A Chicago pastor has been suspended from her job at a Christian college for officiating a gay couple’s wedding.
Pastor Judy Peterson was placed on paid leave from North Park University after the Evangelical Covenant Church temporarily took away her ordination credentials for officiating a same-sex ceremony.
“North Park University welcomes conversations around the topics over which there are differences of viewpoint,” the school said in a statement. “The role of the academy is to foster thoughtful, respectful discussion which allows for difference and accepts people regardless of viewpoints. Our campus ministries staff and others in student engagement and elsewhere in the university will continue to foster such an environment in the months ahead as we engage in intelligent discourse on difficult issues.”
The Evangelical Covenant Church, of which North Park is affiliated, teaches that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. In a December 29 email, church leaders stated they believed “that a loving God lovingly instructs us, even through cautions and limitations. That belief informs the Covenant’s position on human sexuality and the marriage ethic.”
In the fall of 2016, Patterson was asked by a gay North Park alumnus to officiate his wedding. Knowing the ECC does not condone same-sex marriage, Peterson spoke with a high-ranking church official, who warned Peterson her credentials could be jeopardized.
She officiated the wedding anyway, in April 2017.
“This was not a flippant decision done with disregard for religious rules,” Peterson wrote in a letter obtained by Mission Friends 4 Inclusion, “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.”
The incident went unnoticed until September, when she was asked to meet with a new executive minister who found a photo online of her officiating the wedding. The ECC asked Peterson to give up her credentials, which she refused, so they were revoked in November. She was also asked to resign from North Park at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year. She asked to stay on, but was told because her credentials were revoked she could not continue at the school. Peterson is now waiting for a hearing with the Board of Ordered Ministry later this month.
In a statement on the North Park University website, the school said it “sincerely regrets and is sorry for the hurt and confusion” in the wake of hrt suspension, which it places squarely on the Evangelical Covenant Church.
“The University administration and Board of Trustees affirm the remarkable and transformative work of Pastor Judy Peterson as campus pastor. She is loved and respected by many in the North Park community and beyond. We have received messages of overwhelming support for her and many stories of the lives she has touched. We encourage ongoing prayer for Pastor Judy in this time of discernment and all parties seek to remain in dialogue.”
But even if her credentials are restored, there’s no guarantee North Park will reinstate Peterson, who was named campus pastor in 2007.
“I officiated a same-sex wedding of two beloved brothers in Christ,” she wrote. “This broke a religious rule. The church believes the rule is so important that breaking it requires discipline. This discipline will most likely cost me my job, my housing, my credentials and my reputation. And I would put all of this on the line again in order to love like Jesus loves and I would do it without pause because I believe love fulfills the law.”
Peterson says she’s worked with LGBT students at North Park frequently, and the school does recognize Queers and Allies, a student group. But this isn’t the first time North Park has been accused of homophobia: In 2003, psychology professor Barbara Kelly filed a complaint against the college with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, claiming she was denied a full-time teaching gig because of her sexual orientation. Kelly had been recruited for a tenure-track position after working there as an openly lesbian adjunct for three years.
Below, Peterson discusses the year she spent walking from coast to coast, earning her the nickname “the walking pastor.”