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Rev. Dr. Mark Achtemeier Headshot

Coming Out as an Evangelical Supporter of Gay Rights

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This Saturday I was privileged to speak at the ordination of a man I believe will be a wonderful minister. That man, Scott Anderson, happens to be the first openly gay person ordained in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), since a historic policy shift last July.

Scott's congregation in Madison was bursting with celebration during the service. However, not everyone in our denomination felt joyful.

I understand this distress because, as a lifelong conservative Christian, for most of my life I would have felt the same way.

When I was ordained in 1984 I believed that, with pastoral compassion, gay and lesbian people could become "normal" through repentance and prayer.

Encouraged by colleagues and friends, I spoke and wrote on this topic. I even helped change our church constitution to prevent gay and lesbian persons from becoming ministers -- the very policy that was recently eliminated by a denominational vote.

But in the last decade, I began to discover that God had other plans. Out of the blue, opportunities opened for serious conversation with gay and lesbian Christians.

I'll never forget a conversation I had in 2001 with a gay man who was in a committed, long-term partnership. I had been arguing that his relationship was sinful when he said, "My relationship is the part of my life that demands the greatest sacrifice and stretches me the most in my ability to love. I believe in confessing and repenting my sins. I work at it regularly. But far from feeling sinful, this area of my life that brings out the very best in me."

I felt shaken, thinking this was exactly how I would describe my own marriage to my wife.

A few years later, I met another gay Christian man who was a leader in an international evangelical conservative fellowship. Uncomfortable with his same-gender attractions, he went through every therapy program available and prayed fervently for a cure. None of it worked. When I spoke with him, I remember him saying, "I feel that God doesn't care about me."

If I know one thing, it's that Christian faith, properly understood, doesn't destroy people. Yet, this man was just one of many I met who followed this course to despair. How had the accepted pastoral response so utterly failed these deeply faithful Christians?

The only answer was to return to the Bible. To my surprise and chagrin, themes began to emerge I hadn't noticed before.

When God creates the world and declares it "very good," God also says, "it is not good that the human being should be alone." Genesis describes God's creation of human beings for intimate fellowship with another person. This is not something we can reverse or undo. It is deeply inscribed in our nature.

I learned that the original languages of the Bible didn't even have words for gay or lesbian. Whatever the Bible was speaking against, it wasn't the long-term, faithful, egalitarian partnerships we know today.

I believe now that this was the beginning of a journey God had planned for me all along.

Today, I call on my fellow Christians to join me in celebrating that a gifted servant enters ministry. That Scott Anderson is a gay man in a committed relationship -- and that he has waited decades for this moment -- only enhances his gifts, which include patience and Christ-like compassion.

And it is because of the authoritative Word of the Bible, not in spite of it, that we can rejoice in the good fruit Scott's ministry will bring forth.

To those who still fear this moment, I only ask that you open your heart and your Bible. God will take care of the rest.

The Rev. Dr. Mark Achtemeier is a Minister of the Word and Sacrament residing in Dubuque, Iowa.

This piece originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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