What Am I Missing Now?
Eugene Peterson has gotten himself into a bit of a bind. His interview with Jonathan Merritt was wonderful. On the other hand, the retraction had dollar signs and power struggles written all over it. Peterson is 84 and he’s done so much for so many. From me, he gets a free pass. I’ll still read his books. As for LifeWay and the other Evangelical power brokers who gave him a very, very bad day, there will be no free passes. They are but one of the reasons I am no longer an evangelical.
For years I lived on Long Island, where there are exactly 12 evangelicals and four million Catholics. From the time I arrived in the spring of 1979, all of my friends would screw their faces into contortions when I attempted to explain “who’s in and who’s out” in the world of evangelicalism. You had to be an expert in theological mazes to decipher the code. My Long Island friends weren’t having it. I thank God for them. Their cognitive dissonance was the beginning of my journey away from the machinations of evangelical Christianity.
As for LGBTQ issues, the kind that got Peterson in trouble, for years I kept my mouth shut. I gave no interviews and made no pronouncements. I approved lesbians for adoption in the secular casework I did on the side, but in the evangelical world I avoided the subject. I thought I was doing the right thing. We were doing important things that needed important dollars to bring about important results.
Yeah, I was wrong.
It is my privilege to serve on the board of the Gay Christian Network. I read Justin Lee’s wonderful book, Torn, when I was still Paul. I have seen the thousands of gay Christians who grace our annual conference, and I have heard their stories of rejection. Just last week I had dinner with a therapist who told me of two suicides of young adults the therapist had heard about recently, both former transgender clients. The hatred wore them down.
Christianity is all about flesh and blood and bones and sinew. It is God-breathed flesh and blood beings who die when we tell them they are going to hell because of our interpretation of a few sentences in a series of 66 books of which we don’t have the original copy of any. To an outsider it looks like ancient words on a written page mean more than incarnate humans. It looks that way because it is that way.
The work we were doing that needed important dollars so we could bring about important results wasn’t all that important, because it did not affirm the love of God for all people. On this subject, it is painfully difficult to admit my own failure.
Ironically, I am now doing the same work I did before I transitioned, but with pretty much no dollars. I am not worried. The church we are planting and the national church planting ministry we are starting will welcome all people. LGBTQ leaders will be at the forefront. No evangelical dollars will flow to these ventures, and that is as it should be. The necessary funds will come appropriately, from the heart, beyond the reach of the evangelical gatekeepers.
In my earlier life I was willing to ignore what my heart knew to be true because it was expedient. Knowing that truth, how on earth could I hold any animosity toward Eugene Peterson? It is not Eugene Peterson I am worried about. It is Paula I am worried about. I know what I missed before. What am I missing now?