Why Some Christians Should Avoid Reading Mark Achtemeier’s The Bible’s Yes to Same-sex Marriage

Given the polarization and strong emotional commitment of many Christians to one side or the other on the topic of homosexuality, let me start by doing some spiritual triage. Some of you might save your time, and maybe some elevated blood pressure, by not reading this book, or even this review of it.

If you are absolutely sure that you are correct in your traditional understanding of blanket biblical condemnations of same-sex intimacy and feel that this topic has only technical, or indirect, connection to the gospel or our methods of sharing the gospel, then you need to read no further. You should instead invest in a copy of Robert A. J. Gagnon’s 520 page book "The Bible and Homosexual Practice." Gagnon’s scholarly work covers every aspect of the topic, “proves” that there can be no other way to interpret the Bible and answers every objection to the traditional conservative Christian belief. Mastering that book you will be able to win every argument and rest secure in your belief that you know exactly how gays can or cannot be saved.

On the other hand, if you agree that the traditional teaching seems watertight, but are uncomfortable with the seeming lack of love in this debate for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or other “alternative sexuality”; or if you wonder how Jesus would treat these people; or if you wish that you could hear a more Christ-centered theology of sexuality expounded, then you might enjoy reading “Submitting Our Sexuality to the Lordship of Christ”, a beautiful 1996 article by Mark Achtemeier, then a Dubuque Theological Seminary professor, found here. Filled with the love of Christ, it is nevertheless a clear call to celibacy and purity for any Christian not in a committed, opposite-sex, monogamous marriage. You are sure to be greatly blessed by this gospel-based, biblically faithful presentation. So you may not need to read the rest of this article.

Then again, if you did click on that link and thoughtfully read Achtemeier’s article, you may be wondering how it could be possible for such a conservative evangelical scholar with such an obviously high view of scripture and such a passion to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5)—how is it possible that he could also be the author of a book titled The Bible’s Yes to Same-sex Marriage? Achtemeier describes his earlier self as “a conservative church activist working hard to defend the ‘traditional’ teaching of my own Presbyterian Church (USA) that was condemning homosexual practice.” Arguing against allowing openly gay and lesbian members to be ordained for church leadership, he tasted success in 1997 when his denomination put in place a constitutional ban on gay ordination. But just a few years later we find this same theologian fighting just as hard on the other side, now for the repeal of the ban on gay ordination he had helped to put in place. The result was that the Presbyterian (USA) denomination began ordaining otherwise qualified gay pastors starting in 2011.

While many would accuse Achtemeier of apostasy and others would suspect he had lost his mind, his own testimony is that the essentials of his faith and his theology had, if changed at all, only deepened and matured. His 2014 book demonstrates the same high view of scripture, the same commitment to obedience to the Word, the same love for people and for the Christ-centered gospel that is so evident in his 1996 article referenced above.

Of course there was a change, which had to do with the way Mark Achtemeier applied his faith and biblical scholarship to real life. And that came about because he was privileged to enjoy a number of close personal relationships with deeply committed gay Christians, through which he came to better understand something of the depth of their struggles. Many, who were fully committed to following Christ as celibate disciples because they could not marry an opposite-sex partner, began to display symptoms of deep depression, loss of faith and even thoughts of suicide, rather than the vibrant peace and joy the Bible promises to those who give up all to follow Christ. All this he details in the book, telling how their stories led him to wonder if traditional understandings of biblical teachings on same-sex relations might be in error. That question motivated him to restudy the biblical foundation of his convictions.

Starting with a review of principles of biblical interpretation, he realized that Judeo-Christian history holds many examples of those who thought they thoroughly understood God’s word, but didn’t. From the Jewish teachers of the law in Christ’s day who had mastered the scriptures but murdered the Messiah; to early Christians who knew that Gentile converts to Christianity had to be circumcised; to slave owners in America who defended, from their well-read Bibles, the enslavement of men, women and children; to white supremacists today who quote scripture to excuse their oppression of people of color—all these and others led Achtemeier to ask what principles of biblical interpretation can keep us from similar errors in regard to what we know of homosexuality today? His answers, though relatively brief, caution us against proof-texting and encourage us to find the good sense and reasonableness of God’s requirements. We should also, he writes, keep Christ and His teachings at the center, let the Bible interpret itself and consider the historical and cultural context of the message as compared to the current situation.

