Some 200 clergy members and laity attended a forum here on how United Methodists should be in ministry to and with LGBTQ persons.
The July 23 event, organized by the Middle Philippines Conference and John Wesley Academy, included a briefing on how divisions over church law on homosexuality affected General Conference 2016, held May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon.
Many who participated felt the forum was overdue and needs to be followed by other opportunities for discussion.
“This forum is like the first ripple in the water,” said Rio Anne B. Dizon, a United Methodist deaconess who served as lay delegate to General Conference 2016.
She and a clergy delegate, the Rev. Apolinario Cunanan, spoke to the forum about General Conference 2016.
Middle Philippines Conference lay leader Rey Samonte said LGBTQ issues have proven divisive, which in his view increases the need for forums promoting discussion and learning.
Manila Area Bishop Rodolfo Juan agreed that the denomination is in great tension over whether church teachings on homosexuality should be maintained.
“Let us remain united,” Juan said. “We will be steadfast and open to discuss issues like this.”
Juan made clear that he supports current church law.
“Let us continue to pray for the UMC to more fervently uphold the Book of Discipline, and believe what the Bible says – live by it and with it,” he said.
Juan added: “Marriage is between man and woman. If (people) are openly professing they are LGBTQs, let us understand them and provide special ministries for them. But let us make it clear to them that the UMC stands for the truth. We are for no same-sex marriage, and `no’ to ordination of lesbians and gays. But we need to affirm to them that we do love them, and we accept them in the church.”
Retired United Methodist Bishop Daniel Arichea was glad the forum occurred but said future events need to be more inclusive. The retired Filipino bishop did not attend the forum, but talked with United Methodist News Service about the event.
“First, we should make sure of LGBT presence and participation,” Arichea said. “This is simply fair. They are the `issue’ and yet they are not participants in the discussion?”
Arichea also said such forums need to acknowledge differing perspectives on Bible passages related to homosexuality.
The Rev. Israel Alvaran, like Arichea, did not attend the forum but had heard reports on it. He was glad it happened, but warned against an “us vs. them” approach, even one of compassionate intentions.
“When we see LGBTQ persons as `issues’ and treat them as problems to be solved, we have already judged them and miss the opportunity for gracious conversation and ministry,” said Alvaran, a Filipino United Methodist elder who works in the United States for the Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial United Methodist group which advocates changing church law related to homosexuality.
Dr. Glenn Paraso, chair of the board of trustees of Wesleyan University-Philippines, was happy the forum occurred, whatever its limitations.
“It helps us understand what special ministries we can give (LGBTQ people) in order to enhance relationships,” he said. “It’s all about relationships, and (our) relationship with the Lord is the standard.”
The forum featured a panel discussion, with the panel consisting of a clergy member, a lay woman, a young person, a psychologist and a deaconess.
May Lacap, the young people’s representative, said of LGBTQ persons: “I love them. They were created by God as well. We are pro-homosexuals but not to marriage. Our questions are: `How do we approach them? How do we help them? How do we lead them back to themselves?’”
Henry Cocoy Nacpil, a psychologist, said that homosexuality once was treated as a psychological problem or illness. He stressed that 42 years ago homosexuality was officially removed by the American Psychiatric Association from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
“Some psychologists and psychiatrists still hold negative personal attitudes toward gender orientation,” Nacpil noted.
The Rev. Arvin Corpuz, Aurora district superintendent and a forum participant, said he separates the “being from the doing. I am against the practice but I am not against the person.”
He emphasized that Christians must not be judgmental but rather should think of ways to minister to and with LGBTQ persons, including bringing them to church.
Need for wisdom
Rachel de la Cruz, a United Methodist deaconess, said that this forum was a good launching off place for additional holy conversations and theological discussion.
“Our group is just starting to discuss this,” she said. “There are many questions to be answered. This shall continue.”
Pacifico B. Aniag president of Wesleyan University-Philippines, was glad his school was supporting the forum.
“We really have to orient not only our church members but all people on the issue,” he said.
The audience members asked for direction for both clergy and laity in how better to minister to and with LGBTQ persons.
Dizon said, “The questions from the youth and adult alike proved that the LGBTQ issue really concerns the church, but it remained taboo for the longest time.”
She added: "The voices from the plenary stirred my thoughts and my heart. Our church needs the wisdom on how to deal with this long pressing but unattended issue. The world is our parish. Therefore, the world's concerns are also the UMC's concern.”
Gladys Mangiduyos is a UMNS correspondent in the Philippines. She’s also the director of John Wesley Academy and helped organize the forum described in this article.
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