If your head has been buried under a rock – or you just don’t hang out in the theological corner of the internet – you probably aren’t aware that some stuff went down. Some “ish” hit the fan.
In an interview with Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service, the final part of a series, published on July 12, 2017, Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message, author of several books, respected pastor and teacher, appeared to take an affirming stance on LGBTQIA issues. (For those of you who don’t know, “affirming” means that one views same-sex relationships are compatible with Christian faith; “non-affirming,” logically, means the opposite. Please know that “non-affirming” does not equal “bigot”). Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Lifeway, one of the world’s largest Christian retail chains, threatened to pull his books. (They get nothing but side-eye from me for that. I mean, come on. They continue to sell all of Sarah Young’s “devotionals”). Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth.
What is going on? Neither “conservative” or “progressive” social media has any idea.
Truth: I am puzzled by Peterson’s all-over-the-map remarks.
Also truth: I don’t understand what Merritt is attempting to do at this point. This seems less like reporting and more like pushing an agenda. What exactly that agenda is, I don’t know, but first there were no follow-up questions in the (what he had to have known would be an explosive) final interview piece and now there’s this…what, throwing Peterson under the bus? Challenging his retraction?
Calling Peterson a liar, without actually making the accusation?
I’ve never met Peterson. I haven’t read all of his work. I can’t tell you the ins and outs of everything he believes. I know he’s an elderly man who usually only does interviews via email, as he is more comfortable responding to questions in writing. I understand that. Merritt chose to conduct the interview by phone for reasons known only to him. Peterson chose to participate in that format for reasons known only to him.
The only clear conclusions that I believe can be made:
- Nobody besides Eugene Peterson knows what Eugene Peterson actually thinks about these issues.
- Merritt’s bias is showing.
I hope that Peterson sticks to his guns and doesn’t say anything more. He doesn’t need to. He’s not going to influence anyone to change their stance on this and I can’t imagine that he could say much that would clear the muddied waters.
I hope that Merritt takes a step back and reflects on his role in creating, or at least assisting in the creation of, this mess. I also wish that he would come out and admit that he is “affirming.” That much really is clear based on the bulk of his reporting in this area. (If I’m wrong on that, I’ll happily admit so).
On that note, I wish that we would get away from the language of “affirming” and “non-affirming.” It’s nonsensical. To affirm means “to state as a fact; assert strongly and publicly” and to “offer (someone) emotional support or encouragement.” Many of my friends who affirm the validity of alternative medicine have also affirmed me in my struggle against chronic illness, despite our often sharp disagreements. Just as this is possible, it is also possible that those who affirm that Scripture does not support same-sex marriage can also affirm LGBTQIA people, despite often sharp disagreements.
You see, you can differ with someone and still love them. You can look a person in the eye and say, “You are dead wrong about this” and still have dinner together. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. We don’t have to compromise and we don’t have to shun.
Unless we dwell exclusively in echo chambers (and sadly, some do), we know this. There are people with whom we cross paths on a regular basis that hold opinions at wild variance from our own, who live in ways that we would never dream of. Yet we love them. We enjoy their presence. They are family members, friends, work mates. We shake their hands and listen to their stories and get into arguments with them and laugh together until our sides ache.
I don’t have to tell you that everything you do, think, say and feel is “okay” in order to be your friend. That is the example of our Great Friend, Jesus Christ. He ate with people – and called them sinners. He traveled with His disciples – and called them sinners. He hung on the cross – while we were sinners.
He never minces words. Never.
And yet there is no love truer, no affection sweeter, than that found in Him.
Photo credit: KiwiHug