Eugene Peterson, Same-Sex Marriage, and Feeling Invisible in the Church

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Eugene Peterson — pastor, author of The Message paraphrase Bible — recently made waves in the Christian world. First, he “affirmed” same-sex marriage, then he backtracked, still claiming to believe in “biblical marriage.” LifeWay threatened to pull his books from their stores if he didn’t align his beliefs with theirs, and a day later he did.

“Gay-affirming” Christians praised Peterson, then railed him. Evangelicals cried out against him, then breathed a gigantic sigh of relief.

And somewhere in the middle of all this Eugene Peterson drama, I couldn’t help feeling like my story and the stories of all my other brothers were lost in the noise. Irrelevant and unnecessary.

In times like these, you either must be gay or straight to the extreme — there is no room for struggling with faith and sexuality anywhere in between.

You demand marriage equality, or you stand rigidly opposed. You despise the Church, or you embrace her. You “affirm” the LGBTQ community, or you condemn them to hell.

“Affirming” — it’s turned into such a buzzkill word. Because I have convictions not to enter a sexual or romantic relationship with another man, I’m learning I cannot be “affirming” to other gay people. I cannot love them, and I cannot start a fruitful conversation with them.

I cannot even get the space to utter the words “me too” at the shared plight of our bullying, isolation, and inferiority — inside the Church and out.

A few days ago, I tweeted the following:

I didn’t think a whole lot about this tweet after posting it. A little vulnerable, sure. But totally innocuous, right?

Well, I got attacked. I got labeled by multiple folks as: patronizing, wretched, intolerant, cruel, etc. I no longer give much weight to attacks from strangers on the Internet, but I do question my repeated efforts to bridge the gap — a gap that feels more like a chasm.

Is there no hope? Will anti-God and anti-gay never find a bridge?

This post isn’t about the merits or perils of same-sex marriage. It’s not even about Eugene Peterson or LifeWay’s stronghold on the Christian world.

It’s about a significant sliver of stories going untold, drowned in the noise from “Side A” advocates and Evangelical America.

In times like these, I’m especially grateful for Your Other Brothers. I’m grateful YOB exists, that so many follow us, commenting on our posts, sharing their own stories. Even supporting us financially so that we can cover monthly upkeep and climb more mountaintops and tell even more stories.

We currently boast about 100 people in a secret Facebook group for supporters. Of all the SSA / Side B Facebook groups I’ve been involved with over the years (too many), this one stands out.

These brothers are uniting around a common vision and purpose. They’re confessing their sins, they’re proclaiming praises, and they’re even posting pictures with other brothers in the group. Guys who once walked this struggle alone are staking refuge in a greater story — from the Internet and beyond.

The struggle may never vanish, but struggling together trumps struggling alone.

What a beautiful concept. It’s playing out every single day in our group.

One of my Twitter attackers blasted our numbers, claiming that our few dozen faithful followers is “insignificant.”

I disagree. I disagree so much.

This few dozen is changing the narrative. This few dozen represents cities and nations from the East to the West, and this few dozen is making aloneness a thing of the past.

This few dozen is growing.

One brother a time.

One blog post at a time.

One comment at a time.

One podcast at a time.

One story, one whisper at a time.

I often feel invisible in the Church. But I don’t feel as invisible as I once did.

How do you feel about this Eugene Peterson / LifeWay controversy? Do you feel invisible in the Church, or do you feel seen and heard and supported? If you have any questions about Patreon and our secret Facebook group, comment below! It’s a phenomenal group of guys, and we’d love to add one more to our midst.

Enjoy our content? Consider supporting YOB!
  • Chris B

    Hey Tom Great post! Thank you for continuing to be honest and vulnerable, You also are not alone even though in times like this it feels like it, Remember the blog about being a minority within a minority? In my situation I add a third minority status. We may be a small band of brothers but we have a very high calling in the kingdom of God. My we all willingly accept our minority status just as Jesus did, May God bless you for your part,

    • Indeed, Chris. A minority within a minority (within a minority within a…). Thanks for supporting us, brother. Appreciate you.

  • Elijah Herrell

    I, too, had some difficulty with the swirl of opinions regarding the controversy. I shared a post with a very strong side-A viewpoint from a fairly well spoken SSA blogger. He had a couple intense things about Christians who affirm gay marriage (which I didn’t fully agree with) but a great viewpoint on how to view life as a believer who has found hope and life in Christ regardless of how his sexual feelings may not align. Immediately after posting, my friends’ angry comments flooded the article.

    While the arguments bothered me, the thing that was most difficult was the feeling like I had to come out or prove my compassion for the LGBT community (through being gay) to have a right to speak on the issue. I felt the chasm as well but I’ve also felt like I’m caught in between until I “define” myself as a conservative or liberal believer.

