I get it.

You can’t explain it. It doesn’t make sense. You are a Bible-loving, Jesus-following, thoughtful disciple. You don’t think gay marriage is okay. In fact, you think it is an affront to the very nature of the Biblical order of the family. You are not okay with the way our culture (that menacing, hostile force that you feel called to combat) is pushing the Church around. People you respect are changing their views and it makes you uncomfortable. There is only one possible explanation, you conclude.

These people that you admire are succumbing to the irresistible forces of societal opinion.

Why else would your favorite blogger, prolific author, and HGTV personality say that homosexual relationships can be holy?

Why else would Eugene Peterson say he’d perform a gay wedding?

It’s the culture, obviously.

Except it isn’t, of course.

I mean, it is in as much as any of us form opinions based on culture. Your opinion, though you may think it is entirely informed by the Bible and the Holy Spirit, also exists in a culture where fear and polarization rule the day. You don’t even want to entertain conversations on this subject, or befriend a gay person, because of it. None of our views are entirely noble or uncorrupted by our surroundings, my own included. Our surroundings impact the way we think, even about really important stuff. Only an intellectually dishonest person would say otherwise.

But can we stop with the overly simplistic explanation that these thought leaders have “caved to culture?”

When Jen Hatmaker was asked a question about gay relationships and answered the way she did, it was sort of sad to see the reaction. Sure, it was predictable to see book stores yank her best sellers. What was a bit of a surprise was that people just assumed her conclusion was based on preferential whims and not thoughtful study.

Photo Cred

Similarly, when Eugene Peterson was asked a question (by the same journalist who asked Hatmaker) and answered the way he did, it was nearly laughable to hear the reaction.

“Sad to see another pastor bend to the opinion of culture instead of the Bible.”

“He must be succumbing to cultural pressure to redefine doctrine.”

Look, if I came out in favor of homosexual behavior, I would understand if you said I was just being tossed about by the waves of culture. I’m 36 and, while I possess a masters degree in historical theology, I’m not exactly N.T. Wright. I live in the suburbs and I’m surrounded by all kinds of effects of the (supposed) nefarious culture that is so often blamed for corrupting Christians who are more tolerant on LGBT issues.

I’m not, in other words, Eugene Peterson. 

He holds a masters degree in biblical languages, his life’s work has earned him multiple honorary doctorates, he is 84, lives in Montana, and has, you know, translated the entire Bible. He knows the Scriptures better than I do, and he knows the Bible better than you do. He has an expert grasp on the original languages. He studies like a madman. He’s a pretty thoughtful person, it seems, and if you ever read any of his books you’d be inclined to agree.

How can an entire community of Christian leaders respect, admire, fawn over, and aspire to be like a man such as Eugene Peterson but then, in an instant, because he changed his view on one topic, write him off as an imbecile who caved to cultural pressure.

Friends, I’m not saying anything about my LGBT views in this post. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with Peterson, Hatmaker, or anyone else. My views are complicated, and perhaps I’ll share them someday. Frankly, I don’t think it’s important what I think.

What I think is important is that each of us wrestle on this and every theological issue impacting the church today. That means reading the Scriptures, reading church history, getting to know people who aren’t like us, praying about it, studying some more, and being as objective about our conclusions as we possibly can.

Yes, we should study the Bible.

Yes, we should be prayerful.

That is exactly what Peterson has done and, as a very bright, very earnest follower of Jesus, he has come to a conclusion that gay marriage is okay. You don’t have to agree with his view. 

But to dismiss his conclusion as a lazy capitulation to a cultural message is ludicrous. This is Eugene Peterson we’re talking about, not Homer Simpson. To write him off, never read The Message again, or say he’s a victim of a hostile culture sounds like a dismissive line of reasoning by someone who doesn’t want to think critically on an issue.

It is the nature of Christian community to have dissent and discussion. That’s how it’s always been, and we’re better for it.

It is the opposite of Christian community to instinctively dismiss those with whom we disagree. That’s not how it should ever be, for it is when we are at our worst.
Titus Benton is the Executive Director of The 25 Group, a nonprofit helping make “less least of these” all over the world.

