Eugene Peterson is a renowned Christian writer whose paraphrase of Scripture, The Message, has impacted millions.
In an interview a few days ago, Peterson said he affirmed same-sex unions and would perform one if still a pastor.
Now, Rev. Peterson has retracted these statements: “I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything … (A same-sex wedding is) 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.”
Christians can rejoice in Rev. Peterson’s retraction. Endorsing biblical truth is the first duty of every follower of Jesus. That he has done so is refreshing and encouraging.
A number of well-known Evangelical Christians have endorsed same-sex unions (for example, women’s speaker Jen Hatmaker and former Christianity Today editor David Neff). Thankfully, they are in the small minority.
In November 2015, my friend Owen Strachan and I introduced four resolutions affirming Scripture’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality at the annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society. Both of us are members of ETS, and Owen has leadership positions within it.
Our resolutions were these:
- We affirm that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess inherent dignity and worth.
- We affirm that marriage is the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life.
- We affirm that Scripture teaches that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage as defined above. This excludes all other forms of sexual intimacy.
- We affirm that God created men and women, imbued with the distinct traits of manhood and womanhood, and that each is an unchangeable gift of God that constitutes personal identity.
These affirmations were endorsed by the members of ETS. The significance of this endorsement is this: ETS is composed of America’s leading Evangelical theologians, seminary and college professors, and others with graduate degrees in theology. For the Society, as a community, to endorse these resolutions speaks to the continued commitment of Evangelical leaders to biblical teaching.
Why Have Some Believers Abandoned Biblical Teaching?
Yet the question remains, why have some professing believers abandoned what the Bible teaches on marriage, sexual intimacy, and same-sex relationships?
The great and tragic irony is that there is nothing loving about affirming sin.
One reason is a misplaced compassion. They have gotten to know men and women in same-sex marriages or young people struggling with same-sex attraction. The pain of many of these people has caused some Evangelicals to affirm not just the dignity of these men and women but their pattern of life, as well.
The great and tragic irony is that there is nothing loving about affirming sin. As my friend and former practicing lesbian Rosaria Butterfield has written so eloquently:
Calling God’s sexual ethic hate speech does Satan’s bidding. This is Orwellian nonsense or worse. I only know who I really am when the Bible becomes my lens for self-reflection, and when the blood of Christ so powerfully pumps my heart whole that I can deny myself, take up the cross, and follow him … when we advocate for laws and policies that bless the relationships that God calls sin, we are acting as though we think ourselves more merciful than God is.
Another reason for the change of some minds is very simple: The elevation of one’s own will above God’s.
Those professing Evangelicals who now say same-sex unions are honoring to the God of the Bible have gotten a fair amount of approving media attention. In carving-out the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality from the Scripture they proclaim, they hollow-out the Gospel and fill it with the world’s affirmation.
It is comfortable to be liked by culture’s gatekeepers. It’s also so very dangerous. “Woe unto you,” said Jesus, “when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26).
What God Calls For
God is not a democrat. He is uninterested in our approval of His will. He does not stand at the door of heaven, looking down on earth and muttering anxiously, “I hope they like Me!”
Of course, He gives us reasons to believe and follow Him. And what He tells us to do and be is for our good, not harm. Yet His call to us is not that of a being desperate for human acceptance. Christ’s call that every disciple denies himself, takes up his cross, and follows Him (Luke 9:23) implies nothing less than a willingness to die. To die to selfishness. To die to one’s deep desires. To social approval. Even to friendships.
Those struggling with same-sex attraction often have been ill-served by Jesus’s followers. Much too frequently, we have turned our backs on them in disgust. We have failed to be to them the very family of God, a household of faith around whose table they are welcome.
Whether Christians or not, those who experience sexual attraction to their same gender need prayer, counsel and committed friendship. Telling them that fulfilling their sexual desires is acceptable to God is an affront to Him and an eternal disservice to them.
If someone comes into a church demanding that his sin be accepted as morally good, we cannot agree. This applies to anyone who wants to practice sin or follow false teaching.
The New Testament is packed with warnings against those who would lead believers astray. As Tim Challies writes, “In Matthew 23 alone, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees ‘hypocrites’ six times. Besides that, he calls them ‘blind guides,’ ‘blind fools,’ ‘blind men,’ ‘whitewashed tombs,’ ‘sons of those who murdered the prophets,’ ‘serpents,’ and ‘brood of vipers’ … Jesus does not shy away from calling false teachers exactly what they are.”
This is the same Jesus who took children into his lap, who touched lepers, and forgave prostitutes.
Grace and truth. Love without moral compromise. Understanding of fallenness but not affirming of what it produces.