    There may be a day where I speak more openly about my experience and biblical conclusions as an SSA believer but until then, I dance around the topic and hope to have a face-to-face conversation where I can share from my heart with some vulnerability.

    • I also hate the notion of having to “prove” my love for humanity, just because I disagree about something. Why do other people groups get a free pass to disagree with others, yet still love and affirm those same people? I can’t stand the double-standard sometimes.

      I hope you do see the day that you share your story vulnerably and boldly! What an awesome day it will be.

  • Hey Tom! You started a grounswell movement that is building and continuing to build. I discovered YOB after it had been in operation for about a year. It was right when I needed it, being torn between the lies of the LGBT community and the church. There are few people who can truly understand what we go through, but others like us. I feel emboldened, and proud to be a Christian, and I don’t have to slink in the shadows of the church. You are bringing us together to unite for Christ; so that we can all strengthen each other and pray for each other. This is a humbling thing you have done, but it is so important. I can’t emphasize enough the gravity of what you have done. I am even shocked as we continue to grow; and each person added to the Yobbers group is one less that the lies of the LGBT community affects. Keep it up!

  • D M

    Hey Tom, I’m in the YOB group. There are other online commotions related to same-sex issues that have bothered me where I saw somewhat prominent fellow Christians say incredibly hurtful things about gay people without understanding the complexity of the issues. For some reason, I didn’t find myself terribly bothered by this controversy because Eugene Peterson never said anything emotionally hurtful, as far as I can tell, even though I was troubled but his initial comments on the topic. A Facebook friend who is a pastor shared this blog article about the controversy that I really liked is this: http://www.thistleandtoad.com/wwwthistleandtoadcom/writings/2017/7/14/that-time-i-said-yes-when-i-really-meant-no-one-last-thought-on-eugene-petersons-interview.

    • Good stuff, DM. Thanks for commenting and sharing. Thanks for supporting YOB. Thanks for furthering our story. You rock.

      • D M

        Thanks Tom for the kind words. Thanks for all your work and vision in creating this platform for these stories to be told and heard.

  • David Maurer

    Hey Tom, Your post is so needed in this increasingly hostile environment, between the LGBTQ and the far right Christian communities. Thank you for speaking for all of your brothers, who feel marginalized, forgotten and ignored. I am so proud to be supporter of this amazing brotherhood. Please continue to stand up for the guys struggling everyday to live a God honoring Christian life, while struggling with our SSA. This community has made given me the strength to fight this battle with an incredible group of brothers. Your brother, Dave

    • Honored to have your support, David! We’re here to fight alongside you.

  • Ashley Lavergne

    I totally get you. I’ve spent the last 2/3 years trying to figure out all this sexuality stuff for my own life, and it was tiring and frustrating but I kept pressing forward. As of late my heart has gone more toward this subject of bridge building. Tearing down the fences and making the table longer. I’ve been very inspired by Andrew Marin. (Tom, you might want to take a look at his books – they are extremely insightful.) And even though trying to figure out my faith and sexuality in my own life was hard work and frustrating and all that, I know that this task is immensely harder. Especially being that I want to do it in south america and the ground work hasn’t even been laid yet. I don’t feel called to build that bridge on my own but to participate and facilitate. I don’t know where I fit into God’s plan for that yet, but I want to find out. And at the same time it’s something that is so big and so difficult that it’s almost scary.

    • Ashley, I don’t thank you enough for your support here. Thanks for being such an encourager for so long. Beyond grateful for you.

  • Brad

    Thanks Tom. I so appreciate this group – and that I’m not alone. Been having a bit of a tough time of it lately – glad for the truth and refreshment this community offers.

  • A Friend

    Bravo, Tom; Christians who struggle with SSA/homosexuality/name-the-term need support and need to know we’re not alone. There seems to be two camps–either you’re totally homosexual and are a heathen, or a heterosexual and don’t understand at all why a guy is attracted to men. Being able to talk things out on here and focus on Him has helped me start that slow healing process to become what He wants me to be–made whole.

    • Glad to have helped usher in this process, Friend. The starting point is not feeling alone. The ending point is something even greater.

  • Brent

    We may be a small group but we are growing. Our power will come when we share our stories at church and give them the opportunity to affirm both the biblical standard and us as Christians. The more lgbt stuff is pushed in our culture the more people who have those feelings or temptations will become disillusioned when it’s found to be lacking. We are like God’s prophetic voice in the LGBT movement pointing people back to the God of the Bible and doing so with all authority.

    • Yes, Brent — praying for the days when bloggers and followers alike will break new ground in churches and other faith communities across the earth.

      • I have been somewhat vocal in my own church about my struggles with SSA and I believe that has helped a few others. Still, there is much left to be done.