22 thoughts on “Eugene Peterson Didn’t Cave to Cultural Pressure

  1. This knee-jerk reaction to demonize someone who disagrees with you is exactly why evangelical Christianity is loosing traction in today’s culture. Authoritarianism seems to be the order of the day with these “Christians” , but like I used to tell my husband, God gave me, a woman, a brain and expects me to use it. I am accountable to God for my choices, not man. For a patriarchal, top-down power structure, that’s an impossible truth to accept, but it doesn’t exempt me from my responsibilities. Nor are those who blindly follow some egotistical preacher who is the sole dispenser of “truth” exempt from THEIR choices. I have a LOT more respect for Eugene Peterson because of his lifetime of thoughtful and rigorous study, than I ever will of those who take the lazy way to finding “truth.” Thank you for standing up to the bullies in your blog. It’s long past time that other voices get to have a say in what comprises a “real” Christian.

    1. Thanks, Kathryn…well thought out points. I appreciate you reading. I would also say I don’t know that there are any bullies here. People with different and strong opinions, sure. But this is a place where that can be hashed out pretty reasonably. Or at least I strive for it to be. Thanks again for your good thoughts!

  2. I can state just as confidently that you don’t know that Peterson DIDN’T cave to the culture. When someone publicly walks away from clear Biblical teaching, you can’t assume that person isn’t compromising to a popular trend. I agree that we all need to continue to study and pray and love our neighbors. But your title is just as much of an assumption as the opposite.

    1. Fair point, Allen. As I told someone (maybe you?) over on FB, maybe I should have titled it “I’m 95% Sure Eugene Peterson Did Not Cave to Cultural Pressure.” 🙂

      Of course, now that he (sorta?) recanted, the issue is much more complex. But my point remains…our haste to kick people out of the club or assume their motivations is dangerous.

  3. Then why did he and others change their mind? Does the bible suddenly say something different on the topic? And your assertion that your not ” agreeing with” those whom have changed their stance is disingenuous. You’ve framed your argument as such, “Hey, so and so is really smart (smarter than you and me), and has devoted his life to the understanding of the gospel, if he’s changed his mind there’s good reason”. No, there is not. Sin is sin, period. I don’t have to pray about that, I don’t have to thoughtfully examine anything. Same sex relations are a way of satisfying sexual desire, and satisfaction of sexual desire outside of man/woman marriage is sin. The gospel is clear. If some bible scholar changed his public views, he didn’t find that change in the bible.
    Do we as the Christian community need to be more open and accepting of the lost, sure, it is through showing the world the love of Jesus that they will come to accept him as their Lord and Savior. But the love of Jesus, Jesus himself is calling us all to be more like him. To not be selfish, and turning your back on the framework for sexual relations that God has set in place to satisfy your lusts is selfishness.

    1. Thanks for reading and responding. Good thoughts. If changing of one’s mind equals caving to cultural pressure, then I cave again and again. I used to feel certain ways about consumption of alcohol, women’s roles in the church, baptism, and the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. My view on all of these topics has evolved and, in each case, I believe become a more robust, accurate view.

      EP and others’s views on LGBT issues represents a similar transformation. My point, simply, is that we cannot assume they did that because the non-Christian world pressured them to. I think we have to give people more credit than that. That does not mean we have to agree with their conclusion…I just think those we call brothers and sisters are deserving of a little more patience than that.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to discuss. Really appreciate it.

      1. Except the Bible does not repudiate homosexuality. The Bible verse most often used as a weapon against our gay bretheran is actually referring to the common (at that time) practice of older men taking young men as a sort of “apprentice” and then sexually abusing them. If anything, the scriptures are railing against the powerful who take advantage of the weak. If Jesus had something negative to say about homosexuality, then why does Luke (17:34) say that only only one woman would be saved and not condemn them both? Obviously Jesus doesn’t care, so why are we so fixated on this? Ugh. People need to worry more about the beam in their own eyes, than spending any energy on the speck in their neighbor’s eye.

