If you are a Christian connected to the Internet, you know that Eugene Peterson said some things.
And then, apparently, he went and said some more things.
Basically, Eugene Peterson, a very famous, much-loved pastor in the twilight of his life seemed to very simply affirm same-sex marriage and then 180’d and said he did not. Much hullabaloo then followed.
I watched the whole thing unfold with a bit of melancholy. Originally, I was moved to start writing about sexual ethics, something I had been planning on for some time. But I saved the document and shelved it to be able to put more time and care into it*. While I was writing and reading, though, I just felt… sad. Peterson is someone that I have come to deeply, deeply appreciate. Someone who has simplified and yet also expanded my view of pastoral work (I mean just look at the article where I found the image on this post. He really can crush false images of the pastoral but push for much bigger). I was disappointed to find myself in disagreement with him. I was disappointed in his clipped and brief way of talking about complicated things. And his lack of interaction with the Bible. That bothered me.
Some part of me expected to feel jubilation at seeing a kind of hero of mine flip back onto “my team.” Instead, as I incredulously read the news that, after some time to think about what was apparently a thoughtless hypothetical, he actually doesn’t affirm same-sex marriage. Kinda? Even his retraction was kind of weird.
But I felt no jubilation. I felt more sadness. Sobriety.
I’ll share a few thoughts on why.
1. I think it’s very possible that my LGBTQ friends can/will feel punted around again, like some sort of rhetorical football. One team cheering their victories and another team cheering theirs. And many of the noisy people loudly cheering or making snarky comments signaling their victory or defeat… they’re straight people. We can be friends with LGBTQ folks and still get lost in winning arguments. And this whole thing feels like a way to publicly point-score using them. These are their actual real lives. They are people who want to follow Jesus and want to know about what they should do with their attraction to people of the same gender/sex (or have questions related to gender/sex). And this whole thing, to me, felt like a bunch of Christians wanting to carve out a trophy or beat the other team. I know this is not universally true and I know I may be skewed by the people I’m exposed to online. This has troubled me, though.
I wish I could gather up my gay friends and give them a hug and tell them that I love them and I’m sorry that the Church may be a place where they feel kicked up and down a football field. They are not “an issue.” They are my friends.
2. I was saddened by the reminder that heroes are mortals. People whom we deeply love and respect are not perfect. I think Eugene Peterson probably would have told me that himself. But I was reminded again of the ability of people who I deeply love and admire to be…. well… not admirable in even isolated respects. This is, of course, ultimately a liberating thing. For reasons I’ll elucidate later. But I was sad to be struck again by the fallibility of those in whom I’ve emotionally invested infallibility.
3. Here’s that elucidation: I was saddened by my sadness at being confronted with a mortal’s mortality. How could I have missed this? How could I have let myself think that heroes wear a cape that makes them invulnerable? Really, what I was mourning was mortality. But the death knell for the craving for immortal, infallible leaders is that I can’t have everything I want in a leader until I come to an Immortal, Infallible Leader. So my sadness was really a confrontation with reality and with my cravings. I really want a hero that won’t let me down. I will not find one among the mortals like myself. Not even when they’re Eugene Peterson.
4. Social media is… woof. It’s really bad for us. It may be good in small doses, but it’s constructed to be mainlined. It’s constructed so you never look away. It accelerates reactions and isolates people amongst a crowd of people they agree with. It’s fractious. It feeds on the emotional swings of the moment. It can do other things, very good things. Snicker bars can do good things for you in the right moments and right doses.
But we’re eating 12 Snicker bars a meal for three meals a day. We’re in trouble.
And that makes me sad.
This has all been a strange few days on the Internetz. I still love my friends. I still appreciated one of these quasi-heroes of mine no matter what he did or did not say (which I’m not totally clear on even now). This whole thing, though, has given me a bit to chew on, not so much for the “issues” at hand, but for how we talk about them, speak about them, pray about them, sing about them.
I think I can do better. I hope I learn how to be better.
I hope my Hero can show me how.
*I will still do this. The past couple of days has helped me really focus on how I might do better to talk about some of the things that go into how we talk about sexual ethics. I want to more talk about why these issues are so important to Christian rather than giving another defense of traditional Christian sexual ethics. There’s lots of that around. That larger “why” question is what I’d like to write about. I’ll do that some other time, after things stew for a while.