Mark Achtemeier is a Presbyterian pastor and a seminary professor. He's also a man who has been open about how he has changed his mind on the question of the full inclusion of LGBT Christians into the church. He details the process that led to his re-thinking in an essay that was delivered to a group of Presbyterians who are working, among other things, for full inclusion in that denomination.
"I started out very sure and very settled and very content with seeing exclusion as God’s will for the church. Like many, I had succumbed to the temptations of an ecclesiastical tunnel- vision: I read authors I agreed with. I talked with people I agreed with. I hung out with people I agreed with. I was exceedingly comfortable holding the position I did, I was supported in it, I was popular. And I had absolutely no reason to question any of it.
But God had other plans. Out of the blue, opportunity opened up for serious conversation and friendship with some quite remarkable gay Christians. This was new for me. When you are a firebrand exclusivist, hurling thunderbolts and belching fire against the opposition, gay people with any sense tend to avoid your company, or at least they avoid telling you they are gay. As a result, what I knew about LGBT people was pretty much defined by the authors I agreed with, and flamboyant stereotypes presented in the media.
But suddenly here I was confronted with these new friends who were eager to talk about the faith, and almost miraculously willing to hang in there with me in conversations about the church’s teaching-- this despite the fact that a lot of what they heard coming from me was unwittingly insulting or offensive. Their willingness to engage in frank conversation was a remarkable gift of grace, and the experience proved powerfully unsettling for two reasons. First, I started to realize the extent to which the church’s traditional teaching functioned like a sign over the door saying to gay people, ‘There is nothing here for people like you.’ This was disturbing for a good evangelical like me who fervently believes that Jesus reaches out to everyone."
And writes toward the end, in part:
At the end of the day, the assumption that homosexuality was a disease of the soul yielded a Bible that could not make sense of what I was seeing in the real world. It also yielded pastoral counsel that was in many cases a positive source of harm. Faithful Christians cannot settle for this. Scripture tells us, after all, that God’s dealings with human beings are not arbitrary, and God’s commands are not lacking sense. I give you these commandments “for your good,” says the Lord,[xi] which means if we cannot discern the good purposes behind them we have not understood them correctly. God has come among us as the incarnate Logos – as sense, as reason, as the fundamental rationality underlying the entire cosmos. If the Bible’s teaching does not help us make powerful sense of life and experience, if biblical faithfulness is not life-giving, that is a sure sign we have not understood our Scripture properly.
A part of this story that will have to go untold for today, is how armed with this recognition, I went back to the Bible to figure out the mistakes in interpretation that led to such a damaging view of homosexuality in the first place. I have described some results of this quest in another place,[xii] and perhaps we can make the text of those remarks available to the conference organizers.
I can testify from firsthand experience that traditionalist Christians hold their positions compassionately, with the best and most godly intentions. But I can no longer close my eyes to the spiritual and psychological damage that flow from this well-intended but tragically misguided teaching.
You may read the full essay at this link.