        About a month ago a 19 year old guy in my church committed suicide. I strongly suspect that one factor related to it was peer rejection due to SSA. I could tell at a distance that he was struggling with SSA, but I was so afraid of what people would think of me, an older SSA guy, “going after a younger guy”, I never reached out to him. Now I seriously regret it.

        I intend to take initiative now in these situations despite what people think. How can I complain if I am not trying to change church culture myself?

        • I’m so sorry about that, Marshall. I can only imagine the regret you must feel. Indeed, I often catch myself complaining about church culture I’m unwilling to do anything to change. May we all step out in courage.

  • Kevin Frye

    This is beautiful. I believe we need to be adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and any form of homosexuality, no compromises. But if opposition is the only thing the church expresses toward or about LGBTQ/SSA people, God help us all! Who then has any hope?

    Who would have thought twelve insignificant disciples of Jesus, who were probably rejected by other rabbis and leaders, would have had what it took to change the world the way they did? But they did it. Don’t look at the numbers, Tom. Look at the One who stands behind these scattered few.

    • Thanks brother. You’re a huge reason why we are where we are. Thanks for all you do for YOB!

    • Michael

      Agreed wholeheartedly. Opposition is part of the Protestant church’s DNA; it’s even in the name. People in and out of the church need to see all of us living our values rather than posting our drive-by theological quips on church signs, the contemporary equivalent of nailing our theses to the door. #thanksluther

  • Alan Gingery

    I haven’t read Eugene Peterson’s original comments or his “retraction” so I can’t really comment on that. I do know that sometimes the media will take a person’s comments out of context and try to twist the meaning to mean something else. I feel that the media has done this more than once with Pope Francis’s comments about LGBT.

    In the church, I do feel supported. But I have to qualify that. I have not stood before an entire congregation and shared my testimony about having same-sex attractions. I have told four pastors in 3 different churches and they have supported me. I have told many of my closest friends in 2 different churches about my SSA and they have loved and supported me. I have never felt rejected by anyone who knows my story. So, I don’t feel invisible. There are people who see me, know me (light and shadow) fully and love and accept me.

    Thank God for your Patreon group and may He add many more friends who support your work and message. It is a message that needs to be heard…so that the Body of Christ can do their best to love and support all Their Other Brothers.

    • Glad to hear you’re supported, Alan. That is huge. Glad to have your support here with us, too.

  • mike

    This controversy surrounding Peterson was self inflicted creating an unnecessary confusion for many. He used to teach at a prominent
    postgraduate college in my city of Vancouver, Canada and is a product of a scholarly elite who see the world differently all wrapped up in very precise theological language that only they understand.
    A current professor lays out his rules for engagement by which he seeks to silence many. The final comment in that article sums it up: unless you have three theology degrees and understand the logos, ethos, and pathos of it you should instead be silent about homosexuality! Now this college graduates pastors to lead our churches! No, it’s the ordinary man on the street who well understands that marriage has been stolen from God by a gay lobby who likewise stole that nice old English word ‘gay’.
    See: http://www.johnstackhouse.com/2014/03/10/before-you-talk-or-write-about-homosexuality/

  • defnotryan

    Tom and all you other YOBbers, thank you for your story and your voice. Anyone can be a critic. Anyone can get steamed over what a famous evangelical does or doesn’t believe. Anyone can be outraged, attack and tear down. It takes real courage and guts to be so vulnerable, to tell your story and to spend your blood, sweat, and tears building a place for others to belong. Honored to support you!

    Regarding the Eugene Peterson kerfuffle (and every other time this sort of thing happens), one thing that always seems frustratingly absent from high-profile church leaders’ rhetoric is any call to action–especially concrete action–in pursuing and caring for LGBT/SSA people in their church bodies. I remember when a high-profile “Side B” writer in a professional ministry position changed her position a few years ago, and caused a similar stir, though on a lesser scale. Reading her explanation I was struck by the thought that this person didn’t have an intellectual crisis of hermeneutics, but rather (based solely on my reading of the one blog post) an emotional crisis of believing the Side B calling was even plausible. Since then I’ve worked in SSA/LGBT ministry a few years and I’ve seen the people who are struggling are not primarily struggling intellectually with what Leviticus 18 is actually referring to, or what Paul actually meant by “arsenokoitai,” but with imagining how [our interpretation of] God’s calling can plausibly lead to thriving life and not a lonely death. They don’t need apologetics, they need intimacy, companionship and relational commitment. When someone changes their position, in my experience it’s never because they suddenly decided their hermeneutic was wrong–“and oh look it just so happens that my new hermeneutic allows for same-sex marriage, so let’s roll with that.” It’s because they have the same plausibility crisis, and their hermeneutics follow. And yet, when the Peterson thing happened, what did I see a ton of? Appeals to apologetics, rather than to greater action in pursuing and caring for SSA/LGBT folks in order to build conservative-teaching churches into a more plausible place for LGBT/SSA people to live. My hope and prayer is that the Lord would grow our churches in understanding how to care for us and walk with us, as He grows us in understanding our valued and important place in the Body. I believe this would make a thousand times greater difference than preserving, for example, Eugene Peterson’s witness.

