Eugene Peterson told Jonathan Merritt in an on-the-record interview that he supported same-sex marriage. I, along with many others, publicly registered my disappointment and reasons I wish Peterson would have held the orthodox line. Today, however, Peterson retracted his comments and issued a statement of support for the biblical definition of marriage.
Through the smoke, here are 4 things I think:
- It would be a mistake to be angry with Peterson, either from the left or the right. There are no hotter questions in American culture right now than these questions, and it’s not difficult at all to imagine ourselves giving a poorly thought out, poorly worded answer to them.
- It would be a mistake to be angry with Jonathan Merritt here. We don’t know exactly how these questions were phrased, and of course it’s possible they were presented in a misleading way. But Peterson himself has not made that accusation, and in fact has owned his comments by officially retracting them. The questions as they appeared in the piece were direct and clear, and we have no reason (at least yet) to think they were less direct or clear in the moment they were given.
- It would be a mistake to chastise writers and bloggers who commented on Peterson’s interview. Words matter because ideas matter. Irresponsible “hot takes” are one thing, but publicly critiquing a public figure’s public comments on a publicly controversial topic is not a hot take. If there’s one response to this whole situation that makes zero sense, it’s blaming those who took Peterson seriously.
- It would be a mistake to let this whole episode pass by without reminding ourselves that there really is only two possible answers to the question of what marriage is and what sexuality is for. A “third way” is a fantasy. It’s wishful thinking that evaporates on contact with the pastoral and existential implications of either the orthodox or affirming theology. Not long ago there were some clever evangelicals who insisted that dogmatism on this issue was wrongheaded, and that were was plenty of room in close ministry partnerships for both a traditional and a non-traditional view. Today, many of those clever evangelicals are publicly deploring Eugene Peterson for betraying them. Not all dilemmas are false. This one is real, and if nothing else, Peterson has at least illustrated that.