Filipinos discuss Way Forward plans

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More than 60 United Methodists attended a recent conversation at the Korean Central Methodist Church about the different plans developed by the Commission on a Way Forward regarding how the denomination should minister with LGBTQ individuals.

“To provide creative spaces and discerning processes in seeking a way forward for The United Methodist Church is the ultimate aim of our conversation,”  said Jennifer F. Meneses, executive secretary of the Philippines' Board of Women's Work, which organized the July 19 discussion. 

Acknowledging their lack of familiarity and inadequate information on the three plans — the details of which only became public on July 17 when the United Methodist Judicial Council’s October docket was published — Meneses said that there is a need to carefully and prayerfully study the commission’s document. 

The legislative proposals will be considered by a special General Conference that meets Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.

Another conversation, which included a speaker from the Wesleyan Covenant Association, an unofficial advocacy group, was held July 24 in Baguio City. The discussion was part of the Aldersgate Mission Conference, attended by hundreds of clergy members and deaconesses and led by United Methodist Bishop Pedro M. Torio Jr. of the Baguio Area. 

The discussion organized by the Board of Women's Work included an explanation of the three plans by two members of the Way Forward Commission, the Rev. Helen Cunanan-Manalac and Dave Nuckols.

Davao area Bishop Rodolfo Juan said the United Methodist Council of Bishops supports the One Church Plan. "We believe that this model will enable the whole denomination to continue her mission with inclusiveness and wider scope. Likewise, local churches and pastors are empowered to make objective decisions."

Manila area Bishop Ciriaco Francisco noted that the One Church Plan has space for both traditionalists and progressives and respects each other’s beliefs and gender orientation.

"Human sexuality is a gift that we should respect and appreciate,” Francisco said. “The basis of our unity is not human sexuality but Christ. In Christ, there is no male or female, Gentile or Jew, no slave or free. Christ removed the wall that separates. Furthermore, we can be one in mission."

Emma Cantor-Orate led the women and youth in an in-depth conversation after listening to a theological reflection by the Rev. Connie Semi Mella on having been created in God's image. Each group read a brief statement after the conversation.

The women affirmed “the dignity and value of all human beings,” the need for inclusiveness and the commitment to service as they voiced support for the One Church Plan. 

“We declare that we are witnesses of God’s love without impartiality and prejudices, accepting all human race as part of God’s creation with respect and without biases, serving the Lord God Almighty with full humility," the women’s statement said.

The youth stated: "We listen to understand, and not to judge, we respect everyone’s differences, we support, not control, we create a space to co-exist in the church."

In an interview with United Methodist News Service, two church members expressed their concern about the need for a safe space and inclusion for all who are part of the denomination.

Rolando M. Canda Jr., a young adult from St. Mark United Methodist Church in Sampaloc, Manila, emphasized that providing safe space would stop the harm against some church members.

"The bishops’ proposal is the best way forward that keeps the church united, focused on mission and eliminates the harmful language in the Book of Discipline,” he said in support of the One Church Plan. “It is not perfect, but I think it will take us to another level of seeking full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ community." 

Lauren Francesca Tapia Raquel from Central United Methodist Church said she associated the word “sanctuary” with the church.

"I think that should be the purpose of a church, a place where one can feel vulnerable yet completely safe, and more so, a place where one feels loved and accepted for everything one is."

The LGBTQ community faces discrimination on a daily basis, she declared. “Why not be the church that tells them, ‘You are loved, you are perfect as you are and your love and relationships are as important and significant as every other one out there’?”

The Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, spoke at the July 24 conversation on the importance of responding to the call of mission.

In an interview, Boyette said that his visit to the Philippines was mainly to introduce the association’s mission and explain the three plans being considered by the special General Conference.

“The best plan for who we are as United Methodists is the traditional plan; it continues our historic commitment, it makes us faithful to the teachings of the Bible, and to the Book of Discipline,” he said. “Other plans deviate from that."

Boyette said that the Wesleyan Covenant Association is not seeking to divide The United Methodist Church but wants it to remain faithful “to the tradition of Christians. There is no reason to change the teachings.”

The Rev. Phoebe Dorothy Larida-Bacayana, a campus minister at Aldersgate College in Solano Nueva Vizcaya, said she supported the Traditional Plan, “based on the Book of Discipline and based on my faith to our almighty and gracious God.”

Another supporter was the Rev. Noel Alfonso of Munoz United Methodist Church. “My personal stand is to remain faithful in the Christian teachings about human sexuality,” he explained. “Marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

The Rev. Henry Roque from the Northeast Pangasinan District said that he searched his heart and prayed for discernment in determining which of the three plans is the most acceptable to his conscience and faith.

“I am a pastor, my basic training and conviction affirm that the Traditional Plan provides a sound Biblical foundation about salvation, mission and ministry,” he said, calling it the most “Wesleyan” of the three options.

Mangiduyos is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in the Philippines. News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tennessee, (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]

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