GOD AND THE GAY CHRISTIAN:
THE BIBLICAL CASE IN SUPPORT
OF SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIPS
CONVERGENT BOOKS, 2014
THE BIBLE’S YES TO SAME-SEX MARRIAGE:
AN EVANGELICAL’S CHANGE OF HEART
WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX PRESS, 2014
In 2010 I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas at Duke University. During the meeting, Hauerwas spoke of the need for the church to recover the Scriptures. If there is any faith tradition that should rise to that challenge it should be the Reformed tradition. Reformers value Scripture, as it is authoritative in matters of life and faith. It also has been Scripture that has been slung about in the ongoing debate about homosexuality. The result has caused schism within denominations, churches and families and crippling pain and heartache for Christians of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
With the carnage piling up, it would be tempting to forgo Scripture for an alternative authority. While some have done just that, Matthew Vines and Mark Achtemeier have not abandoned their faith tradition; rather, they have returned to it. They argue that Scripture is the elixir for what ails the church, if Scripture can be recovered through faithful interpretation.
Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, and Achtemeier, author of The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage, come out of the Reformed tradition. Vines grew up in a Presbyterian church in Wichita, Kansas. The subject is personal for Vines, as he is gay. He believes that we can affirm both the full authority of Scripture and committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships, and he carefully makes his case through understanding biblical context. Achtemeier served as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and taught at Dubuque Theological Seminary. The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage is not a scholarly survey, as one might expect from a theologian. Instead, the book is, in his own words, a “spiritual travelogue” describing Achtemeier’s change of heart concerning homosexuality as he encountered gay seminary students.
EXPERIENCE TIED TO SCRIPTURE
Experience was important for both authors, but experience did not replace Scripture as an authority in matters of life and faith. Instead, experience served as a catalyst for seeking a new understanding of Scripture. Vines argues that new information “should cause Christians to reconsider long-held interpretations of Scripture.” Using scholarly research, Vines has compiled information to explain the context behind the six Scripture passages often referenced in the homosexuality debate. His conclusion is that the homosexuality addressed in the Bible is not the homosexuality of today. Homosexuality then was deemed wrong because it caused a man to be like a woman, considered lesser in value and subordinate to men. Men being dominant and women being subservient was the natural order of the day, and the words “natural” and “unnatural” were used in that context. Vines argues that these words refer to male hierarchy, not to how the sexual organs of a man and a woman fit.
Vines acknowledges he is no biblical scholar. He has organized the research in a way that is understandable and persuasive. He is a gay Christian trying to better understand the context of Scripture. This is the real strength of his work. It becomes an invitation for people to step down from their bully pulpits and out from entrenched beliefs to become students of Scripture. Scripture is read through our own personal experiences, opinions and 21st-century cultural understandings. We often forget how thick the cultural lenses through which we read Scripture are.
Achtemeier calls the Scripture passages often used to denounce homosexuality “fragments,” which he does not equate with God’s will. Staying out of the myopic, hermeneutical fray involving a half-dozen Scripture passages, Achtemeier steps back and asks what God’s will is. This macro approach leads him to conclude that God’s will is life. But in his encounters with gay seminary students, Achtemeier learned that life was the last thing they were experiencing. Fragments of Scripture had been pulled out and interpreted apart from the overall witness of Scripture. The fragments had been used to inflict harm on, rather than nurture, people’s lives and souls. Where Vines’ answer to this is biblical context, Achtemeier argues that any interpretative method must fit within God’s purpose of life. He introduces five steps to faithful interpretation of Scripture: (1) faithful interpretations of the Bible should make coherent, good sense; (2) any correct understanding should be grounded and centered in Christ; (3) interpret Scripture by Scripture; (4) interpret passages in context; and (5) understand the purpose of God that stands behind the commandment.
Applying these five criteria of biblical interpretation along with his macro-purpose viewpoint, Achtemeier argues that affirming same-sex relationships is not contrary to God’s will nor does it undermine the accepted norm of male-female relationships. It is simply an alternative path. Achtemeier asks why the path taken by a majority of people cannot be inclusive of other, less-traveled paths. Compared to the many books that slog through biblical minutia while rehashing old arguments, The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage is a refreshing read that takes a common-sense approach from a position not always considered. It is a vulnerable story of personal transformation on the subject of homosexuality.
Because my congregation is known to be a church that is talking about the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, I have received requests from other clergy for resources to inform and guide their congregational discussions on this matter. Most of the literature has either been too challenging for laypeople or too simplistic. With God and the Gay Christian and The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage, church leaders and congregations have two new resources to help inform and encourage the conversation. Each one values Scripture yet approaches it from a different angle. The different approaches will be helpful to congregations regardless of where they might be in the conversation about homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Nathan S. Busker is pastor of Ponds Reformed Church, Oakland, New Jersey.