Evangelical leader Eugene Peterson, 84, author of “The Message” Bible translation, set social media ablaze after a July 12 story was released.
The question and answer format by Religion News Service’s (RNS) Jonathan Merritt asked Peterson about his latest and last book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, as well as questions about politics, the American church and same-sex marriage.
In his answers, Peterson indicated that, if asked, he would perform a same-sex wedding. He answered with one word, “Yes.”
That answer, along with his answer to a previous question about the Presbyterian church grappling with the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, attracted the most attention.
Peterson released a statement July 13 indicating he did support traditional marriage.
“To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman,” he stated. “I affirm a biblical view of everything.”
Peterson mentioned most of his interviews have been done in writing, giving him time to formulate responses.
“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.
“When I told this reporter that there are gay and lesbian people who ‘seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do,’ I meant it. But then again, the goodness of a spiritual life is functionally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
“We are saved by faith through grace that operates independent of our resolve or our good behavior. It operates by the hand of a loving God who desires for us to live in grace and truth and who does not tire of turning us toward both grace and truth.
“There have been gay people in a variety of congregations, campuses and communities where I have served. My responsibility to them was the work of a pastor – to visit them, to care for their souls, to pray for them, to preach the [s]criptures for them.”
Baptist Press (BP) released a story July 12 as well with comments from key Baptist leaders, who blogged and tweeted about the revelation by this best-selling author.
In a statement to BP, LifeWay Christian Resources said if the statement from Peterson was true that the stores would no longer carry his materials.
Peterson said he regretted the confusion “that this interview has fostered.”
In a column on RNS’ website, Merritt elaborated that the article he originally wrote was part of a three-part interview addressing a range of topics, including why Peterson was stepping away from public life, his view on megachurches and whether death frightens him.
“Some have asked me why I would ask these questions at all,” Merritt said in his column. “There were two primary reasons. First, he is one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the world, and homosexuality is one of the most contentious debates in the church today. What Eugene Peterson believes about this topic matters, which is more than evident in the reaction it generated.
“Second, and perhaps more interesting, I had spoken with several prominent pastors, authors and theologians who intimated to me that Peterson had told them privately that he was affirming of same-sex relationships. This prompted my curiosity about his views. If true, I know my readers would be interested.”
Merritt indicated the actual interview took place July 6 over the phone and was recorded by his permission. The interview lasted just over 30 minutes.
Merritt further said that in the week leading up to the post (on July 12), Peterson never attempted to clarify or change his answer to the questions Merritt posed.
A similar revelation from popular Christian author Jen Hatmaker last year also caused a firestorm on social media and beyond.
A Christianity Today article July 13 indicated that LifeWay would continue to sell Peterson’s works. The store pulled Hatmaker’s books and Bible studies after her statements, also to Merritt, last year.
In the series of articles with Merritt, Peterson said he would no longer be writing, teaching or speaking publicly. In his retraction, he indicated his desire to avoid public statements. He plans to limit his communication to personal correspondence.