book response: The Bible's Yes to Same-Sex Marriage by Mark Achtemeier

All Christians wrestle with applying Jesus' second highest commandment, the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. The conservative church in the United States, has felt this is overruled by other passages in the Bible when it comes to homosexuals among them and outside. But some of us within the conservative church have challenged that hermenuetic. Mark Achtemeier is one respectable voice within the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) who used to argue within the church nationally against full inclusion but has repented of this stance and now wants to help the church become fully inclusive of homosexuals. He uses all the familiar tools, methodologies and principles of conservative Bible scholarship to assuage those who cannot fathom how full inclusion is possible in his new book.

He writes, "The result of this encounter with the Bible has been a growing conviction that the church’s condemnation of same-gender relationships is a tragic and destructive misinterpretation of the Bible’s message. Moreover it is a misinterpretation precisely because this so-called “traditional” teaching ignores classical principles of scriptural interpretation that date back centuries in the history of the church."

Conservative readers should know that he did not write this because he came out of the closet himself, nor because a family member became gay. He writes this as someone who used to write position papers for the PCUSA defending non-inclusive ecclesiology. Although he is not gay himself, his encounters with gay seminarians challenged his presumptions.

He asks, "I also started to wonder what kind of God we were dealing with if the traditional condemnations of homosexuality really did reflect the will of God. These questions arose as I realized that people like Kristi did not choose their same-sex orientation, nor did they have the ability to embrace a lifelong discipline of celibate singleness."

Ex-gay therapy has done more damage than good. Exorcisms of homosexual demons are even worse. This is not to deny that some people have experienced changed orientations, but it's not common. So for those believers who are homosexual, who have tried for years to pray the gay away unsuccessfully, who love Jesus and his church, who seek marriage, what options does the church have for them?

He looks at history and shows how the church has changed its strongly held positions before, despite the proof texts, from slavery in the United States to John Calvin's wrestling with usury prohibitions and economics in Geneva. He looks at the Bible's positive intentions for marriage. He also looks at the seven clobber passages that are used to condemn homosexuals. He calls them fragments, because he shows that when these passages are read in their Biblical, literary, and cultural contexts, they condemn violence and oppression, which completely agrees with the Golden Rule Jesus calls us to honor.

He wants the church to see homosexuals with new eyes and the passages historically used against them in fuller dimensions, dimensions that in actuality do not condemn the same gendered attractions of our fellow human beings. This is a "safe" book to read for conservatives who are willing to listen to a different viewpoint from a fellow conservative believer. I wish my brothers and sisters would all read it, at least to understand how inclusiveness can be apprehended biblically.

I received this as a complimentary copy from NetGalley for my unbiased review.

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