After his brief primer on hermeneutics the author tells how he restudied principles of love, sex and marriage from scripture. What were God’s purposes in giving us marriage? Avoiding what might seem the most obvious answer, the preservation and propagation of humanity, he focuses on how we, both male and female, are made in the likeness of God and find our highest joy in giving ourselves to another in unselfish love. As Christ in love gave His body for us, the husband and wife are privileged to give their bodies to each other, finding joy and fulfillment in each other but also learning to give up self in sacrifice for the other. All this comes out of passages in both Old and New Testament likening God’s relationship to His people as a passionate courtship; a good marriage or a dysfunctional, painful marriage and as an ideal for human marriage partners to emulate.

Next the author applies what he has learned thus far to the question of same-sex relationships in a chapter entitled Special Blessings: Why Gay People Have an Honored Place in God’s Heart. This includes the question of procreation, which is not a mandatory ingredient in a good marriage, he concludes, especially in view of how effectively we’ve managed to obey God’s command to multiply and fill the earth! But for me, the most beautiful part of this chapter is the section on how scripture often celebrates the unusual or “the road less traveled.” How strange it seems that the people God blessed the most—like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and the priest Zechariah and Elizabeth—seemed unable to conceive children naturally, experiencing childbirth only through miraculous pregnancies and births.

Yet the most wonderful example of God delighting in the unusual is related to his coming to earth as the Messiah. By accepting her special pregnancy, the unwed, teenaged Mary was not only subject to shame and rejection, but under Old Testament law could have been stoned to death. Here Jesus identified himself with the sexually despised of the earth, bringing shame on his parents and accepted being maligned as a bastard throughout his life on earth. Although God gives us ideals and usual ways for sexuality to be used he often surprises us as he chooses, and blesses, the unusual.

But all of this means little to many Christians because of the Bible’s several proscriptions of same-sex intimacy in both the Old and New Testaments. So next, Achtemeier devotes two chapters to a study of what he calls “the fragments,” proof texts that seem to forbid any attempts to give gays, lesbians and others some semblance of blessing in intimate relationships.

Here the author avoids the tendency of many who try to minimize these teachings. Rather, he insists that the only way we can understand what the Bible writers are condemning in these passages is to examine the historical evidence of what types of same-sex relations were being practiced in that time and culture. Every form of homoerotic relationship known in both Old and New Testament times had to do with idolatrous temple prostitution or with relationships that were coercive or violent. Achtemeier finds that he wholly agrees with condemnations of all such practices. But he finds that the condemnations begin to have a hollow ring when applied to two Christians, who are incapable of sustaining an opposite-sex romantic relationship, joining in a monogamous, fully committed life-long relationship of same-sex love.

Obviously not every Christian will agree with Achtemeier’s conclusions. But we surely cannot accuse him of ignoring scripture or of simply wanting to be politically correct or popular. Here is a man who’s commitment to scripture and to holy living had brought him honor and success as a recognized spiritual leader, valiant for truth and godliness. But finding firmly committed gay Christians for whom his deeply held convictions proved damaging and destructive, he was willing to reexamine his understandings of God’s will. We who were not born with the condition of homosexuality ought to be very hesitant to pretend that we know God’s answers to a condition we have never experienced. It was only when Mark Achtemeier the theologian, was willing to become Mark Achtemeier the caring friend and confidant of gays, that his conscience was pricked and he heard the voice of the Spirit urging him to rethink his cherished conclusions.

As he notes in his book, for Christian leaders to confidently prescribe a life of mandatory celibacy and life-long aloneness to followers of Jesus who have not been given the spiritual gift of celibacy is to blatantly ignore the clear teaching of Scripture. In Genesis 2:18 the Creator says “It is not good for the man to be alone,” a clear reference to a life-long, intimate relationship. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:6-9 recommends (but does not command) the celibate life for those who have that gift from God, adding, “one has this gift, another has that.” And in 1 Corinthians 12:11 he teaches that the Holy Spirit, not a church council, decides which person receives which gift. Yet much of conservative Christianity ignores these principles in dealing with gender and sexuality minorities. If we are serious in our quest to love and bring salvation to this significant minority of humanity we must find some better answers.

Mark Achetemier may not have found the final answer. But those of us who are sincerely seeking to be faithful disciples of Jesus cannot ignore the testimony about his search or quickly dismiss his conclusions.

You might want to read this book after all!

