Commentary: Keep the main thing the main thing

From the very beginning, the Wesleyan movement’s missional charge is, from the words of John Wesley, “to reform the nation and, in particular, the Church; and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.” At the very core of who we are as a people called Methodists and whose we are as people of God, we are mandated to make disciples of Jesus Christ and to participate in God’s ongoing mission to redeem and restore a broken world.

As a Filipino-American, I realize that the issue on human sexuality is “a main thing” with the American society and somehow vital in the mission and ministry of the church. 

The Rev. Edgar De Jesus. Photo courtesy the Rev. Edgar De Jesus.
The Rev. Edgar De Jesus
Photo courtesy the Rev. Edgar De Jesus
Growing up in the Philippines, human sexuality is important, but not central to our common life or to our Christian core beliefs and theology. As a predominantly Catholic nation, a majority of Filipinos recognize marriage as a “union between a man and a woman.” However, tolerance for the LGBTQ community in the Philippines has increased over the years due to greater education on sexual orientation and gender identity issues as well as the growing visibility and political activism of the LGBTQ community. The fact remains, however, that same-sex marriage is still not legally recognized in the Philippines, and the LGBTQ community is not protected by any civil rights law.

Though I cannot speak for the entire 50-member Filipino delegation coming to the 2019 General Conference, I strongly believe that the Filipino United Methodists are more focused on how we make the Gospel relevant within the context of the Philippines, as well as how the church can be more engaged in confronting the “principalities and powers” such as systemic poverty, injustice, human rights violence and the degradation of God’s creation.

When the Filipinos gather in St. Louis for the special General Conference, they are going to deal with an issue that is primarily a U.S. United Methodist issue. I say this because the General Conference is always a forum where 90 percent of the business is U.S.-related. And I’m sure that this is also the concern of central conference delegates from Europe and Africa. 

That is why there are Filipino Methodists — including myself — who are still prayerfully aspiring that one day The United Methodist Church in the Philippines will become fully autonomous. 

Currently, The United Methodist Church in the Philippines is the only non-autonomous church in all of Asia. Retired Bishop Daniel Arichea has said that our aspiration of autonomy “is not about cutting or severing relationships with the UMC-USA, but it’s about redefining this relationship, so that the Philippine church becomes a full partner rather than a mother-daughter relationship or even worse: a branch of the American church.”

When the Filipinos gather in St. Louis, we shall rise above this divisive issue and demonstrate the Gospel’s mandate to “keep the main thing the main thing.” On Feb. 22, a day before the start of the General Conference, we will launch the Global Filipino United Methodist Movement through the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists. 

According to the latest research, there are 10.24 million Filipinos living overseas in more than 200 countries. Because of this vast diaspora of Filipinos globally, the Global Filipino United Methodist Movement is being birthed with three main goals:

• First, launch new faith communities.
• Second, strengthen existing Filipino congregations.
• Third, train and deploy Filipino clergy and lay leadership. 

The National Association of Filipino American United Methodists, in cooperation with the Philippines Central Conference, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and Discipleship Ministries, saw the opportunity to reach out and partner with congregations, conferences, missionaries and pioneering pastors. 

When the Filipinos gather in St. Louis, we are committed to the unity of The United Methodist Church. The basis of our primary commitment to unity is Jesus Christ. Into Jesus Christ we, with all members of the Church, were baptized. We, with all members of our church, have vowed in our Baptismal Covenant to “be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church, and do all in (our) power to strengthen its ministries.”

NAFAUM has been following closely the conversations across our global connectional church led by the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward, and we recognize that in spite of their faithful leadership in this discernment process, there remain principled differences on the issue at hand.  

Recognizing that we are “not of the same mind” within the Filipino-American community, NAFAUM believes that the One Church Plan stands out as one that carries forward into the future those Wesleyan values we hold so dearly — love for God and love for neighbors, compassion and justice for the marginalized, and further preservation of the spirit of unity and connectionalism within our United Methodist Church. 

When Filipinos gather in St. Louis, we invite the Council of Bishops, delegates, general agencies and participants to join with us in praying that we “keep the main thing, the main thing.” And the main thing is the centrality of our faith in Jesus Christ, the Humble Servant and the Risen One, who draws us into profound community with one another in love and unity to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. With God’s grace, let us be courageous to move forward by keeping the main thing the main thing!

De Jesus is president of the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists, a clergy member of the North Carolina Conference and lead pastor of Davis Street United Methodist Church in Burlington, North Carolina.

News media contact: Vicki Brown, 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umnews.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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