I recently listened to a recorded conversation between Christian author and speaker Skye Jethani and American journalist Jonathan Merritt. During an interview with Eugene Peterson last year, Merritt asked Peterson, a member of the liberal Presbyterian Church (USA), if he would consent to conducting a same sex marriage if asked to do so by members of his church. Peterson, ordinarily not lost for words, gave a single-sentence reply: “Yes.”
A furore erupted over Peterson’s affirmation of same sex marriage. Lifeway threatened to remove his books from their shelves, and incredulous publishers reached out to Merritt’s editors to ensure that the interview had really taken place and that Peterson had really said what Merritt reported. When an audio recording of the interview confirmed the story, publishers suggested that the aged Peterson may have spoken out of turn in a brief bout of senility. Merritt confirmed that he had remained lucid and cogent throughout the interview.
Predictably, the evangelical world came alive. Conservative evangelicals were understandably distraught, threatening to disavow Peterson and all his writings. Liberal evangelicals were delighted that such a high-profile leader and pastor had embraced same sex marriage. Peterson retracted his statement a short while later, claiming that he remains conservative on the question of marriage.
The discussion, I am sure, will continue long into 2018. However, what struck me during the recording was not Merritt’s recollection of the Peterson interview, but his assessment of the situation holistically. Merritt claims that many more conservative evangelicals have secretly confided to him that they have changed their view on same sex marriage. They are just waiting for “the right moment” to express their evolved theology. When Jethani asked Merrit to assess what he thinks is the driving force behind people changing their minds, Merritt replied that the number one determining factor in a change of theology on this question is whether or not the respondent has a close friend or relative who is gay. More than cultural pressure or any other consideration, the experience of a having gay friend or family member is what drives evangelicals to search for some scriptural justification for same sex marriage.
As I listened to the interview, one text of Scripture came to mind:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Much can be said about the above text, but one thing stands out to me in light of the discussion between Jethani and Merritt: God has given to the church gifted ministers in order to equip the saints for ministry so that the saints will not be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” God has given to the church gifted leaders, in part, to equip the saints with sound doctrine precisely so that they do not need to waver when confronted with aberrant teaching.
Same sex attraction and marriage are handled with great clarity in Scripture. There is not one whit of biblical justification to affirm same sex marriage. If having a gay friend or family member drive you to search for scriptural justification for same sex marriage, it is an indication that you are not fully settled in and committed to the clear biblical teaching on the subject.
I think it is fair to admit that evangelical community, broadly speaking, has been guilty of treating the LGBTQ community in a less than Christlike manner, and I think that Christians would do well to think honestly about the way that Christianity, in many circles, as mistreated people made in the image of God. Nevertheless, in admitting faults in the past and seeking to correct them in the present, we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater. While there is certainly room to treat the LGBTQ community in a more Christlike, God-honouring way, we must not go so far as to affirm what God condemns. The Bible does not condone same sex attraction and marriage, and neither must we.
As Christians, we should diligently search the Scriptures so that we are not left scrambling for answers—blown about by every wind of doctrine—when we are under pressure. We should know what we believe so that, when we are under fire, we know how to answer. Then, with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we can, under pressure, confidently reply, “We have no need to answer you in this matter” (Daniel 3:16–18)—because the answer is already clear.
It is said that when Martin Luther stood before the Roman Emperor and was ordered to recant his contra-Catholic doctrine, he replied, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.” Historians question whether or not he actually said that, but even if he didn’t, the sentiment is one that we would do well to develop. Do we know where we stand? Are we confident enough in the Scriptures that, in the face of overwhelming pressure, we are able to confidently assert, “Here I stand. So help me God!”?