By now you’ve probably seen the retraction from Eugene Peterson. Just yesterday, the internet was abuzz with the news that Peterson affirmed same-sex marriage and would even officiate a gay wedding. But today came the news that Peterson was disavowing his words in the interview.
When I heard this, my heart hit the floor. Once again, I am devastated that a Christian leader has backed down in the face of backlash, once again bowing to a need to avoid controversy, keep money, save face; in this case I can only speculate why Peterson made the decision he did.
But above all, I want to lament the loss that the LGBTQ community felt today. I want to speak to the sadness it evokes, and I want to articulate why it is so devastating. I have seen lots of calls from some on social media not to criticize Peterson. I want to speak to my straight friends, as a straight man, what I have learned over more than a decade journeying with LGBTQ Christian friends and family.
One of the most important things I have learned in the past 10 years is that to be an LGBT Christian is to be a person who continually faces loss.
Every LGBT person I know has faced deep personal rejection, not once, not twice, but often dozens of times.
Not the rejection of a lover who decides the relationship is not right for deeply personal reasons. Not the rejection of a job or a loss in a political race.
Rejection of an entire person, shunning from a group, even the loss of close family, not for what you’ve done, but simply for who you are.
To be an LGBT Christian is often to feel not known, and almost always to feel like an other in a place that is supposed to safe and sacred; in the church.
For an LGBT Christian, to walk into church is a constant guessing game: they seem nice, but will they really accept me? Will I gain a community only to lose it again in a year’s time? Will I finally find somewhere I can call home?
Even worse, many churches claim to be safe, to be open to everyone, but sometimes later, the pastor will invite you over to coffee, explain how it’s great that you want to volunteer, but what will the parents say? God has a plan for you life, and it’s time for him to listen to what he’s saying to you. Or maybe it’s just that everybody is just a little more stiff, a little more quiet than they used to be. And once again you head for the door, knowing that you have to move on again.
Through all of that, there are still sparkles of hope that show up. The friend who remained steadfast. The family member that always supports. And sometimes, even a person of spiritual authority who takes the time to listen and hear.
In the evangelical wasteland, a spark of hope is a wonderful feeling. A light in a darkened room, a reminder that a new day will dawn, that all of this is but a passing shadow.
But for every one person that makes a deep courageous decision like Jen Hatmaker or Fred Harrell or the entire staff of Eastlake church in the face of steep loss, there many like Peterson, who make commitments or promises and then back out, leaving devastation in their wake.
Sometimes, on a day like today, it’s a reminder of the powers that exist, how they rend the Christian community in divisive, destructive war, and how once again LGBT people pay the price. May it not always be so.