Chester V. Chambers

Statement of Commitment Testimony

The following is excerpted from a 2000+-word letter I as one of the 92+ signers sent April 7 to Dr. Ira Gallaway in response to the statement of the Confessing Movement:

The Confessing Movement statement refers to "the clear teaching of Scripture." Many of us see no clear teaching in the New Testament regarding relationships for persons whose affectional and sexual orientation is toward persons of their same sex. By creating the word "homosexual" our culture has conditioned us to lump together all kinds of behaviors between persons of the same sex. We do not do this with relationships between persons of opposite sexes. We talk about lust, rape, fidelity, infidelity, fornication, adultery, child molestation, etc. There is absolutely no reason why we should not make the same distinctions in same-sex relationships.

The New Testament references in I Corinthians and I Timothy to same-sex relationships certainly refer to specific behaviors, and this may also be true of Romans 1. Ralph Blair (in "Paul Who?") has quoted from writings of Catherine Kroeger and B. Z. Goldberg describing behaviors in the worship of Dionysos and Aphrodite which certainly coincide with Paul's language in Romans 1. But even if, in that passage, Paul was referring to all same-sex genital relations, his language does not describe the kind of relationships and behavior that exist in committed same-sex relationships, of which he probably had no knowledge. I believe that the task of the church in ministry with persons who define and accept themselves as gay or lesbian is to help them establish ethical norms for their lives, and I see these to be the same kind of norms that we hold out for opposite-sex relationships. I believe that the greatest gift that the church should have for gay and lesbian persons is to affirm their entering into committed relationships....

I affirm all of John Wesley's statement in "The Character of a Methodist" which he begins with, "The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort," goes on to sum up the essentials of the faith in three sentences, and concludes, "But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think." This subject, I believe, is one which does not strike at the root of our faith.

I deplore your statement intimating that the continuing discussion of how the church should relate to gay and lesbian persons is because of pressure from "the radical homosexual/lesbian lobby."...I believe that my wife and I were led into ministry with gay and lesbian persons by the Holy Spirit through a unique series of happenings in the mid-60's, and subsequent experience has confirmed this belief. I would not put my ordination in jeopardy because of any "lobby," but only for something which I believe strikes at the heart of the commandments that Jesus said were the greatest of all.

When I read Jesus' words, "Woe to you...! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven," I feel that this is what the church tends to do to gay and lesbian persons. When I hear Jesus describing religious leaders who "tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them," I see our doing this to gay and lesbian persons when we tell them that they must change (an impossible burden for most) or remain celibate, thus denying them the fulfillment demonstrated in countless same-sex committed relationships. I suspect that you will say that I, on the other hand, am leading such persons astray with false teaching, and I realize that this must also be considered a possibility. But when I see how Jesus embraced those who had violated purity laws, I would rather risk erring on what I believe to be the side of grace.

I appreciate your comments on "conscience" in the closing paragraphs of your statement. I believe that we are a denomination which has upheld the right of persons within our church to differ in matters of conscience on those things "which do not strike at the root of Christianity."...I know pastors whose beliefs have led them in directions other than mine. After the "Reimagining Conference" one of the pastors in the district which I served as superintendent held meetings about this in his church at which he gave suggestions to members of his congregation of places to which the church could direct its giving in lieu of paying apportionments. This was certainly a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of par. 331.2f of "The Book of Discipline." However, it never occurred to me to bring charges against this pastor. I understood that this was a matter of conscience on his part, and on the part of some of the members of his congregation....

Though we have a broad consensus and history within our denomination around doctrine concerning baptism, we do realize that there are some pastors and laity within the church whose understanding of Scripture leads them in different directions. At our last General Conference, during the consideration of the Baptism Study, Greg Stover reported that his legislative section had softened the language about re-baptism to "reconcile the concerns of those who want a very firm understanding of our baptismal theology expressed on one hand and those who want to provide room for pastoral conscience on the other." Riley Case supported this position, saying, "This is the wrong issue on which to take an absolutist stand. Let us have unity on essentials, but I hope this is not what we as a General Conference affirm as an essential of the faith. It is a non-essential. Let us have liberty." I support Greg Stover's position on this issue, "to provide room for pastoral conscience." However, I would see our doctrine of baptism as more "an essential of the faith" than our teaching on human sexuality....

I hope that you will also heed the admonitions of Phil Wogaman in his testimony at the trial about the dangers of imposing coercive legislation in areas where there is not broad consensus within the church. To move our denomination in this direction is to change its fundamental character. As some future point you may on a matter of conscience be in a minority position and find yourself in the same situation as do I and others now, and I have no desire to see The United Methodist Church exclude you. It is true that we have had essentially the same basic statement since 1972 in what is now the last paragraph of par. 65.G in the Social Principles, and that this has been reaffirmed by a majority vote each subsequent four years. It is also true that approximately 40% of the delegates to the 1996 General Conference voted to change that wording.... Is it wise to push for coercive legislation in the face of a 60-40 division?...

When parishioners approach us to request a service of holy union we surely have the option of saying that we are forbidden to do this, and to refer them to Metropolitan Community Church or to another body. But if we are serving a congregation that welcomes and accepts gay and lesbian persons into its membership, then we cannot do this and fulfill our pastoral responsibility. You seem to be saying that your conscience will not permit us to exercise our conscience and still remain as pastors in The United Methodist Church. I ask your prayerful consideration of our dilemma, and that of those to whom we minister.

Chester V. Chambers, retired member
West Ohio Annual Conference
presently serving part-time as associate pastor of Monroe Street United Methodist Church, Toledo, Ohio
April 8, 1998