Recently I attended a meeting of the Parents Reconciling Network Board in Chicago. As a part of our meeting we invited M Barclay from the RMN office to meet with us. M serves as the Communications Director, and they came to meet with us to talk about ways we could improve our communications through the use of social media and the Parents Reconciling Network (PRN) page on the RMN website. You may find our page HERE.
While reviewing the content of the page, someone noticed a picture that accompanied the information about the PRN Stole Project. Here is the picture that appears next to the Stoles Project information:
This picture has a lot of meaning for me. I told the group about the significance of this picture for me. The older man in this picture is the Rev. Chester Chambers. Chet was a member of the West OH Annual Conference, and Chet was not just any pastor: Chet was a champion of the oppressed and marginalized. I had the privilege of serving on the West Ohio cabinet with Chet in the 1990’s.
Early in my ministry in the West Ohio Conference I began to work with Chet. In his quiet and steady manner, Chet was a seeker of justice on many issues. At some point he shared this little booklet with me:
This mimeograph booklet consisting of 25 pages on 8 ½ by 14 sheets of paper spelled out the rationale for why the church in 1980 should change its position on the church’s treatment of LGBTQ+ persons. While it is written in the jargon of the 1980’s, the book is as relevant for the church now as then.
Of course in 1980, there were not many voices in the church advocating for the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the life of the church and in the society at large. In his booklet Chet answers eleven questions about the church and gay people. For example, in response to the question, “How should the church respond to gay people?”, Chet declares, “I weep that the church has nothing helpful to say to the millions of gay people in our society – that rather its pronouncements tend to push them toward despair. Our only message to gay persons is ‘repent’: thus laying on them an impossible burden. We thereby in effect exclude them from Christian fellowship and fail to help them wrestle with the ethical issues relevant in their life situations.” He goes on to cite the need to remove the “incompatible” phrase in the 1976 Book of Discipline.
My regret is that Chet did not live to see the “incompatible” and “prohibition” language removed from the Book of Discipline. Sadly, justice is yet delayed when it comes to the manner in which The UMC treats LGBTQ+ persons.
So it remains for the rest of us to continue to advocate for and to work for the changes that will bring justice to The UMC when it comes to our treatment of LGBTQ+ persons. We who continue in this work stand on the shoulders of persons like Chet Chambers who spoke out so courageously in days past. So let us continue to work for inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in The UMC today!
I give thanks to God for Chet Chambers and what his life and his witness have meant to so many of us who had the opportunity to know him and to work with him over the years.