concept of homosexuality as a sin from The Message decades ago was just so terribly unclear. He’s an author. Of course he doesn’t want his books pulled from shelves. He’s an 84-year-old retired pastor. Of course he doesn’t want all of this drama. Do you?
But that’s not what I sat down to discuss right now. Why on earth we are attempting to nuance the view of a man who literally wrote the concept of “sin saloons” into Psalm 1 is beyond me. What I’d really like to discuss is how laudably the feminists showed up on this one, and why it is so incredibly dishonest. As a graduate of Smart-Mouth college, I’d like to give them a standing ovation.
Rachel Held Evans wrote on her Facebook wall (prior to Peterson’s retraction):
This is significant news. It will be interesting to see if Eugene Peterson gets the same treatment as Jen Hatmaker. (My guess is it will be more muted; the attacks on Jen were highly gendered.) That said, it matters when people like Eugene Peterson speak out. I pray more Christian leaders will follow.
Jory Micah wrote:
Did you hear?
”Prominent pastor & distinguished theologian, Eugene Peterson, has changed his theological position on same-sex-marriage.”
“Unaccountable mommy blogger, Jen Hatmaker, has allowed her feelings to lead her (and all women bloggers) to become the greatest crisis facing the evangelical church.”
Nish Weiseth wrote:
Me? I’m just sitting here. Sipping coffee. Waiting to see how evangelicals treat Eugene Peterson differently than they did Jen Hatmaker.
Of course, like most feminist myths, there is absolutely no proof that Peterson was given a “pass” because he’s a man. There are thousands upon thousands of tweets and Facebook comments on this mess, and precisely none of them smacked of, “He’s a dude, so it’s cool.” Each one of these women has noted how serious the backlash was to Peterson’s original comments, specifically after his retraction. Not that facts matter. Where there is a woman, there is an oppressor, am I right? Nevertheless, I’d pay RHE $10 if she could tell me what a “highly gendered” attack upon Hatmaker looked like, but only after I purchase a signed copy of her next NYT bestseller.
There’s an economy of words here that we cannot afford to ignore, and the fact that they are currently flowing from a man who wrote an absurd caricature of Scripture that has been accepted as a “paraphrase” by most Evangelicals today (calling The Message a “paraphrase” is wildly generous) should cause us to pause. While Peterson, a pastor from the “gay-affirming” PCUSA is shocking us all with his gay-affirmation, while conservatives are trying to find a way to be excited about a statement and a retraction that amounts to indifference, while feminists are looking for the patriarchy in every corner, real people are being hurt.
Peterson rightly said in an interview that homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin. Many former homosexuals have repented and been forgiven. The Apostle Paul knew, and wrote about, homosexuals who had been forgiven of their sin:
9Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Peterson’s retraction says that he affirms a “Biblical view of everything.” The Biblical view of unrepentant sin is not “come sit at my table” or “I’ll hypothetically support you in your sin.” As a man who has led a flock, these kinds of statements are irresponsible. As the progressives are pointing out, any man who occupies or has occupied a pulpit should be able to answer our generation’s paramount question of Biblical sexual ethics. I’m happy to give Peterson the benefit of the doubt, but the problem remains. He did not take a firm stance on whether or not homosexuality is sin, and that is something we simply cannot afford to do.
RHE invited people (who identify as Christians and members of the “LGBTQ community”) to post on Twitter about how we (the church?) can support them. She asked what “helps/hurts” them. Reading the responses broke me. What followed was an avalanche of people sharing how hurt and broken they are. Their responses included words and phrases like “self-hate”, “suffering”, “broken”, “suffering totally silently”, “torturous”, on and on they went. A community that has co-opted the idea of being happy in their sexual sin by trading on the word “gay” is deeply hurting.
So what will we do, Christian? I say we need to get back to what matters. I feel for Peterson and Merritt in this mess, but we need to focus. A culture of death wants to give them pillows and roll them to hospice. You can die comfortably in your sin, they say, while barring them from the life-giving freedom that the Great Physician has to offer. The Gospel is the answer for the self-hate, the suffering, the brokenness. While the feminists fight the oppressive ghosts in the machine, the suffering stay in their suffering. Only the truth of the Gospel will do. No more, and assuredly no less. Peterson’s Message is muddy and indifferent at best, while Scripture is not. God’s word is not subject to our feelings, or our culture. To use a paraphrase, the truth will free you.
***For further reading on the word arsenokoitai in Scripture: http://www.equip.org/article/is-arsenokoitai-really-that-mysterious/