    2. That’s a good word 👏🏻

      Way to stand up for truth! As Paul said,” Let your yes be yes, and your no be no”.

  4. Having been brought up in the Evangelical world, I’m happy to be walking away. I’m tired of the Evangelical Police State telling us what we can and cannot read, whom we can and cannot hang out with, and what we can and cannot believe.

    I’m tired of Christians saying any embezzler, child abuser, liar, womanizer, spouse-beater, pedophile, etc., can get married, but not a gay person. Even if you think homosexuality is a sin, that’s not a good enough reason to deny gays of the fundamental rights to marriage, jobs, and housing.

    We are all made in the image of God. Jesus taught us the Golden Rule: Your beliefs shouldn’t entitle you to things you deny to people with different beliefs.

    If you were a Christian living in a Hindu country, you would want the same access to jobs, education, food, marriage and housing that Hindus do, even though they believe you’re wrong theologically.

    Having read the doctrinal statements of other Christian denominations, I’ve found several that believe in the Nicene Creed but don’t feel their job is to punish. That’s where I’m headed.

    1. I saw that. Still, the point of this blog stands…we must not assume people who come to an affirming position did so without thoughtful study. Thanks for reading/replying.

  5. Titus nice read. You don’t offer any other possible reasons why Peterson would agree to marry homosexuals. He is a scholar. He knows the Scripture. Yet his decision doesn’t line up with a clear reading of Scripture (nor the Church’s stance through the ages until recently…) So my question is: what compelled him to come to this conclusion? My take is that he likely knows homosexuals personally and has a deep love for that individual and it clouds his study of the Book. He wouldn’t be the first one to have personal relationships influence his biblical hermeneutic.

    1. Thanks for reading, Todd, and for the discussion. I really value that, and respect your take. Truth be told, I don’t know for SURE why he said what he said, or why he (sorta) back tracked the next day. What my piece was really trying to drive at is the irresponsibility on our part to automatically assume people who take a differing view on a topic are doing so only as a concession to culture. I think it’s more complicated than that, that’s all.

      1. Isn’t it irresponsible of us to make assumptions in either direction – to assume people of differing views have been led by careful study and to assume they’ve been influenced by culture? Unless they say so either way. Peterson’s initial quote from the interview about his stance was much more focused on his personal experience with the LGBT community (and his retraction seemed to just muddy the waters and lead to more confusion.) He never commented that a careful study of anything influenced his view. I get the premise of this blog post – a sort of admonishment to not throw the baby out with the bath water as Lifeway was prepared to do – but not sure we can make assumptions about a person’s line of reasoning or thinking without credible evidence and support from the source, nor that we should use those assumptions to prove a point.

      2. Good point, Kim. Appreciate you reading & appreciate the dialogue. My evidence in this particular post is only Peterson’s reputation for study and thoughtfulness in general…I admit that has limits. Thanks again for the interaction.

  6. Thank you for this important work. When religious people are upset and angry at me for what I say or do, it pretty much reminds me of… wait, is it Jesus?
    The religious leaders of his day were angry about him breaking the Sabbath, rather than rejoicing over someone being healed.
    No matter where we stand on any particular issue, we all need to be open to seeing God at work in different ways than we expect. Or we will be just like the Israelites of Jesus day and miss him entirely.
    Tradition holds little – the Spirit holds much.

  7. I find it ironic that some ideas we find extremely dangerous (homosexuality and universalism for example) while other we totally ignore. Because one person says they believe something different we all of a sudden cannot listen to anything they say. How ridiculous. Ironically if I were to write a book on how God wants to bless you and make you rich just by praying this one prayer very few people would get upset. What a backwards way of thinking.

  8. I think Jesus is OK with boundaries. To state it positively, he wants everyone to accept that He made them, male and female, for good. He is for us becoming like Him. True misogyny and misandry can be the rejection of our biology aimed inward. Why is it unscientific to accept that we are born w/ either xx or xy chromosomes? Thanks for post!

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