Eugene Peterson has retracted comments he made in support of gay marriage, explaining that "on further reflection and prayer," he would not, in fact, perform a same-sex wedding if asked - but would still "love" a homosexual couple as their pastor.
In a statement issued to Christianity Today, Peterson, author of The Message Bible and more than 100 other books, affirmed a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman.
"I affirm a biblical view of everything," he said. "Recently 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 more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I 'haven't had a lot of experience with it.'"
As earlier reported, Peterson made headlines this week after he told Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service that his experience with Christian homosexuals has caused him to reconsider his opposition to same-sex marriage.
"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," he said. "I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over." Peterson also answered "yes" when asked if he would perform a same-sex wedding ceremony if he were pastoring today.
In his retraction, the 84-year-old retired pastor said "I've never performed a same-sex wedding. I've never been asked and, frankly, I hope I never am asked."
He added, "This reporter, however, asked a hypothetical question: if I were pastoring today and if a gay couple were Christians of good faith and if they asked me to perform their wedding ceremony-if, if, if. Pastors don't have the luxury of indulging in hypotheticals. And to be honest, no is not a word I typically use."
Despite his earlier comments, Peterson reiterated he would not marry a same-sex couple if asked and said he was "put on the spot" by Merritt.
"I said yes in the moment," he admitted. "But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that. 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. That said, I would still love such a couple as their pastor. They'd be welcome at my table, along with everybody else."
The pastor concluded by saying he regrets the "confusion and bombast that this interview has fostered."
"It has never been my intention to participate in the kind of lightless heat that such abstract, hypothetical comments and conversations generate," he said.
Following the RNS interview, LifeWay Christian Stores released a statement to Christianity Today, asserting that if the pastor truly supported same-sex marriage, its stores would no longer sell his books.
"LifeWay only carries resources in our stores by authors who hold to the biblical view of marriage," a spokesperson for LifeWay, a Southern Baptist affiliate, said.
The retail chain reportedly reached out to "confirm with Eugene Peterson or his representatives that his recent interview on same-sex marriage accurately reflects his views", and a spokesperson said that because of his retraction, they will continue to sell his books.
Last year, LifeWay discontinued resources featuring bestselling Bible study author Jen Hatmaker just days after she voiced approval of gay marriage and the gay lifestyle. At the time, a spokesperson for the chain said Hatmaker's stance contradicted its "doctrinal guidelines."