I purchased Eugene Peterson’s As Kingfishers Catch Fire right as I left for the mountains. Mid-break, the Internet blew up with news of a recent interview where Peterson commented on same-sex marriage and suggested he would perform one. The next day, amid a storm of contempt, threats of book banning, and brutal satire, he recanted.
Peterson is a beloved author and theologian. He faithfully pastored until 25 years ago (he’s now 84). This is where I believe the complexity lies. You see, pastoring shapes you as you actively invest in lives and scenarios and circumstances that require compassion, grace, and fidelity to truth. A lot has changed in our culture in 25 years and Peterson has engaged it as an author and theologian hypothetically—not as a pastor on the front lines faced with peers, denomination, and parishioners going through complexity beyond fiction.
As a pastor, I’m constantly assaulted by the complexity of vile fundamentalism with its seething judgment and arrogance on one side, and moral relativism that quietly drifts with a culture in a drunken stupor on the other. This is the tug-of-war that stretches the pastor’s soul: to love wildly with compassion (while the fundamentalists pick up stones) and yet with loving focus say, “Go and sin no more.”
Brother Peterson spoke hypothetically—full of grace and fluidity, but unhitched from actual people in both the LGBTQ community and in the church community (local and global). If you read his response, his remarks are two-fold. As a pastor, he stands by the historical, Biblical view and recants his answers to the interviewer. But, as an individual, he is silent, or my interpretation, he’s not so sure.
Shepherding is both joy and crucible. Pastors must think, act, and live in a way that influences well beyond personal views—stewarding grace and truth without wavering on either.