Eugene Peterson retracts statement affirming gay marriage: He said 'yes' but now he says 'no'

The acclaimed retired theologian Eugene Peterson has retracted his statement that he would conduct a same-sex wedding.Youtube

Top evangelical Bible scholar Eugene Peterson has retracted his controversial statement that he would conduct a same-sex wedding if asked.

Peterson, author author of The Message translation of the Bible and As Kingfishers Catch Fire, says in a statement circulated by the Alive Literary Agency that he wishes to change his response to hypothetical question that was posted to him by a journalist as to whether he would perform a wedding ceremony for a gay Christian couple if he were pastoring today.

His original answer to the question was a simple: 'Yes.'

But now Peterson, who is 84 and has not been active in a pastoring ministry for more than a quarter of a century, says that having engaged in 'further reflection and prayer', he wants to change his answer to: 'No.'

The agency said the recent interview he did with Religion News Service was on topics ranging from his mortality, current events and homosexuality.

Peterson was taken by surprise by the query about whether he would do a gay marriage, but that after a long and awkward pause, he responded with an uncharacteristic and simple 'yes'. He now wishes to 'clarify and change his response'. 

Peterson was a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings.

In his new statement, he states: 'I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.'

In his 29 years as  a pastor, and in the years since then, he has never performed a same-sex wedding and nor has he been asked to.

'Frankly, I hope I never am asked,' he says.

He continues: '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. It was an awkward question for me because I don't do many interviews at this stage in my life at 84, and I am no longer able to travel as I once did or accept speaking requests. With most interviews I've done, I generally ask for questions in advance and respond in writing. That's where I am most comfortable.

'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.'

He also told the reporter that there are gay and lesbian people who 'seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do'. He says he meant that statement.

'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 behaviour. 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 Scriptures for them.'

The people of a congregation are not abstractions, they are people, and a pastor does a disservice to the people in his care when he indulges in treating them as abstractions, he says, regretting 'the confusion and bombast that this interview has fostered'.

From now on, he concludes, he will limit his statements to private letters as opposed to public statements and will do no further interviews, 'preferring to be remembered not for this matter' but for his life's body of work and teaching. 

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