eugene peterson
eugene peterson

After Backlash, Popular Christian Author Backtracks on Pro Same-Sex Marriage Comment

Popular Christian author Eugene Peterson came out in support of same-sex marriage during a recent interview with Religion News Service. But after backlash from conservative Christians who threatened to pull his book from their shelves, Peterson retracted his statements.

“On further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that,” the evangelical author said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Religion News Service published an interview with Peterson. He said, “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.”

Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt reflects:

My questions were pointed, as any serious journalist’s questions should be. They were respectful and in no way pushy. When asked about his views of homosexuality, Peterson shares fond memories of LGBT people he knew during his pastoral ministry. He talks about being proud of his former church for accepting a gay music minister. He says that his LGBT friends have just as healthy a spiritual life as he does. And he calls it “not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.” Peterson also acknowledged that these are not statements he would have made “20 years ago.”

These statements indicated that he indeed affirmed same-sex marriage as others had claimed. It would be remiss for me not to follow up, so I asked whether he would perform a gay marriage if he were pastoring today and an LGBT couple asked him. Though he always responds with lengthy replies, he opted for a one-word retort: “yes.”

LifeWay Christian Resources — the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention — announced it would discontinue selling any books by Peterson if he confirmed the interview accurately reflects his views.

“LifeWay only carries resources in our stores by authors who hold to the biblical view of marriage,” a prepared statement from LifeWay said. “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.”

Thursday, Eugene Peterson issued a statement to Christianity Today saying he regrets the “confusion and bombast” in the wake of his comments and that he does indeed support biblical marriage.

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

Peterson said that Merritt put him on the spot in the interview. He said Merritt asked him hypothetically if he would marry a gay Christian couple if he was pastoring today.  “I said yes in the moment, but on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that.”

Peterson said he would not marry a gay couple “out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage.”

One commenter on Merrit’s follow-up wrote: “And sure enough, out come the radical conservatives to fling their Theo-poo at other Christians for not being the right sort of Christian.”

Another said: “It is extremely sad that commerce has such a strong affect on a persons belief that he could change his mind as quickly as saying ‘we will ban your books.’ A true Christian response would be, ban them if you must but the truth is more important than money.”

This isn’t the first time LifeWay has purged a pro-LGBT author.

Last October, LifeWay stopped selling books by bestselling Bible study author Jen Hatmaker after she voiced approval for same-sex marriage — also in an RNS interview with Merritt.

At the time, LifeWay announced it discontinued selling her resources because Hatmaker “voiced significant changes in her theology of human sexuality and the meaning and definition of marriage—changes which contradict LifeWay’s doctrinal guidelines.”