LifeWay Christian Resources is satisfied with author Eugene Peterson’s walking back of comments quoted earlier this week suggesting he has changed his mind about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, a spokesperson said July 14.
“Based upon Eugene Peterson’s retraction, we will continue to sell his resources,” Carol Pipes, director of corporate communications for the Southern Baptist Convention publisher, said in an email Friday morning.
On Wednesday LifeWay said it was prepared to stop selling Peterson’s popular Bible translation, The Message, and other titles after Religion News Service quoted the popular evangelical author as saying he didn’t view same-sex relationships in terms of “right or wrong” and if asked he would perform a same-sex wedding.
Yesterday the 84-year-old author released a statement clarifying that he affirms “a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman” and retracting his one-word answer of “yes” to a hypothetical question whether if he were still a pastor today whether he would marry a same-sex couple if asked.
“That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage,” Peterson said in a statement published Thursday by the Washington Post. “That said, I would still love such a couple as their pastor. They’d be welcome at my table, along with everybody else.”
Conservative fans of Peterson’s books took to social media to voice their disappointment with his original interview with RNS senior columnist Jonathan Merritt.
Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, compared it to the backlash a few years ago when another popular author, Wendell Berry, gave a speech in support of legal same-sex marriage after previously arguing that institution’s purpose in society is procreation.
Moore tweeted yesterday afternoon he was glad to hear Peterson retract his earlier statement and “endorse the historic Christian view of marriage.”
More than 80 replies on Moore’s Twitter feed ranged from approval to skepticism.
“I think he is being disingenuous. His publisher probably enlightened him to the financial decline of his new view,” said one reply.
“He seems to have retracted after LifeWay threatened to stop selling his version of the Bible. Business is business,” said another.
“I guess he got ‘The Message,’” one cynic added.
Others said Peterson’s retraction didn’t go far enough.
“How does the ‘if, if, if’ paragraph in CT ‘retraction’ represent a sure return to orthodoxy? Not convinced,” said one respondent.
“He would welcome sodomites to the Table. Hardly praiseworthy,” said another.
One commenter observed, “Let it be known: this kind of waffling only hurts LGBTQs. ‘Eh, I guess after thinking about it, these people are sinners after all.’”
Southern Baptist leaders who criticized Peterson’s earlier comments similarly parsed this retraction.
Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., welcomed Peterson’s clarification, saying, “It appears to be an answer to prayer.”
At the same time, Strachan said, the retraction “still has some significant problems.”
“As stated in the Washington Post, he indicates a less than biblical approach to homosexuality in general,” Strachan said. “It is not clear whether he would call an openly gay individual — or couple — to repentance and holiness. It seems he would not, for he notes that he would serve as the pastor of a gay couple. This is no glancing matter; it is actually a serious problem.”
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, said he was glad to hear Peterson say that what he told an interviewer on the spur of a moment doesn’t reflect his actual views.
“That he was willing to say so and to do a complete about-face is rare and remarkable,” Burk said in a follow-up to a blog criticizing Peterson posted the day before.
“Having said that, I do believe that Peterson has left some pretty fundamental questions unanswered,” Burk said. “How does he square this ‘biblical view of marriage’ with admitting practicing gay people into church membership? How is his view of marriage consistent with bringing openly gay persons onto his ministerial staff? These are the pastoral practices of one who affirms homosexual relationships, not of one who opposes them. Peterson raised more questions in his interview yesterday than he answered in his retraction today.”
Brandan Robertson, a gay-rights activist who in 2015 lost a book deal with a Christian publisher when he refused to say that he did “not condone, encourage or accept the homosexual lifestyle,” said he suspects LifeWay’s threat to pull Peterson’s books from bookstore shelves was a price that in today’s market the publisher of The Message could not afford to pay.
“While we may never know what the behind-the-scenes conversations with Peterson looked like over the past 24 hours, this retraction reveals to us all that Peterson is not a credible Christian leader as we once thought,” Robertson, founder and executive director of Nomad Partnerships, said July 13 on Patheos. “Whether he was forced to retract his statement or he did so of his own accord, Peterson’s actions display a great deal of moral cowardice, both on his part and the part of his publishers and booksellers.”