Something About Same Sex




                          by Kenneth Bagnell


    A couple of weeks ago, a conservative and highly regarded senior American minister, Eugene Peterson, now 85, in an interview, spoke of same-sex relations with warm goodwill. He said yes when the journalist asked if he’d conduct a marriage of people of the same gender. The tenor of his response to the respected Religion News Service was this: “I have been in churches when I was an Associate Pastor where there were several women who were lesbians. They didn’t make a big deal of it. I’d go and visit them and it never came up… They just assumed that they were as Christian as everybody else in the church…” The reaction from his conservative-evangelical colleagues was sudden and severe. Dr. Peterson promptly reached the journalist he’d spoken positively to, telling him that, in fact, he actually didn’t believe in a man marrying a man or a woman marrying a women. As I read his retreat I recalled an old adage of my youth: “What consumes your mind controls your life.”

       His new response, the next day, was clear and distinctly different: “To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything… a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I haven’t had a lot of experience with it. To repeat, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything…”

     In the wave of the sudden reaction, Dr. Peterson spoke subsequently in more detail and with more reflection than his quick answer the previous day. The analysis was clear, calm and concise: “When I told this reporter that there are gay and lesbian people who seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do, I meant it” he said. “But then again, the goodness of a spiritual life is functionally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.” He then reflected on the larger picture of the issue among Christian groups:

       “There have been gay people in a variety of congregations, campuses, and communities where I have served. My responsibility to them was the work of a pastor – to visit them, to care for their souls, to pray for them, to preach the Scriptures for them. This work of pastoring is extremely and essentially local. Each pastor is responsible to a particular people, a specific congregation. We often lose sight of that in an atmosphere so clouded by controversy and cluttered with loud voices. The people of a congregation are not abstractions, they are people, and a pastor does a disservice to the people in his care when he indulges in treating them as abstractions.” Obviously his later thoughts are insightful. (He added that he regretted “the confusion and bombast” his comments had provoked.) 

           The respected scholar has come to the age in which he feels he’ll hang up his career. He has made a remarkable achievement, albeit traditional theological conservatism. An example is one of his books, The Message, a biblical treatise of the scriptures which came out through the late 1990s and is said to have sold at a breath taking level of 16 million copies around the world. The other good news of his approach to retirement is that he doesn’t feel as some of us do, tired and weary. He put his attitude in positive perspective when he was speaking to a journalist from Religion News Service:” “I don’t feel tired. I just feel like there’s a sense of completion, or maybe satisfaction. I think I’ve done a better job of everything I’d done before in this book…… These days, I write a lot of letters. I’m still keeping up with people and answering their questions or responding to what they are doing.” A window on his broad values is revealed when he told RNS, that his strong opinion of Donald Trump is distinctly negative: “I think we’re in a bad situation. I really do,” he said. Donald Trump is the enemy as far as I’m concerned. He has no morals. He has no integrity…. People are getting pretty tired of him. Some of us were tired of him before he was elected… I don’t think it’s the end of the road.”   

      We ought to remember that the brassy rigid conservative refrains Dr. Peterson has been handed took place not in Canada, but in the United States where the culture is often loud and naive. A sort of example: the other day, I came upon a window on vapidity in an essay that came out back in 2014 with an eccentric title. Both the competent senior journalist Jonathan Merritt and the mature interviewee Dr. Peterson, were more or less partial victims of the exchange. The essay I came upon was called, The Culture of Shut Up.  Nice eh? It envisions three village elders who spoke with more noise than knowledge. One man said: “I support a women’s right to choose.” The second man said, “I oppose a woman’s right to choose.”  The third chimed in with: “We have a real debate going on here…” So it goes in the contemporary United States, round and round and round, recalling Donald Trump, only this time it’s not exploring anything; it’s just exploiting trends not at all informed on theology.   Thank you.   




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