Eugene Peterson and My Grandmother: A Double Dose of Heartache

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On Wednesday morning, the LGBT Christian community experienced a wave of excitement and encouragement as Eugene Peterson was quoted in a Religion News Service article by Jonathan Merritt as being supportive of same-sex marriage.

Whenever an influential Christian leader comes out as affirming, it feels like we’ve inched one step closer to having a more loving, more equal, more inclusive place to belong. But with a name as big as Eugene Peterson, who has written over 30 books and has also penned “The Message” translation of the Bible, we knew instantly, that this had the capability of creating a large shift for inclusion in our Christian communities. Perhaps, Eugene’s affirmation would lend courage and strength to others who, up to this point, have held back due to fear of backlash? Or perhaps this would challenge the minds of unaffirming believers to look at the issue more deeply?

We had hope. We felt encouraged. We thought we were one step closer to a fully inclusive church.

But all that came crashing down only 24 hours later when Eugene Peterson “after reflection and prayer” changed his mind and retracted his statements saying he would not perform a same-sex wedding. Adding further salt to the wound, he said that he’d never been asked to do so and “frankly, I hope I never am asked.” This sent a shock through us all that resonated in the pit of our already aching souls. The wounds that we as the LGBT Christian community have faced have already left us bloody and bruised. Therefore, when a leader with such influence and ability to change our culture speaks up, only to then crumble under the weight of the cost that comes with those words, is not only disheartening for us, but is also deeply painful. In turn, it causes many to become more angry, more cynical, and more distanced from the very thing we are trying to reconcile with: the church.

The greatest tragedy of it all is that in so doing, it not only distances many LGBT people from the church, but it also causes many to distance from God as the church and God become blended as one in their experience of pain and disapproval.

It would have been better for Eugene Peterson to say he was not affirming of same sex marriage from the beginning than for him to say that he was affirming and then retract his statements. While his words can be rescinded, the damage that has now been done in the hearts of thousands of LGBT people cannot.

For me, I received a double dose of pain on Thursday when, after already hearing of Eugene Peterson’s retraction, I later received a group Facebook message from my grandmother.

My grandmother and I haven’t spoken in several years, but Thursday, she took it upon herself to include me in a group Facebook message that she sent out to the family:

The movie “Corpus Christi” is due to be released this August. It is a disgusting film which depicts Jesus and his disciples as homosexuals! It’s a revolting mockery of our Lord. But we Christians can make a difference.  Let’s stand for what we believe and stop the mockery of Jesus Christ our Savior. I am forwarding this to all I think will respect and appreciate being informed. Please help us prevent such offenses against our Lord. If you are not interested and do not have the 2 minutes it will take to do this, please don’t complain if God does not seem to have time for you. GET THE WORD OUT! Will God be able to find at least 50 righteous people who are willing to express their concern and voice their opinion against this act of blasphemy?

There was more, but…you get the point. I don’t know where to begin to tell you how aghast I was to read this. First, I was appalled that my grandmother would send something so strongly worded and full of hate. It was proof to me of how easy it is to bully from behind a computer screen as opposed to a person’s face.

Second, I was deeply disturbed that my 80-year-old grandmother would believe something like this at face value without researching to see if it is even true (which, by the way, it is not. Snopes says that ongoing claims to this movie are false and that letters and emails like this one have been circulating for over 32 years). While it doesn’t surprise me, it does disturb me. This is exactly how rumors and fall information are spread.

The clincher in all this for me though was the fact that, even though my grandmother hasn’t spoken to me in years, she went out of her way to make sure I was included in this family message. It was deeply painful on so many levels. But in the midst of that, I found myself longing for someone else within the family to speak up and say something.

If they don’t stand up to her false accusations, surely someone will at least defend me and call her out on her insensitivity, I thought. Yet sadly, there’s been nothing but silence. Not a word has been said by anyone in reference to her false claims or her cold-hearted gesture. Both my grandmother’s words and the rest of my family’s silence hurt in equal degrees.

It’s made me painfully aware of just how far I’ve come. As much as it hurts to be shunned from the family I once loved and held so dear, I’m so grateful that I am no longer part of a tribe that spews hate and tries to disguise it as love. I’m ashamed that I ever was. Dear God, forgive me.

So this weekend, my view of the world is a little more jaded, and a little less hopeful. My heart has been wounded again by both the family of God and the family I’m related to by blood.

But come Monday morning, I will once again get out of bed and work for equality just as hard if not more than I did before. Stories and experiences like this are why I do what I do. We need to press on. We need to hold tight to each other. And we need to keep sharing our stories…there is still so much work to be done.

If you’re feeling downtrodden, anger, or cynical this week because of this discouraging news, know that your feelings are valid and that you are deeply and fully loved. We will get there, one person, one story, one life at a time.

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

*For a thorough summary of the events regarding Eugene Peterson this week, read this very poignant TIME article by Matthew Vines.