A prominent Presbyterian minister and author has given an interview in which he appeared to support for church marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, then retracted his statement.
Rev. Eugene Peterson, a retired pastor and the author of more than 30 books, was asked by Religion News Service writer Jonathan Merritt, "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 answered with a simple "yes."
But after the interview appeared online yesterday, Peterson issued a statement of retraction. "To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything," he said Thursday afternoon, according to Christianity Today.
His denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), approved church weddings for same-sex couples two years ago, but ministers can opt out of these ceremonies or any others of which they disapprove.
Peterson, 84, who retired as a pastor 25 years ago, said Merritt asked him a hypothetical question, but "pastors don't have the luxury of indulging in hypotheticals." He added, "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."
A major Christian retail chain, LifeWay Christian Stores, had announced it would quit carrying Peterson's books if he indeed endorsed same-sex marriage, Christianity Today reports. The chain is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Peterson did tell Merritt that his views had evolved on homosexuality in general. He noted that over the years there had been gay and lesbian people in his congregations. "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," he said. "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."
Regarding these comments, Peterson's follow-up statement said, "When I told this reporter that there are gay and lesbian people who 'seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do,' I meant it. 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 behavior. 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."
In another portion of the interview, published this week, Merritt asked Peterson about Donald Trump. While some faith leaders support Trump, Peterson made his opposition clear.
"Donald Trump is the enemy as far as I'm concerned," Peterson said. "He has no morals. He has no integrity. But I have good friends who think he's wonderful. But I think they put up with it less and less. People are getting pretty tired of him, I think. Some of us were tired of him before he was elected. I think we can put up with it, though. I don't think it's the end of the road."
Peterson also voiced his disapproval of "a whole part of the Christian church that operates out of fear" and the "consumer mentality" of megachurches, which are so big it's impossible for a pastor to know every member's name. "In the megachurch, well, there's no relationship with anybody," he said. He added that he's "not disheartened" by the state of American Christianity. "I'm just upset by the fad-ism of the megachurch, but I just don't think they're churches," he explained. "They're entertainment places."
Peterson's books include the best-seller The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, and he has just published a collection of his sermons, As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God. That will be his last book, said Peterson, who also said he will quit speaking publicly.