Claude E. Steen, III is a retired Adventist pastor living in North Carolina. He and his wife Donna are the proud parents of five married children, one of whom is gay. The Steens also delight in their eleven grandchildren, ages 25 to 5.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6605
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“Of course there was a change, which had to do with the way Mark Achtemeier applied his faith and biblical scholarship to real life. And that came about because he was privileged to enjoy a number of close personal relationships with deeply committed gay Christians, through which he came to better understand something of the depth of their struggles. Many, who were fully committed to following Christ as celibate disciples because they could not marry an opposite-sex partner, began to display symptoms of deep depression, loss of faith and even thoughts of suicide, rather than the vibrant peace and joy the Bible promises to those who give up all to follow Christ. All this he details in the book, telling how their stories led him to wonder if traditional understandings of biblical teachings on same-sex relations might be in error. That question motivated him to restudy the biblical foundation of his convictions.”

This one paragraph confirms the continual pattern we see in contemporary apologies for homosexual practice in the church. It is yet another vignette of experience-driven theology. The typical yet fallacious attempts to explain away the unqualified condemnation of this behavior by Scripture, to misconstrue the love of our Lord into an unconditional acceptance into God’s kingdom of all (regardless of faith or conduct), along with the mistaken view that past misappliers of Scripture (e.g. the Jews who rejected Christ, the early Christian apologists for circumcision, and the antebellum American defenders of slavery) all proffered a case for their errors as persuasive as the Biblical case against homosexual conduct.

In short, there doesn’t appear to be anything new that Mark Achtemeier is contributing to the current conversation among Christians regarding this subject. If in fact Steen’s review accurately represents the book, one wonders how it qualifies as newsworthy. His experience-driven rationale for the proposed acceptance of same-gender sexual intimacy within the church, together with the dubious claim to adhere to a high view of Scripture while permitting the Bible’s alleged cultural context—as opposed to the Biblical consensus—to determine its meaning, offers yet another tragic case of permitting feelings to trump faith.

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homosexuality is not God’s intention, by the same token neither are the rest of mankind’s behavior. I guess the difference is, if any, the acknowledgment. the next issues comes on the heel of the first. Does love, understanding demand acceptance certified by membership. If everyone had followed Paul’s advice on celibacy, there would be a different kind of final generation. I have deep regard for both sided in this debate, but no profound solution. my role was one of equal opportunity in the work place. Which I undertook with full accord. in probationary time, let us treat each other as kin. That is no institutional answer.
Nor am I required or capable of to giving one. Tom Z

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If you are absolutely sure that you are correct in your traditional understanding of blanket biblical condemnations of same-sex intimacy and feel that this topic has only technical, or indirect, connection to the gospel or our methods of sharing the gospel, then you need to read no further. You should instead invest in a copy of Robert A. J. Gagnon’s 520 page book “The Bible and Homosexual Practice.”

But make sure you have read at least the whole new testament before you read 520 pages of something else.

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YoYo. Particularly Romans 1 yes? But then the first verses of Romans 2.(we are all under the same condemnation). Even Paul cries out “Oh wretched man that I am” Then the answer he finds refuge in Christ. Now to make proper application, that is the question isn’t it?

A much more basic question is, in taking the name of Christian, does one not frequently take that name in vain? Even as we post, that should be foremost in our minds. For example Pastor Ted Wilson as a person should be untouchable, but his actions and policies should be open for comment, even critical comment. stupidity and sin are not protected entities. Nor are contrary opinions. Thus Spectrum! Tom Z

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A lot of things aren’t God’s intention, but He doesn’t put them all in the category of Abomination. What other abomination besides homosexual activities are currently being mysteriously declared righteous by so called “marriage”?

But that logic is only for those who believe the Bible is Inspired.

Not very many moons ago, politicians including the Clintons and Obamas were opposed to gay “marriage”. It’s either Divine enlightenment or not so Divine or enlightened.

The issue before us is the sinner not the sin! Eating the forbidden fruit was of grave consequence. Yet God came seeking them, clothed them, and promised their redemption. Jesus ate with publicans and sinners, even those involved in sexual sin. We know our personal responsibility but what is the corporation responsibility, remains the question. As above, I have no wisdom. I do know this, in my Academy and college days, I know of two faculty at SDA colleges who were known gay and members of the Church in good and regular standing. I’m talking about the years 1939-1950. One taught Bible Doctrines.
Tom Z

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Thank-you, Pastor Steen, for the expounding the expanding of Mark Achtemeier’s faith, which is the point of following the Lamb wherever He goes.

