Eugene Peterson Didn’t Cave to Cultural Pressure

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.