Influential evangelical scholar Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message translation of the Bible, has said that he would officiate at a gay wedding ceremony if asked, appearing to affirm same-sex marriage. The comments have divided progressive and traditionalist Christians, with the conservative publishing company LifeWay now preparing to stop selling Peterson's books in response.
Peterson, who is now retired from teaching and speaking at age 84, made the comments in an interview with Jonathan Merritt of RNS, published Wednesday.
'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,' Peterson said when asked about the morality of same-sex relationships, or if he had changed his mind on the issue.
'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.'
Asked if he would perform a same-sex wedding for a gay Christian couple in his church, Peterson responded simply 'Yes'.
Peterson is a renowned scholar and theologian who has authored more than 100 books, most famously various editions of The Message, a paraphrase translation of the Bible that has become vastly popular particularly in the evangelical world. Now however, the Southern Baptist affiliated distributor LifeWay Christian Stores may drop Peterson's works because of his change in view.
A lifeway spokesperson told Christianity Today: 'LifeWay only carries resources in our stores by authors who hold to the biblical view of marriage.
'We are attempting to confirm with Eugene Peterson or his representatives that his recent interview on same-sex marriage accurately reflects his views. If he confirms he does not hold to a biblical view of marriage, LifeWay will no longer sell any resources by him, including The Message.'
Peterson's denomination Presbyterian Church (USA) now supports same-sex marriage and welcomes gay clergy, so some have called his 'change' unsurprising.
This is the first time Peterson has publicly spoken on this issue, but it's believed that he has suggested similar sentiments supportive of the LGBTQ community in private gatherings.
The news has been celebrated by progressives and largely decried by conservatives. Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, called the news 'so disappointing'.
Rachel Held Evans said she was 'grateful' for Peterson's voice, while LGBTQ affirming writer Matthew Vines tweeted: 'Eugene Peterson is without a doubt the most influential Christian to date to say he affirms same-sex unions. The impact will be significant.'