It seems that those which feel justified in whacking those which see things differently than them upside the head with the Bible, have no respect for the Creator which prepared it - the Bible - for us ignorant mortals to grasp the underlying principles of His creation(s). They seem to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing persons to the point of recognising God’s Sovereignty and submitting their very lives - thoughts, words, and actions - to the will of God. Oh yes they proclaim that they are doing the God’s will in casting to hell all those that don’t see things the same way they do. God’s stated desire is that all mankind would be saved, yet I cannot see how declaring a person an ‘abomination’, the spawn of the devil, encourages that PERSON to turn around and look at that God, especially One that is portrayed as disgusted by by the persons native characteristics.

I have found on the path God laid out for me that I am most critical of those whose ignorance closely resembles my own, those whose short-comings are which I am personally subject, those whose sins are obviously my own. In other words, we ignorant mortals do not apprehend very much outside of our personal experience. Those that live under condemnation, usually self-imposed, cannot see others as being free of condemnation. It is the way of the natural man.

However, it is not incurable. God seeks to heal us of our ignorance, our disassociation with Him and life itself. Thus, it is not sufficient to know about God as we can read in the Scriptures, but that in order for the Logos to be put in our heart, everything else must be removed, cast out, destroyed by our own deliberate will. This so seldom happens because our beliefs are held so strongly. But until that happens we have no way of seeing our brother or sister as God sees, we have no way of loving our brother and sister as God loves them. For these I pray …

Trust God.

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The biblical law prohibits male but not female homosexual acts. That should tell s something important: it was not something about homosexuality itself that was the issue, but rather something specifically about male-to-male sexual contact: It was waste of seed. The first command in the Bible is to be fruitful and multiply. Passing on one’s patrimony to male children was extremely important and since many women died in childbirth, having more than one wife in addition to concubines would result in more children; this made sense in their world.

In the ancient world there was no category or people classified as homosexual. There was only homosexual behavior that was either socially condoned or condemned depending on the status of the men involved in them. There were biblical laws against cross dressing: “There shall not be a man’s item on a woman, and a man shall not wear a woman’s garment, because everyone
who does these is an offensive thing to God” (Deut. 22:5).

Male homosexuality, as in heterosexual behavior, means a dominant and a submissive partner. Males were given female slaves for wives from a captured tribe at God’s directions. In a patriarchal society males were designated by God to rule their wives and children and taking another man’s wife was subject to death. Only procreational sex for males was condoned by God; yet female sexuality was unmentioned in the Law given by God.

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Thank-you, Claude, for writing an article that needed no “teasing” to completely read it through (at least on Spectrum :slight_smile: ) .

I find that those who constantly speak out on the “evils” of homosexuality (for the individual and for the church) are those who rarely, if ever, share what suggestions they might have to reach out and support those who may struggle with this. I personally give no credibility to anyone who are quick to quote scripture and point out what is not their own issue/struggle and give definitive pithy answers or opinions.

It is easy to condemn/judge while sitting on the sidelines and spouting what sounds like pontifical statements that appear void of love and Spirit. I have read much of this on Spectrum through the years and I believe that it will not stop. Supporting the traditonal SDA church and its viewpoints is so much more important than any person…this is what some of you say and act. Sad. This is not in the spirit of Christ- but it will continue.

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Kevin,

You have a mindset that reminds me of the religious leaders of Christ’s days.
I think you discount most of the teachings of Jesus, because you see them as , experience driven rationale that should have no basis for inclusion in the Bible. You dare put yourself in a position of God claiming people must be sinlessly perfect as Jesus, a Jesus whose teachings you all to often clearly reject on Spectrun. Your attitude you espouse here is tantamount to saying that anything Jesus said, should be completely discounted and ignored because He dared go against
Biblical concensus of his day in interpreting scripture.
In the final analysis the very religious people of Christ’s day were responsible for His crucifixion. So tell me Kevin, given your insistance on tradition, what would you have done 2,000 years ago? Think about it please.

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No, Kevin…this isn’t the greatest tragedy. True “tragedy” is to have faith with little or no feelings which you have exhibited here.

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elaine, are you aware that at fertilization, only one spermatozoa successfully fertilizes an ovum, while billions of other “seeds” are wasted…i don’t think your point is valid…

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Tom, you keep talking about Jesus, but without offering Biblical evidence that the Jesus of whom you speak is in fact the One the Scriptures speak of. The Jesus of Scripture did not teach unconditional acceptance into God’s kingdom, nor did He teach the ambiguity of Scripture or that sin is unconquerable in the Christian life this side of heaven, even through God’s power.

I fully accept the teachings of Jesus as found in Scripture, but I quite thoroughly reject the fabricated postmodern “all-inclusive” Jesus certain folks here seem to believe in. The Jesus of the Bible declared that man shall live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). That would include, it would seem, what the Bible teaches about homosexual practice, even if our Lord never mentioned it.

