Eugene Peterson, the creator of the 2002 “Message Bible” modern paraphrase, states that he has changed his mind on the issue of homosexuality and would be willing to officiate a same-sex ceremony if he were pastoring a church today.
“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,” he told Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service, who published an interview with Peterson on Wednesday.
Peterson, who led Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Maryland for nearly 30 years before his retirement in 1991, had been asked if his views on homosexuality have changed over time and what his beliefs are on the morality of the issue. He explained that he never made “a big deal” about homosexuality in his congregation, and that he was pleased at how his members never questioned the allowance of an openly homosexual man to serve as music director.
The man had applied for the position as the former worship leader left her post at the same time Peterson retired.
“When he found out about the opening, he showed up in church one day and stood up and said, ‘I’d like to apply for the job of music director here, and I’m gay,’” Peterson recalled. “We didn’t have any gay people in the whole congregation. Well, some of them weren’t openly gay. But I was so pleased with the congregation. Nobody made any questions about it. And he was a really good musician.”
He said that he thinks that the Church is in a “transition for the best” on the issue, and doesn’t see it as a matter of right and wrong.
“People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church,” Peterson stated. “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.”
When asked if he would be willing to officiate a same-sex ceremony for “Christians of good faith” if he were pastoring today, Peterson replied in the affirmative.
Release of the interview has troubled a number of Christians, including Owen Strachan, an associate professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He especially lamented Peterson’s remarks that homosexuality is “not a right or wrong thing.”
“These are not sound words. We are called not merely to abstain from sin, but to avoid giving approval to those who indulge in it (see the implication of Romans 1:32),” Strachan wrote in a response on Wednesday. “None who practice homosexuality, and who take it as their identity, will inherit the kingdom of Heaven (Romans 6:9-11). We recall Paul’s strong words: without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).”
He noted that there is a difference between those who repent of their sins, and those who willingly and flagrantly violate God’s law and make their sin their very life.
“There is a great gap of a difference between people who sin and then repent, and people who sin and do not repent and even make it a positive part of their identity,” he noted. “Those who brazenly sin against God are those who must face church discipline and be warned that they are in danger of nothing less than eternal judgment (1 Cor. 5).”
Strachan urged Christians to pray for Peterson and not to lose heart in a world where many professing evangelicals are turning away from the truth.
“[L]et us pray for Eugene Peterson, that he may return to the old paths,” he exhorted, “and let us instruct the younger generation of Christians, for the pressure upon them is great, and there is only one way to God: the way of repentant faithfulness.”
Peterson’s “Message Bible” does not specifically mention homosexuality, but instead reads as its paraphrase for 1 Corinthians 6:9, “Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in His kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.”
But even the American Bible Society’s New International Version, which reportedly included a lesbian as a stylistic consultant, reads, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
The King James Version reads, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God.”