Retraction, apology not warranted
February 9, 2005
The Rev. Dr. Mark Achtemeier, professor of systematic theology at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, has issued a public statement denying statements attributed to him in a Layman Online article and demanding a retraction and a public apology. The article to which Dr. Achtemeier referred reported that on January 27, he told his seminary students that he could not say that homosexual behavior is either a sin or not a sin and that he believes the church must make room in its ethic for monogamous, same-sex relationships. The article also reported that Achtemeier told members of the class not to make public what he had said in the classroom on this subject.
In his objection to the article, Achtemeier did not deny these reports. He did, however, deny that he described his position as a ‘departure from the Biblical tradition,’ and a preference for “empirical evidence,” as reported in the Layman Online article. Achtemeier also denied the report that he told the students they were bound by a “covenant” not to reveal what he had said in class. He said that although he did urge the students not to reveal what he had said outside the classroom, he never referred to a “covenant” in requesting their silence.
Achtemeier also denied reports that he told the students that the Book of Romans and other passages in the Bible condemn only promiscuity, not monogamous same-sex genital behavior. He said that on that subject, he was only reporting what “progressives” have said about these passages, without claiming that he either agreed or disagreed with their position.
The class to which Achtemeier spoke included approximately 20 students, several of whom were interviewed by the Layman Online. An article based on these reports was held for seven days, during which the Layman’s editorial office made daily telephone calls to Dr. Achtemeier’s office, both to his voice mail and to seminary personnel. On the fifth day, the Layman reached Mrs. Achtemeier at their home telephone, explained the purpose of the numerous telephone calls, and learned that he had been informed of the Layman Online’s attempts to reach him, but chose not to return the calls while he was out of town.
The Layman Online’s report was based on multiple sources who were present in Dr. Achtemeier’s classroom. Further, Layman editors believe that they exceeded any reasonable expectation in their attempts to reach Dr. Achtemeier for comment, and only proceeded with publication upon having learned that he had been informed of numerous attempts to reach him and chose not to respond.
We have reviewed the article in light of Dr. Achtemeier’s allegations that it represents “a serious breach of journalistic trust,” and we find no evidence to warrant either the retraction or the apology that he has requested.
Parker T. Williamson
CEO of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and editor in chief of its publications