I woke up raw this morning.
Today, as every other day, Twitter is exploding with every opinion imaginable on topics from politics and the White House to theological debates, but one topic hits particularly close to home for me.
Earlier this week, leading Christian theologian and pastor Eugene Peterson engaged in an interview with Religion News Service. During this interview, Peterson seems to affirm same-sex relationships when he said, “I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of gays and lesbians and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do.”
Perhaps wanting to confirm and clarify Peterson’s stance on this hot-button topic widely debated among Christians, the reporter asked a follow-up question in which he describes a hypothetical scenario wherein a gay couple of faith approaches Peterson and asks him to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony. When asked if he would do that, Peterson responded with only one word: “Yes.”
When I first read this article from Religion News Service, I breathed a sigh of relief. It felt similar to when Jen Hatmaker, best-selling Christian author and Bible teacher, publically affirmed same-sex marriage late last year. She took a stand on something she believes in and held her ground, even to the point of massive loss herself.
She lost people in both her private and public life, and Lifeway Christian Stores even pulled all of her books from their shelves; refusing to sell them because of her shift on LGBTQ+ theology. Every time an influential Christian leader speaks up in affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community, it feels like a monumental occasion. It feels like we are one step closer to a fully inclusive Church. However, in the case with Peterson this week, we took one step forward and then we were jolted backward into a free-fall from grace.
In another interview with Christianity Today, just one day later, after Lifeway Christian Stores made a statement threatening to pull Peterson’s books – even his translation of the Bible, The Message – Peterson was asked to clarify his views on same-sex marriage and his views had apparently flip-flopped overnight.
“To clarify,” Peterson said, “I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.”
With the publication of this statement, hearts which had sought healing in his words on Wednesday now found only condemnation.
I do not know Eugene Peterson personally, but witnessing this situation, regardless of the motives behind it, has brought heart-wrenching pain to so many.
I cannot speak for the entire LGBTQ+ community, but I can tell you what I see: Disappointment. Confusion. Anger. Frustration. Deep despair.
I am disappointed in Eugene Peterson for not being completely honest, no matter which interview most accurately portrays his views on same-sex marriage. I am confused as to how two interviews only one day apart could result in such polarized viewpoints from one person, especially on a topic so hotly debated that I would imagine a leading theologian would have an answer prepared. For the sake of all involved, a firm stance is necessary on such controversial issues.
I am angry that I am still seen more as an issue to debate than a person to love.
I am frustrated at how tightly people are holding onto oppressive and abusive theology.
There is deep despair everywhere because the LGBTQ+ community has been discredited and invalidated yet again by a well-respected leader in Christianity—ironically, a faith based upon an upside-down Kingdom where the least are the most important and the last are the first.
I have read countless comments online from people who are angry because they feel like Eugene Peterson sold out their gospel for the affection of the world when he first said he would perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. Let me tell you the story from the other side of the table: Peterson sold me out for the affirmation of a toxic community of people who call themselves Christ-followers but do not mirror Jesus.
I am tired of being a pawn in this who-is-holiest game American Christians are playing.
I am sick of abstract theology taking precedence over real-life people with stories of intense pain of marginalization and discrimination. Sarah Bessey says that theology is “what we think about God and then living that truth out in our right-now lives.” If this—hate, legalistic thinking, condemnation—is really what we think about God, I shudder to think how far off the mark we have strayed.
If Jesus is God wrapped in skin, then he is the most accurate portrayal of the God we have not yet seen. I struggle to imagine Jesus caught up in the Christian Machine, wobbly on who to love and how to do so. The Jesus I see in the Gospels spends time with the sinners and eats with those religion has rejected. He breaks societal barriers with a Samaritan woman at the well and saves a woman caught in adultery from her accusers. He serves those beneath him and stoops to wash his students’ feet.
If all of us who call ourselves Christians cared enough to truly model our behavior after the One whom we claim to follow, I think we would find so much more grace there. Regardless of differences in opinion or theology, love and mercy would win over the necessity to be right.
I am weary from fighting for my rights and explaining myself to the Church, but I stand firm on the side of Love and Life and Light.
I want to leave you with this:
If you affirm the LGBTQ+ community and relationships, step up. Speak out and stand with us.
If you are still uncertain, get to know us. Reach out to an acquaintance in the LGBTQ+ community, follow leading LGBTQ+ Christians on Twitter, and open your heart and mind to learn something new.
If you absolutely cannot affirm, simply love the person in front of you.
Take Jesus at face-value when he said the greatest command is to love God and love your neighbor. You do not have to agree to stand up for Love.