Dear Pastor Peterson,
We were thrilled when we read on Wednesday that you had come to accept and affirm same-sex relationships. There are scant few leaders in the evangelical world who would break bread with our rag-tag community of outcasts. We knew your wisdom and the respect it has garnered would go a long way in healing the hearts of LGBTQ Christians who have faced nothing but rejection. Your words were a balm to the wounds of many. You can imagine, then, our disappointment when you retracted those words the very next day.
We’ll never know the reasons for your abrupt about-face. You made no accusations that the reporter had misrepresented your words or tried to catch you off-guard. In fact, you seem to own up to everything you said in the interview, which is both direct and unambiguous (edited for length):
Religion News Service: What’s your position on the morality of same-sex relationships?
Eugene Peterson: 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.
RNS: If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?
We lauded the confidence with which you spoke. It was a brave move, the act of a man in the twilight of his career who put more value on Christlike love than on legacy. You spoke the way so many pastors and religious professors can’t because they have jobs and tenure and reputations to protect. You spoke the way so many of us wish we could, but never do.
And then you took it all back.
Perhaps you misspoke in your interview, or perhaps there was a miscommunication between you and the reporter. We both come from journalism backgrounds, so we know how that can happen. Perhaps after a time of reflection you realized that the words you said did not accurately reflect your beliefs. Everyone deserves the grace to clarify and amend themselves. It’s possible, too, that the backlash that ensued, including the threat by LifeWay Christian Stores to stop carrying your books, was an influencing factor. It’s hard to face that kind of hard-hearted ostracization from the Christian community — believe us, we know.
Mostly we’re concerned for the members of the LGBTQ community who derived so much hope from your words, only to have it crushed. Words carelessly spoken do damage, especially when they are addressing fragile souls already so deeply wounded by the church. You can retract your words, but not the pain your retraction has caused so many.
Despite all this, we want you to know something: We will still buy your books. Even if you don’t agree with same-sex marriage, and even if you take back every friendly word you’ve spoken toward the LGBTQ community, we still respect the contribution you have made to the church. The Message is our favorite paraphrased version of the Bible, and we will continue to speak its praises. We won’t try to threaten or strong-arm you with what little money and power we have to wield, because you’re not the enemy. Because that is not what Christians do. We can hold opposing views and still call each other brother. We’re on the same team; we’re part of the same family; we belong to the same Body of Christ. We only wish other Christians would see that.
We’re sad that you retracted your support of the LGBTQ community. We’re sorry to hear that our marriage violates your beliefs. We feel a little more alone today than we did on Wednesday. But we believe in our cause, and we believe Spirit is challenging us to love more radically than many Christians are willing to accept. You may not be the champion for our cause we had hoped for, but we will soldier on alongside our faithful and resilient LGBTQ siblings, secure in the knowledge that we have with us the only leader that ultimately matters: Christ, our God.
With our respect and regards,
David and Constantino Khalaf
Photo: Screenshot taken from YouTube.