A popular pastor is fired after officiating a gay wedding ceremony. Reverend Judy Peterson, the former campus pastor at Chicago’s North Park University, officiated the wedding of a friend and colleague last April. Having been a well-known figure on campus for the past 11 years, the decision to suspend Peterson indefinitely has sparked outrage among the community.
Marcus Mason-Vivit needed a friend, mentor and trusted colleague and Peterson answered the call. Of course, when he and his now-husband wanted to make their union official, Mason-Vivit called upon his trusted colleague. Peterson happily flew to California to perform the ceremony. After word spread of the wedding, Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), which oversees North Park University (NPU), suspended Peterson indefinitely from her role at the school.
In the months leading up to the ceremony, Peterson said she prayed about it and felt it was the correct decision. After she was suspended, the beloved pastor said:
Over my tenure at NPU, I have sat with countless LBGTQ young people who wrestle with whether or not they are worthy of love. Those who feel crushed under the weight of the shame they feel because of their inability to ‘overcome’ their attractions and who fear they will never be able to truly be themselves in the churches in which they were raised. And I have done my best to be their pastor.
This was not a flippant decision done with disregard for religious rules, but rather a discerned decision to stand with my brothers in the same way Jesus has stood with me; in everything and at all times, no matter what.
In a statement, the church clarified its “unreserved commitment to minister to the LGBTQ community” but also confirmed the restrictions on clergy from officiating at same-sex marriages. Peterson is not the only pastor the Evangelical Covenant Church has suspended after officiating a gay wedding, a retired “Covenant” pastor received the same discipline after officiating his son’s wedding.
For nearly 2,000 years, the Christian community spoke with one voice about homosexual behavior, calling it a sin. Within recent years, however, evangelical churches, schools, and ministries have witnessed increased confusion and disagreements around the issue of homosexuality.
Christians and their leaders have struggled to figure out how to respond to the growing tolerance of same-sex relationships. The conversation usually results in endless debates over how to interpret the relative biblical passages. As the quest for clarity continues, books have erupted, congregations have fought and denominations have split.
Peterson’s firing after officiating the gay wedding has sparked a similar outcry among students and alumni of North Park. Over 4000 have signed a petition calling for a deeper discussion on the issue as well as a standstill on disciplinary actions for clergy who play a role in those weddings. After the suspension became public, one supporter of gay marriage said:
I’m a supporter of gay marriage, and my denomination performs gay marriages. But some confuse gay civil rights (which cover the actions of governments and government-supported entities) with the doctrines of a non-government-supported entity (the Evangelical Covenant Church) which holds that marriage is a) not a civil contract but a sacrament if performed by a minister; and b) limited to man/woman unions if performed by a minister.
It would be interesting to know if they (or North Park University) fire employees who reveal that they have engaged in same-sex civil marriages. If they do not, they are not violating anyone’s right to be married, just their right to be married in an ECC religious rite. That’s a different story entirely, I can see why two faithful ECC members would prefer to be married in their own denomination’s rite of marriage, that’s an internal, theological matter to be determined by the governing body of the church.
Peterson was initially put on paid leave after she officiated the same-sex wedding, but has since has had her credentials indefinitely suspended by the Evangelical Covenant Church. This leaves her employment with the university uncertain. Members of ECC, which has more than 850 churches in North America, with about 225,000 weekly attendees, are left wrestling with the decision.
The governing body has expressed affirmation for Peterson’s “remarkable and transformative work” during her tenure as campus pastor. However, The future seems uncertain for not just Peterson, but other clergy members who have spoken publicly about what appears to be the most divisive topic in their denomination.
In a statement left on NPU’s website, people are encouraged to pray for the defrocked pastor, the school, church, students and their continual care. There are many concerns and questions surrounding the church’s decision to release Peterson from all of her duties. Although many disagree, the church retains the right to mandate that those ordained under its leadership adhere to the rules set before them. As such, the popular pastor is fired after officiating a gay wedding.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Chicago Tribune: Popular pastor at North Park University is suspended for officiating gay wedding
Inside Higher Ed: University Pastor Who Officiated Gay Wedding Suspended Indefinitely
WGN9: Students rally in support of university pastor suspended for officiating gay wedding
Commonweal Magazine: Homosexuality & The Church
Top Image Courtesy of North Park University
Inline Image Courtesy of sdobie’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Featured Image Courtesy of Brian Talbot’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License