    Whew that turned into more of a rant than I expected–sorry! At the end of the day, though, I’m thankful that YOB is here to tell stories and to build a place to rally together and find solidarity: to provide those things we need more than apologetics. Be blessed!

  • Artista

    Now I haven’t caught up with Eugene’s controversy, but I honestly think the Church in general needs to change tactics. With other issues, like mental illness, the Church can’t seem to come up with a new way of seeing things. Same-sex attractions are in the same dilemma, though other authors who were from ‘the other side’ have been making headway. I’ve been visiting this site for a few weeks, and I’m blown away by all the stories. Honestly, this site helps me see the ‘in-between’ view that, like Tom wrote, rarely gets addressed. Everyone’s posts have been invaluable to me in understanding what it’s like for someone to fight against SSA to stay humbly obedient to Christ. Just as amazing, is the authentic humanity here. It isn’t just a ‘theological’ discussion, which often homosexuality turns out to be, but connecting to other people. The compassion the bloggers and crowd have for each other here, as well as the LGBT, yet uncompromising in the faith, is a huge breath of fresh air!

    Frankly, I could probably write an essay of my praise for this site. But I’m not sure anyone would want to read a post the size of a dissertation. I wish that this side had more if a voice. While Rosaria Butterfield, Matt Moore, YOB and others offer insightful perspective on the issue, it’s sai it gets drowned out in the national and political debate. I hope the tide changes. People need to know and learn that their attractions, or feelings, do not determine their sexuality, or identity. Sometimes I think identity is part of what fuels people’s desire to go into the LGBT community. A sense of needing to belong. Any thoughts on that, anyone?

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Artista. The Church could stand to step back and listen to more stories. There are so many hard ones hiding in the shadows. I’m glad you brought up mental illness. That’s another big one. Ultimately we’re all looking for a place to belong. If we can’t find it in the Church, what’s the point?

  • mistaken identity

    Good article, Tom! I was wondering who would write about the controversy. I was dismayed when I first heard about EP’s initial comments as I have appreciated much of his work over the years. But frankly I am much more dismayed about the lifeless orthodoxy that infects most of the church. As Kevin stated, if we do nothing but oppose what we know to be wrong, we are not doing very much. Jesus railed against lifeless orthodoxy when he walked the earth. If 10 folks loudly asset that gay relationships are not within the will of God and will lead to harm and ruin, but only one of those ten will do what love requires to minister to loneliness or sexual confusion, then that math is not heavenly but hellish. And it will produce no good. Your work though, Tom, is producing good as you have listed: many are no longer walking alone in shame, sins are being confessed, and prayers are going up for the many concerns in this new community. And almost everybody on the planet is getting to meet Brian; and that’s a cool thing.

  • Great reflection!
    I often feel as a complete outlayer. In the small group I go, the guys are always talking about their struggles with opposite sex attraction. I just see no room to bring my own issues.

    I identify as an asexual since I experience no significant sexual attraction towards anyone, although I get aroused by naked men. There are only three people in my church who I’ve shared my story with. And since I’ve done that, it really helped reduce the weight on my shoulders.
    I wonder how good I’d be if I could share my story openly at church as the straight guys do. I wonder how many are out there, hidden, not knowing they might be seating next to someone who goes through the same stuff they’re going through.

    Great job!

    • Thanks for commenting from Rio, llevvi! And for sharing some of your story with us here. Hope you stick around!

  • Suffice to say that I do have my personal opinions about Eugene Peterson, his Message Bible, and about his “gay marriage” stand and subsequent clarification on his remarks. I’d like to think that those opinions find tgeir foundation of a balance of pertinent biblical truths that speak to each. And I believe that the Holy Spirit does a wonderful job of swaying such opinions in each of us, more toward being centered in Christ’s love, whenever our opinions go astray, or are made too prematurely.

    And suffice to say that I’ve felt really invisible in my own church of 17 years, especially since the Obergefel SCOTUS decision. And my Pastor knows my story! But I don’t think that he has the first clue about any of my personal struggles… even right there inside of the four walls of my own “home church.”

    Church is not supposed to be about “me,” this much I know. It’s just that I sense such a reluctance and negligent attitude in the silence which refuses to engage the issues of homosexuality at all, inside of this congregation. It’s often a very disturbing kind of personal awareness that I feel, when I do consider such things and continue trying to overlook the fact of how it makes me feel.