Gays, Cancel Culture and the Christian Right
“I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do.”
It’s not every day you hear that from a conservative evangelical Christian author, scholar, or pastor. The man making that statement, Dr. Eugene Peterson, was all three.
Eugene Peterson was a beloved Christian author who passed away in 2018 at the age of 85. Dr. Peterson was best known for his work, “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language.” He was a Presbyterian pastor, and his son followed in his footsteps to lead a congregation of his own.
A few years ago, Dr. Peterson began sharing that he did not think being gay was as bad as everyone thought, from a biblical perspective. He was recorded a few times explaining how he would send gay-affirming journal articles to people who held the traditional view that gay love was a sin. I listened to one Q&A where he discussed this for over 20 minutes. He was proud of his denomination, Presbyterian Church (USA), when they decided to accept gays.
One day, Dr. Peterson shared these thoughts on too big a microphone. During an interview announcing his retirement, Dr. Peterson again shared his views that being gay wasn’t that big of a deal to God.
Upon hearing of the interview, his publisher announced they would pull all of Peterson’s 135 titles from circulation if he in fact favored same-sex marriage.
I can only imagine what that was like for the man — to announce his retirement from a truly stellar career, only to see everything he created quickly being shoved into a proverbial burlap sack, never to be enjoyed by future generations of Christians whom he cared so much about.
The day after his publisher’s threat, he retracted the entire interview.
“Cancel culture” is a term used to describe the process of boycotting a person or organization for offensive views or actions. Most recently, it has been a complaint from some right wing groups that various public figures have been ostracized and lost positions for racist, homophobic, or misogynistic comments from their past.
Seeing it here is different, though. It’s one thing to get “cancelled” for grabbing someone’s butt 20 years ago (we legitimately call that sexual assault); whether the punishment is too harsh or too late might be debatable, but the action can hardly be defended. In this case however, Dr. Peterson retracted comments that could have gone a long way towards giving marginalized people hope.
As a gay Christian, a big sticking point in my faith is what to do with the six Bible verses that seemingly condemn people like me. When a scholar has an alternative opinion, it’s important for me to hear it. A lot of these scholars are like Dr. Peterson — raised with the assumption the Bible condemns gays, only to come to a different conclusion later in life.
It’s unfortunate that for a respected conservative leader to change their mind they need to be willing to abandon their career. Colby Martin experienced this for making one gay-affirming post on Facebook. That one post ended his career as a pastor on staff at a mega-church. In Colby’s case, that led to his successful book, “Unclobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality.” I’m grateful he took that step — but not happy that he had to weather a career implosion to get there.
Other friends and acquaintances have watched their church attendance cut to a mere fraction of its original size when making the change to a more inclusive theology that affirms LGBT people.
In short, the professional church person, whether an author, pastor, or theologian, must consider that if they don’t firmly hold that being gay is a sin, the thing that puts food on their table goes away.
I hope people like me — LGBT Christians and their allies — can take that into account when reading and listening to anti-gay opinions from conservative Christian leaders. Take them with a grain of salt; they may not be speaking from their hearts or their minds. It’s possible they’re just not ready to get fired.
If you’re a person of faith, and the advice “don’t be gay” doesn’t work for you — in a philosophical, theological, or practical sense, you’re invited to check out Andy’s website, www.triedtobestraight.com.
Tried to be Straight: Biblical Options for Gay Christians will be released early next year.
Andy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org