HOW A PASTOR CHANGED HIS MIND
The Bible’s Yes To Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart by Mark Achtemeier. Westminster John Knox Press. 2015 (New edition includes a study guide).
It's ironic to me that Mark Achtemeier’s book, which details a careful and transformative theological study, indirectly supports my departure from church in 1973 as the healthiest move I could have made at the time. I say this because Achtemeier opens The Bible’s Yes with the story of a young lesbian seminarian, whom he calls Kristi. Her story became the impetus for his study. When Kristi talked with him, she was desperately trying to live according to the Church’s traditionally accepted views of homosexuality—either she should change her orientation (impossible) or be celibate. She was deeply depressed, questioning her calling to ministry, and had begun to consider suicide. To his surprise, Achtemeier witnessed that when Kristi decided with the support of other LGBTQ seminarians that she could live her life as herself, she blossomed spiritually and emotionally.
Had I remained in the church of my youth, trying to live according to the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and having already attempted suicide twice, I can only guess that I would have made another attempt on my life. At the very least, I would have lived depressed and unfulfilled with a vital part of myself amputated. Like Kristi, I would not have been living the abundant life that Jesus said he came to offer. At the time, there were no affirming churches except the Metropolitan Community Church, which ministers mostly to the LGBTQ community, a church that didn’t fit for me.
Achtemeier, an Iowa pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a theologian and theology professor, describes himself as having been a “conservative church activist,” successfully advocating for a constitutional ban on the ordination of LGBTQ people in the PCUSA as late as 1997. Fourteen years later, following his change of heart and mind, he worked to repeal that same ban. Subsequently he wrote The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage.
After telling about his change of heart as he witnessed more and more gay Christians flourishing when they accepted and lived their sexuality, the author first looks at the Divine purpose for marriage and finds that there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that this purpose is limited to opposite-gender relationships. He then delves into a thorough examination of biblical texts that the Church has traditionally used to condemn homosexuality. He refers to these texts as fragments, because they have been lifted out of context. Achetmeier presents four useful guidelines for interpreting scripture (including biblical and cultural context) and proceeds to use those guidelines to examine the fragment verses first in the Old Testament and then in the New. Again and again, he finds himself in agreement with the texts’ negative responses to certain same-sex sexual behaviors but repeatedly points out that those behaviors, which are violent and exploitative are not part of a committed, loving relationship between same-sex couples. In a refreshing approach, the author also looks for precedents in the Bible for relationships that do not fit the norm and finds that those are not condemned. He looks to Church history as well for reinterpretations that fit the times—interestingly enough, he finds an example of such a reinterpretation in John Calvin’s writings about charging interest in a different time and place.
Throughout Achtemeier’s examination of the Bible and Church history, he is also examining his own heart and mind, constantly seeking to make sure that he has not simply sought to rationalize what he wants to believe. Overall, this theologian applies conservative scholarship to a question that plagues so many in the Church today. He emerges with a radical and joyous “yes” to same-sex marriage.
Highly recommended for any Christian who has doubts about the sanctity of Christian same-sex marriage and has or wants to have an open mind. Also for LGBTQ people and their allies who find themselves in conversations with Christians with doubts or outright opposition to same-sex marriage.
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