Eugene Peterson recants previous statement; reaffirms position on biblical marriage

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Noted Christian author Eugene Peterson went from endorsing gay marriage to recanting that position, drawing reactions across social media. WIKIPEDIA COMMONS/Special

Within a day, noted Christian author and retired Presbyterian minister Eugene Peterson went from the most significant Christian leader affirming gay marriage to issuing a retraction on the matter. 

On Wednesday in the third installment of a three-part interview with Religion News Service, interviewer Johnathan Merrit asked Peterson if he’d be willing to perform a wedding ceremony for a gay couple in his church “who were Christians of good faith.” In response in the article Peterson is credited with a one-word answer – “Yes.”

The answer sent waves through the evangelical community, though with an asterisk. As author of the Bible translation The Message, among other books, Peterson is held in high regard among those espousing a traditional view of marriage. However, as a longtime pastor in the gay-marriage affirming Presbyterian Church (USA), the announcement didn’t surprise many.

However, through a statement shared in an article by Christianity Today this afternoon, Peterson explained the context that led to his answer in the RNS piece. 

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.

The most recent announcement came just hours after media outlets, commentators, and bloggers had hit “Post” on pieces exploring Peterson’s position as stated in RNS and what it meant for those holding a traditional, biblical position on marriage between one man and one woman. LifeWay Christian Resources explored pulling Peterson’s books from its stores shelves. ERLC President Russell Moore penned “Should We Still Read Eugene Peterson?”

Baptist responses, yesterday and today

Moore was among Southern Baptists responding on Twitter this afternoon, posting “I am glad to hear Eugene Peterson retract his earlier statement, endorse the historic Christian view of marriage.”

“This is encouraging. Thankful for his clarification,” wrote Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin.

“So glad to read this,” added Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at Boyce College. After Peterson’s initial announcement, Burk wrote a blog post describing the decision as one based on sentiment, not scripture. 

“I regret the confusion and bombast that this interview has fostered,” Peterson told Christianity Today. “It has never been my intention to participate in the kind of lightless heat that such abstract, hypothetical comments and conversations generate.”

Georgia Baptists joined others commenting today on social media, with variations on how best to interpret Peterson’s latest statement.

Leonard Dupree, retired Georgia Baptist state missionary and pastor, said on Facebook above a link to the CT story: “Hope all my mentoring partners will read this! So easy to be misunderstood while believing and standing form in the grace and truth of God!”

However Michael Catt, pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, however, offered caution in posting to Twitter: “Grateful for the retraction but unfortunately there’s still too much that is vague in some of his response.”

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