Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said that Eugene Peterson's inconsistent replies when asked about his support for same-sex marriage did "massive damage to his reputation" and shared the three things every Christian should take away from the ordeal.
"What does Eugene Peterson really believe about LGBT relationships and behaviors or about same-sex marriage? We really don't know. We will probably never really know," Mohler says in a recent op-ed.
"Eugene Peterson has never been very clear about controversial questions, or on many crucial biblical and theological questions," Mohler asserts. "Peterson has made his reputation as someone who does not deal with controversial questions. He also seems to be incapable of a clear answer on this question, even now."
As earlier reported, Peterson, the 84-year-old retired Presbyterian pastor and author of The Message, told Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service that many gays and lesbians "seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do," and noted that he would not have said that 20 years ago.
He also said he thinks the whole debate about gays and lesbians is probably "over."
Asked by Merritt if he were pastoring today and a same-sex couple in his church wanted him to perform their wedding ceremony, would he do it, Peterson, who formerly pastored a PCUSA church, replied, "Yes."
Peterson's comments sparked major backlash among the evangelical community, and LifeWay Christian Resources said that it was considering whether to continue selling the pastor's many books.
However, the pastor later retracted his statement, affirming marriage as "one man to one woman" and explaining, "When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment."
In his op-ed, Mohler says Peterson's retraction "allows his books to be sold, but the ordeal has done massive damage to his reputation."
"One of the best-selling authors in the evangelical world is now, in effect, a giant Rorschach test," he says. "You can read him as fully open to LGBT relationships, but forced by political and economic pressure to act as if he isn't. Or you can read him as basically a traditionalist on the question, who felt under pressure to affirm same-sex marriage and succumbed to the pressure, only to regret and retract quickly. Those do not exhaust the possibilities."
Mohler says that while he has "enjoyed many of Eugene Peterson's writings," there is "little explicit doctrine in his books". For example, in The Message, Peterson avoids dealing with same-sex behaviors or relationships directly.
"His 'retraction' was devoid of any engagement with the Bible," Mohler writes. "His concern, he said, was for his congregation and the 'historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage.' There was really nothing about the morality of LGBT behaviors and relationships at all."
Ultimately, Christians would be wise to learn three things from the ordeal. First, "there is nowhere to hide", as "every pastor, every Christian leader, every author - even every believer - will have to answer the question," Mohler warns.
"The question cannot simply be about same-sex marriage. The question is about whether or not the believer is willing to declare and defend God's revealed plan for human sexuality and gender as clearly revealed in the Bible."
Second, Christians must be ready to answer such a question: "Evasive, wandering, and inconclusive answers will be seen for what they are," cautions Mohler. "Those who have fled for security to the house of evasion must know that the structure has crumbled. It always does."
Third, "if you will stand for the Bible's clear teachings on sexuality and gender, you had better be ready to answer the same way over and over and over again", says Mohler, explaining that "faithfulness requires consistency".
Before Peterson retracted his stance on Thursday, Russell Moore, who serves as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in The Gospel Coalition that he cannot "overstate just how disappointed I am" in Peterson's announcement.
"There is much I've learned from Peterson, and much I am sure I will learn in the future," Moore wrote. "But one of those things is this: if a wise man who has translated and written commentaries on the prophets, on Romans, on Revelation, can make that sort of turn, with that little revelatory authority behind him, then I could easily talk myself into some error too."