The Jesus of the Bible declared, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father, which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). When the rich young ruler asked Him about the conditions of salvation, the Jesus of Scripture replied, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:16-17). Of course Jesus also made it plain that only through God’s power can this obedience be rendered (verses 25-26; see also John 15:5).

Your question to me, sadly, sounds a bit too much like the proverbial interrogation, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” as you predicate your question on your belief in my “insistence on tradition.” Obviously I reject that premise, because I am not interested in human tradition. It is the written counsel of God that I seek to base my theology and standards of living upon.

I pray that on that basis, I would have been with the shepherds and wise men 2,000 years ago welcoming the newborn Savior, and would have been with Joseph and Nicodemus and the centurion acknowledging Him as the Messiah at the cross.

Interestingly enough, Ellen White describes the methodology of the rabbis in Jesus’ day in a manner that sounds all too typical of so many here at Spectrum:

“But while His (Christ’s) teaching was simple, He spoke as one having authority. This characteristic set His teaching in contrast with that of all others. The rabbis spoke with doubt and hesitancy, as if the Scriptures might be interpreted to mean one thing or exactly the opposite. The hearers were daily involved in greater uncertainty. But Jesus taught the Scriptures as of unquestionable authority. Whatever His subject, it was presented with power, as if His words could not be controverted” (DA 253).

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the subject of homosexuality, from a biblical standpoint, is where the rubber really does meet the road…people impacted by this condition have a difficult choice to make, not because the bible is in any way unclear, but because what it’s calling for can seem so counter-intuitive, and even harsh…i think it’s accurate to say that few people who’ve actually lived this life for a significant time will ever leave it…

Christians today often celebrate the notion that Jesus was counter-cultural. Why then are they so afraid to be counter-cultural on the subject of homosexuality?

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Strange that my college Anatomy and Physiology class never old me that! :frowning: but thanks for the education from a master with great parenting experience.

Of course, the ancients believed that the male impregnated the female with a tiny embryo; her only job was to keep it warm and growing. Thus every male that did not mate with a female, wasted the complete “seed” of a future child. Not until Gregor Mendel in the mid-19th century was equal genetic inheritance of both parents known. Check with your local obstetrician–but you don’t have one, do you?

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They are more afraid of intimidation and threats by man, than they are of grieving the Spirit of God.

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If being born with a condition is the only qualification allowing one to speak on the condition, then all men must not speak about any female issue, nor women on male issues. And as there are no female ordained folk in scripture, then I guess the ladies could not speak about it, etc. This idea is ridiculous, and stops all conversation.

As Kevin notes, it is experience that turned him against what he saw was truth before. I am not sure there is an answer to this. People that experience things really have a hard time not believing their eyes, ears etc. Yet we all must do this. When experience seems to go against scripture, then the experience has to be discounted.

Leviticus 18 says nothing about idolatry or prostitution or coercive or violent practices, but about forbidden sexual practices. John the Baptist condemned Herod for his relationship with his brother’s wife, another forbidden practice listed there. Are any saying he was wrong to protest?

God prepared someone to care for Mary: Joseph. And he was engaged to her. The natural expiation would be that Joseph had gotten her pregnant before the wedding, as it would be today. So they had to get married. Now Matthew notes that he did not want to embarrass her publicly, so was going to put her away privately. So she was not subject to shame and rejection. At least we do not have evidence of that. He was called Joseph’s son. Now there does appear to be some that cast aspersions on his heritage, but not that many. It was not so much as the author says.

I agree that the prohibitions are terrible about homosexuality. I am not gay, so do not have to deal with those. Tom has and did make a decision to disregard his orientation, and has lived with that decision for some years. It is not impossible to do as he has done. Is it easy? No. But possible, yes.

The terms “ordain/ordination” do not come from the Biblical languages. They come to us from from ecclesiastical Latin, “ordo” referring to the “holy orders,” & “ordinare” to the ceremony of induction into holy orders. This isn’t the system which Adventists seek to emulate or perpetuate.

So what we have in the original language is that Jesus appointed. In addition to the Twelve, He appointed also the Seventy (or 72) to ministry. In Luke 10:1-9, He “pointed them out” (anadeiknumi), gave them power, & sent them before Him to preach & to heal. Going by the Bible, their appointment is virtually the same to that of the Twelve.

We do not know that there were no women in the Seventy.

(A quick review on the language & process of “appointing,” https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2002/05/ordination-in-the-new-testament.html)

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