Eugene Peterson, Author of The Message, Comes Out in Support of Gay “Marriage”

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“I think . . . [the] debate about lesbians and gays might be over.” In a recent interview, Eugene Peterson, a former pastor and author best known for his paraphrase of the Bible The Message, came out in support of gay “marriage,” saying he would marry a gay couple if he were still pastoring and that, in the churches he’s pastored, “I don’t think we ever made a big deal about it.”

Since this original article was published, Peterson has retracted his original statement that he would marry a same-sex couple, claiming he was put on the spot (although his original answer was one word—“Yes”). He said,

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything. . . . This reporter, however, asked a hypothetical question: if I were pastoring today and if a gay couple were Christians of good faith and if they asked me to perform their wedding ceremony—if, if, if. Pastors don’t have the luxury of indulging in hypotheticals. . . . And to be honest, no is not a word I typically use. . . . 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. (emphasis in original)

“They Seem to Have . . . [a] Good . . . Spiritual Life”

Still of note, Peterson, who identifies as a Presbyterian, did not back up his original statements about gay “marriage” and homosexuality with Scripture or some new insight from God’s Word that everyone else had missed for 2,000 years. He abandoned the biblical truth about marriage and sexuality with this argument: “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.” His view is based on nothing more than the appearance of spirituality in the lives of presumably practicing homosexuals. How is that a greater authority than God’s unchanging Word?

If someone appears “to have as good a spiritual life” as the pastor but is a known and habitual gossip, should we ignore God’s teaching on the sin of gossip? Or if a deacon is committing adultery though he seems oh-so-spiritual, should we ignore the Bible’s teaching on adultery? What about drunkenness, blasphemy, lying, stealing, or fornication? Of course we wouldn’t abandon God’s teaching on any of these sins simply because those practicing them have the appearance of spirituality! So why does Peterson and others like him think this argument is so powerful that we can just ignore biblical truth and embrace the sin of homosexual behavior?

And what does Scripture say about judging by outward appearances?

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:24)

Our judgments should not be made based on outward appearances because they can be deceiving! Someone can do all the right “spiritual” things—go to church, read their Bible, give to the poor—but still be harboring (or openly practicing) sin in their hearts.

In his “recantation” of some of his original statements, Peterson seems to recognize this matter of the appearance of spirituality, at least a little, when he says,

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.

It’s worth noting that nowhere in his “recantation” does Peterson affirm the biblical teaching that homosexual behavior is sinful or that those who practice it need to repent. Though he says he affirms a biblical teaching of marriage, nowhere does he state that straying from God’s design is sinful. It’s also interesting that reportedly in 2014 Peterson made many statements very supportive of same-sex relationships, even admitting that he’s helped

several families accept their children as gay. And, uh, they are devastated at first and then with just careful, prayerful conversation, they’ve finally accepted that this is not a bad thing, that this can be a good thing. This can be a flourishing thing.

All this to say, it seems that Peterson’s views on gay “marriage” and homosexual behavior are (perhaps purposefully) still quite unclear. I would encourage him to continue looking to God’s Word to find truth and to base his thinking on this rock-solid, unchanging foundation, not caving to emotional arguments that ignore truth.

“As Far as I’m Concerned”

In his original statements, Peterson claimed “that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over” because “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.”

As far as God is concerned, homosexual behavior is a “wrong thing.”

It’s interesting that he uses the phrase “as far as I’m concerned.” Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not gay “marriage” or homosexual behavior concerns a person —what matters is what concerns God. And God has made it clear in his Word that homosexual behavior is sinful (Romans 1) and that his design for marriage is one man for one woman (Genesis 1:27, 2:24). As far as God is concerned, homosexual behavior is a “wrong thing.”

“All Lust, No Love”

Peterson’s views of homosexuality shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read his paraphrase of the New Testament passages that mention homosexuality. He has twisted the plain meaning of these passages to match his preconceived ideas about homosexuality. See for yourself; compare the ESV on the left with The Message on the right:

  English Standard Version The Message
Romans 1:26–27

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.

1 Corinthians 6:9–11

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.

1 Timothy 1:8–11

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

It’s true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life, sex, truth, whatever! They are contemptuous of this great Message I’ve been put in charge of by this great God.

“The Truth Will Set You Free”

When you obscure biblical teaching on sin, as Peterson has done by claiming gay “marriage” is acceptable, you obscure the gospel. The gospel is the message that Jesus Christ has died for our sins, taking our place and our penalty upon himself. Our sins can be forgiven because of what Christ has done.

But if we don’t know what sin is—or refuse to accept what the Bible labels as sinful—how can we truly know the mercy and grace of the Savior? Christianity is not about embracing sin and just adding Christ somewhere in your life. It’s about denying yourself (Matthew 16:24), dying to sinful behaviors and desires (Romans 6:11), and living for Christ. Is this easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes!

Standing up for the biblical truth about marriage is difficult in a culture that is incredibly hostile to biblical truth.

Standing up for the biblical truth about marriage is difficult in a culture that is incredibly hostile to biblical truth. But we must do so if we are to accurately present the gospel and the truth of God’s Word to others. Let us not be afraid to preach an unpopular message—God’s truth has always been unpopular with sinful mankind. (After all, there are more people on the broad way than on the narrow way, states Matthew 7:13-14.)

Christians, please know that you will eventually be asked about gay “marriage”—there’s really no getting around it in 2017! I encourage you not to flip flop or dance around the issue, not really wanting to commit one way or the other. We have been called to live boldly and lovingly for Christ—not hide what we believe because it’s not popular. I encourage you to have a consistent, Bible-based answer that affirms the authority of God’s Word and the hope of the gospel to give to anyone who asks you.

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31–32)

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
Ken

This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.

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