Eugene Peterson, most known for his authorship of The Message translation of the Bible, released a statement on Thursday afternoon retracting a comment he made during an earlier interview that he would perform a same-sex marriage today if he were asked.
In the interview, published on Wednesday by the Religion News Service, Peterson was asked, “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?”
Peterson responded with a simple: “Yes.”
Peterson added previous to that question that he hadn't had "a lot of experience" with people who had same-sex attractions, and that in the congregation that he led, he didn't "think [they] ever really made a big deal out of it."
"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, 84, told Religion News Service reporter Jonathan Merritt. "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."
However, in the statement he released on Thursday, Peterson said: “To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.”
“It’s worth noting that in my 29-year career as a pastor, and in the years since then, I’ve never performed a same-sex wedding,” he continued in his statement.
“I’ve never been asked and, frankly, I hope I never am asked. 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.”
Peterson’s comments in the interview had drawn criticism from conservative circles. LifeWay Christian Resources, the largest Christian bookstore chain in the country which is also affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), even announced it would consider taking down all of Peterson’s 135 books that are currently sold in its stores, including The Message Bible.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC, wrote in a blog post earlier on Thursday morning that he was “disappointed,” yet that he “can’t un-highlight or un-flag” the Peterson books that he owned and studied, explaining Peterson’s influence on his faith.
Moore added at the end of the post that Peterson “may well rethink this,” and that he hopes he does. Indeed, Peterson did.
“I am glad to hear Eugene Peterson retract his earlier statement, endorse the historic Christian view of marriage,” Moore tweeted on Thursday.
Progressives were quick to halt their applause. Matthew Vines, founder and executive director of The Reformation Project which affirms same-sex marriages, tweeted on Wednesday that Peterson’s comments in the interview marked “an amazing moment.”
However, on Thursday afternoon he said: “Tip to anyone who cares about LGBTQ people: Never, ever say you are affirming if you aren’t willing to pay the price. And it’s a steep one.”
Meanwhile, Merritt posted an opinion piece on Thursday afternoon after Peterson's retraction statement, noting that "in the week prior to the publication of his answers, there was no attempt to clarify or change his answer to these questions."
In trying to understand the meaning of Peterson's retraction, Merritt wrote: "All I know is that Eugene Peterson is a man of deep faith who has lived, in his words, 'a long obedience in the same direction.' His life and ministry bear witness to his love for God, love for people, and his love for the Bible. Peterson’s views on same-sex marriage — whether he affirms it or opposes it — have no bearing on my respect for him or his ministry."