Eugene Peterson is a strange candidate for fame. An evangelical minister and academic, he’s now 84-years-old and never desired to be in the public eye. But his contemporary and compelling translation of the Bible called The Message has sold more than 16 million copies and was projected into even greater prominence when Bono publicized that he had read it to his dying father and described it as “incredible stuff.” The U2 singer then made a short film with Peterson where the two discuss The Psalms and the Christian faith.
But recently this quiet, cerebral man, now retired, the author of 30 bestselling books, gave an interview to the Religious News Service where he was asked if he would perform a same-sex marriage if he were still working as a pastor. He said he would. Believe me, hell has no fury like that of a fundamentalist scorned.
Within hours of the article being published, LifeWay, one of the largest Christian bookstore and supply chains in the world, announced it was preparing to withdraw all of Peterson’s books. It justified this nasty lump of censorship with, “LifeWay only carries resources in our stores by authors who hold to the biblical view of marriage.” Others followed, and then numerous evangelical leaders and activists began writing in print and on social media about their former hero’s “apostasy.”
Sad to say, he quickly made a public statement that, “To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.” It’s not convincing. First, he appeared to make no attempt to question his original statement until he was so horribly attacked; second, his increasingly liberal views on LGBTQ issues have been noticed but not promoted for some time. So what happened?
Some have condemned him for what they see as a cowardly retreat. I certainly understand that reaction, but we surely have to appreciate just how devastating this all must have been for a man of Peterson’s age and temperament. It’s more about the reality of conservative Christian anger and venom over a subject that for the vast majority of people in North America and Europe was decided long ago.
Many evangelicals and traditional Roman Catholics like to paint themselves as a persecuted group. They speak of Christian bakers prosecuted for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, dressmakers in trouble for rejecting the business of a gay woman wanting to buy a dress for her special day, and so on. Actually, these are cases of discrimination and the law is the law. You can believe whatever you like, be a bigot about whomever you like, but once you withhold services to someone because of their gender, race, religion, or sexuality there are consequences.
If there is persecution it comes from the other side. Believe me, I know. I’m a straight, middle-aged man but when I publicly declared for equal marriage and abandoned by former views I saw the spiteful face of the Christian right close up. My children were targeted, I was called a pedophile, a thief, a liar, and an adulterer, there was a concerted campaign to have me fired from my places of work, and my wife was told to leave me.
Other Christians have suffered far worse. Vicky Beeching, a gifted singer from Britain, was becoming a star on the Christian music scene in the United States. After years of struggle, this gentle and moderate woman came out. Her career was over, and she was and still is the subject of the vilest abuse. Remember, she’s still very much a Christian, as am I. As, of course, is Eugene Peterson. As are the people at the charity World Vision, who suffered a similar fate after they made a progressive statement about same-sex couples. The list is long.
But the Christian right is becoming more and not less strident. For them the issue of LGBTQ equality is the litmus test of faith. To oppose gay rights is to be a follower of Jesus, to embrace them is to be the contrary. Corruption or cruelty may be forgiven but not extending a Christian embrace to those who are simply attracted to people of the same gender.
Christ was love personified. Too many Christians, however, still haven’t got — well — the message.
Michael Coren is a Toronto writer.
The last paragraph of this piece gets to the very heart of the problems with the Religious Right in North America. The fact that a well-known and respected pastor’s response to the question: “Would you be prepared to Bless a Same-Sex Relationship” was in the affirmative, has given rise to a fundamentalist uproar in Canada and the United States of America.
The fact of singer/song-writer Vicky Beech’s rejection by the R.R. in the United States – despite her avowed Christian discipleship – is now legendary among those who admired her talent exercised at Christian fesitvals, but now banned because of her LGBTI affinity.
This gives testimony to the influence of the Fundamentalist Christian Right across the United States and Canada – one of the reasons that this stance, made by 84 year-old Eugene Patterson against endemic bigotry and homophobia, is so important for the exercise of human rights for same-sex couples who want their monogamous committed relationship recognised and blessed in the Church.
see Also: POTUS Shield: Trump’s Dominionist Prayer Warriors and the ‘Prophetic Order of the United States’
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand.
(presently in Amsterdam – the scene of Saturday’s Amsterdam Gay Parade on the water)