On the removal of Pastor Judy Peterson, the cost of LGBTQ affirmation, and some theological reflection

“I wrestled for months with the reality of what officiating a same-sex wedding would cost me in regards to my reputation and standing in my own denomination as well as the broader evangelical community. I am not unaware of the biblical arguments against same-sex marriage, the fever pitch of these arguments in the church and the potential for division around the conversation of LGBTQ inclusion. Nor am I unaware of the damage that has been caused to so many people by the use of biblical texts against the LGBTQ community……….If I’m going to die on a hill, I’m not going to die on the hill of exclusion, but on the hill inclusion, because this is the hill Jesus died on for us.” -Pastor Judy Peterson

I encourage you to read Pastor Judy Peterson’s full letter discussing her dismissal from North Park University which you can find here.

North Park University in Chicago removed their campus pastor, Judy Peterson, over her officiating a former student’s same-sex wedding. I’m upset but not surprised. I mourn the dismissal of a faithful loving leader and I’m praying for all the LGBTQ kids attending NPU who just lost the presence of a great ally and pastor on their campus. Imagine how it must feel to those kids to know that someone lost their job over choosing to embrace them. Imagine how it feels to have the church you belong to remove someone from their job for choosing to accept someone just like you.

There is already such marginalization of LGBTQ Christians on Christian college campuses. Trust me, I went to one, figured out I was gay during Junior year, and became  a bundle of closeted shame. Sometimes the only way I got through each day, with my life and my faith both intact, was because of supportive friends and mentors talking me down from the cliff. I don’t know what I would have done without these people and the idea that one of them could lose their job or community just because they affirmed me is a heart-wrenching thought. Their presence felt like an oasis in the non affirming desert.

Honestly, I’ve had people who knew me for years cease all communication with me once I came out. I had people warn my friends to be careful around me lest I develop feelings for them, I have had people just straight up tell me that they think I’m going to hell because I’m gay. I have friends who have been disowned by their families, kicked out of their schools, lost their jobs, removed from their churches, been sent to conversion therapy, all in the name of God. Without the ever comforting presence of Jesus and the supportive community forged in the ashes of the church’s rejection, I don’t know how we would of made it. This sort of action, rhetoric, and rejection can be and is often deadly. The Church is supposed to wash others in the blood of Christ, not have the blood of those they cast out on their hands.

And the justification of all this loss, rejection, and pain is all hanging on the belief that man could not have possibly misinterpreted what are referred to as the six “clobber passages” in the Bible. (Genesis 19:1-11, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:25-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10).  I am going to briefly address all six of these passages and why I don’t think they are clear condemnation of homosexuality that they are presented to be by the non affirming church.

Passage 1: The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:1-11, is actually not about homosexuality but about pride, haughtiness and not helping the poor and needy as stated in Ezekiel 16:49-50 “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” Also any sort of attempted sexual act by the men of Sodom against the angels would be considered gang rape. Gang rape is not a product of same-sex attraction but rather an action intended to dominate, humiliate, and exert power over the victim(s)

Passages 2 & 3: There are already plenty commands in Levitical law that modern Christians deem cultural mandates instead of universal doctrine, like not eating shellfish (Lev 11:10-12), not sleeping with your wife on her period (Lev 18:19), not wearing shirts made with two fabrics (Lev 19:19), etc, which cast doubt on the modern relevance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

Passage 4: Romans 1 is most likely referencing extramarital sexual acts that used to happen as worship to Roman fertility goddesses and not same-sex behavior in general making the takeaway more about condemning idolatry than anything else.

Passages 5 & 6: It is likely that the behavior being condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 was not same-sex relationships but instead the culturally prevalent practice where Roman men would engage in sex with young boys usually starting around age 12. Usually these boys were slaves, prostitutes, or someone from a lower class than the Roman man using them. These Roman man typically had wives but it was deemed masculine to participate in these sexual encounters with boys as long as the Roman man took the dominant penetrative role. Some more appropriate terms for how we would describe this behavior today would be child molestation or pedophilia.

Bonus Fact: The word homosexual didn’t even appear in the Bible until 1946.

So originally I wasn’t going to address theology at all but someone’s else theology is why this pastor may lose her job and her credentials completely so I think it’s time to start this conversation. I have been open that I believe in an affirming theology and have for quite some time, but I have been nervous to discuss theology on a public forum because I don’t want to offend anyone’s theological convictions. But much of theology is formed in an echo chamber without any sort of critical analysis or debate. So I can sit here and talk all day about the damage that has been enacted upon LGBT Christians in the church but without discussing that those actions stem from damaging and, what I believe to be, misguided theology then nothing is going to shift. So I feel compelled to talk about it, because maybe no one had ever realized that not everyone agrees on what scripture says about homosexuality. Maybe someone never heard that many people believe their gay kid can still be loved and accepted by God. Maybe they have never been told that people believe that the attractions of their LGBT brethren are not the mark of struggling heathens but fearfully and wonderfully made creations of God. Maybe a young gay kid doesn’t know that their church’s condemnation of their sexuality isn’t the only interpretation out there. For these reasons, I feel like I must share my study, my convictions, and my heart.

I’m not saying that someone can’t disagree with me on theology but don’t let your unfettered devotion to your interpretation not allow you to respect and engage with the multitudes of individuals and leaders who have spent years of study and prayers on the subject of LGBTQ affirmation and believe it to reflect the Spirit of God. This would hardly be the first subject that the church interpreted scripture in such a way to defend and justify something that over time proved to not reflect the heart of God. Slavery and antisemitism are the first examples that come to mind.

Christians are to be known by our fruit and by our love (Matthew 7:17-20, John 13:35) I can honestly say I have never experienced love in community the way I have among my fellow queer Christians. It is deep and beautiful and produces so much healing and good fruit. It is an honor to be a small part of this diverse expression of the image of God at work. I’m so thankful for my LGBT Christian community and the allies to my community who are willing to stand with us, even when it requires extreme personal sacrifice. I am thankful for your love and how you have taught me to be more like Jesus. I’m thankful for the life you have poured into me at my weakest moments and all the ways you continue to build me up.

I have such hope and faith for the day when the Church recognizes and affirms the LGBT Christians who are already within the body. The day when affirming same-sex relationships won’t cost someone their job or reputation or community. The day when queer Christians are welcomed to the table by all their brethren and the Church stops snuffing out their voices simply because of who they are. I pray that the next generation of LGBT kids won’t go though the same sort of systematic rejection that I see all around me in the stories of my friends. I believe that that Church will get their one day, we will look more like Jesus on that day, and that people like Pastor Judy Peterson are helping usher that day closer to reality.


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