Early this morning, Religion News posted an interview with Eugene Peterson, discussing the publication of his last book. While that may be what it started out as, everyone is talking about what Peterson said in response to this question.
You are Presbyterian, and your denomination has really been grappling with some of the hot-button issues. I think particularly of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Has your view on that changed over the years?
I haven’t had a lot of experience with it. But I have been in churches when I was an associate pastor where there were several women who were lesbians. They didn’t make a big deal about it. I’d go and visit them and it never came up for them. They just assumed that they were as Christian as everybody else in the church.
In my own congregation — when I left, we had about 500 people — I don’t think we ever really made a big deal out of it. When I left, the minister of music left. She’d been there ever since I had been there. There we were, looking for a new minister of music. One of the young people that had grown up under my pastorship, he was a high school teacher and a musician. When he found out about the opening, he showed up in church one day and stood up and said, “I’d like to apply for the job of music director here, and I’m gay.” We didn’t have any gay people in the whole congregation. Well, some of them weren’t openly gay. But I was so pleased with the congregation. Nobody made any questions about it. And he was a really good musician.
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.
Peterson does go on to talk about other things, but this is what has people riled up, and these are the 4 thoughts I had after I read the whole interview.
1. Everyone Has The Right To Change Their Mind
Don’t think that just because Peterson is now 84 years old that he has finally lost his marbles or succumb to some mind altering or mind debilitating illness. That isn’t what is happening here.
Peterson says in the interview that 20 years ago he won’t have said what he is saying now, implying that he has thought through his change in opinion, what it means, and what it says about Christianity.
He has every right to change his mind. We all do. No one is forcing this on Peterson, nor is he demanding that every Christian jump on his bandwagon and see things his way. He is simply stating that he has changed, his point of view has changed.
2. We Can Disagree With Peterson
I don’t agree with Peterson. And that’s okay.
The world doesn’t fall apart. Christianity as a religion doesn’t crumble because we don’t hold every single, tiny belief in common.
Catholics and Protestants disagree about what happens with the Eucharist, or Communion, when it is taken. Does the bread and wine actually turn into the blood and flesh of Jesus? The discussion will go on and on, maybe never reaching a point of agreement. But that is okay. Disagreeing on the small stuff is fine.
If Peterson started to make claims that Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, or that Jesus wasn’t crucified or raised from the dead, then we would have some problems.
But to hold a different point of view on gay marriage is not the end of the world.
3. This Doesn’t Discredit Any Of Peterson’s Work
Should we throw out our “The Message” bibles if we disagree with Peterson on this issue? Are we required to burn any of the dozens of other works that he has created, that the Church at large has loved since the 80’s?
No. Why would we?
Like I said earlier, we can disagree, and that’s okay. Not everything that a Christian author writes down is good. Not everything that they say is worthwhile. You need to sift through it.
Take for example some of these quotations from important, but clearly mistaken, church fathers on the issue of women.
“For as the sun is more glorious than the moon, though the moon is a most glorious body, so woman, though she was a most beautiful work of God, yet she did not equal the glory of the male creature.” – Martin Luther, in his Commentary on Genesis, Chapter 2, Part V, 27b.
“. . . the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that that whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.” – St. Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 12 7.10
Both Martin Luther and Augustine are respected men that did tremendous work for the Kingdom of God, but are totally wrong in this particular instant. That doesn’t mean that everything else that they contributed was garbage, or needing to be thrown out.
Their work, just like Peterson’s needs to be sifted through, finding the worthwhile wheat, and leaving the useless chaff.
4. Peterson’s Opinion Isn’t Gospel
He may have written his own unique translation of Scripture, but not everything that Eugene Peterson says is the gospel truth. I’m sure he has a favourite sports team that thousand of Christians would disagree with him on. Peterson can have his opinion, just as the rest of us can. But we are not the authority. Neither is Peterson.
We need to find our answers, our opinions, not in what a teacher may say, but in Scripture.
I do realize that Christians don’t even agree on what the Bible says about homosexuality and gay marriage, but we keep going back to it because we all believe that the Bible has the authority and power to shape and transform our lives. Because that is the case, we need to find our own opinions, our own thoughts from a basis of Scripture, not the latest thought from Eugene Peterson.