Filipino bishops called for connectional unity and warned that schism would be harmful to many of those who call The United Methodist Church their spiritual home.
“We seek a way forward that allows respectful space for contextualized ministry, preserves and strengthens our connectional unity, and promotes vibrant United Methodist presence in as many places as possible,” the bishops said in a statement presented after the Council of Bishops’ November meeting in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
“We affirm our first general rule as promulgated by John Wesley, to do no harm. Any form of schism jeopardizes our witness to the world and is harmful to many who regard The United Methodist Church as their spiritual home.”
The Filipino bishops urged United Methodists in the Philippines to continue in holy conversation and prayer leading up to the 2019 General Conference.
While the letter did not endorse one of the Commission on the Way Forward plans headed to the special session in February, Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan of the Davao Episcopal Area said that the pastoral statement is a manifestation of their desire for unity for the Philippines United Methodist Church.
“As servant leaders, we call on all Filipino United Methodists to work together for a united stand and support the Council of Bishops. May we continue to journey together in prayer and in holy conversations as one church in Christ Jesus,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Council of Bishops, by a majority vote, recommended the One Church Plan “as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church” regarding ministry with LGBTQ individuals. Under the plan, decisions about whether to ordain LGBTQ clergy or to officiate at same-gender unions would be made closer to the congregational level.
In the letter, the Filipino bishops recognized the sense of uncertainty expressed by many over the future of The United Methodist Church. “Our church is not of one mind regarding matters of human sexuality, and this division has caused pain and harm to many.”
Bishop Pedro M. Torio Jr. of the Baguio Episcopal Area said that while he supports the Traditional Plan, he is committed to upholding unity. The Traditional Plan would retain the Book of Discipline's existing language banning ordination of “self-avowed practicing” homosexuals and holding same-sex marriages in churches. The plan would add measure to more strictly enforce those bans.
“The Philippines Central Conference College of Bishops statement is not explicitly endorsing any plan,” he said. “As a bishop who supports the Traditional Plan — my conservative theological views are well known in the Baguio Episcopal Area and even in the Commission on a Way Forward since I attended our first meeting — the pastoral statement is acceptable.
“While I still dream to have an autonomous church in the future, I maintain my commitment to uphold the Discipline and unity of The United Methodist Church. This is what my ordination and consecration vows mean. We must be together in our endeavor to multiply our Christian witness to the whole world as we approach the 2019 General Conference,” he said.
Retired Bishop Leo A. Soriano, who led the Davao area and spoke to United Methodist News Service after the meeting, said, “Our unity is based not on the sameness of our convictions or beliefs, but rather is founded in the love of God for all of us, by giving his son to suffer and die on the cross, for all of us, you and I included, no exemption.”
Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco of the Manila Episcopal Area echoed a commitment to unity.
“As bishops, we want to be faithful to our consecration to keep and maintain the unity of the church. Hence, we declare that we are one in supporting the unity of the worldwide church so that we will have a powerful witness to the world,” he said.
“We call upon the whole church to pray and ask God's leading in the special General Conference to help continue as The United Methodist Church as we move forward.”
Torio said the Baguio Episcopal Area cabinet is not projecting any course of action before the 2019 General Conference.
“We have agreed to pray for the called session. We seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we meet again as a cabinet and consult our Baguio Episcopal Area constituents after the called session. We will also seriously consider the plan and respect the freedom of the other episcopal areas within the Philippines Central Conference,” he said.
“So, let us not be afraid and let us not make any drastic course of action. God will lead us in careful discernment, grace-filled reflection, and contextually-relevant action in due time.”
In their pastoral letter, the bishops also affirmed that they value and celebrate the church’s global connection.
“Let us join together in fulfilling the prayer of Jesus Christ for the Church — that we may be one, so that ‘the world may believe.’ ”
Mangiduyos is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in the Philippines.