Two hundred participants gathered recently at Central United Methodist Church to engage in conversation on how to be in ministry with the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning) people.
The Rev. Eleazer Fernandez, president of Union Theological Seminary, strongly emphasized the need to re-frame the discourse. "The issue is not homosexuality but heterosexism," he said.
Central Church’s pastor, the Rev. Rubynell Estrella, called the Feb. 8 event a “historical forum of a Christ centered-church reaching out to the least, the last and the lost, regardless of gender, status and race."
The forum was hosted by the National Association of Filipino-American United Methodists, Love Your Neighbor Coalition, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and Union Theological Seminary-Philippines.
Participating groups also included Reconciling Ministries Network teams from the U.S. Pacific Northwest, Oregon-Idaho and California-Pacific conferences and the Methodist Federation for Social Action.
Provide safe, sacred space
Manila Area Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan, who noted that "the issue is divisive but an important one," shared a statement from the Philippines Central Conference College of Bishops:
"We advocate the need for every United Methodist to have a safe and sacred space to discern God's will and purpose for the Church. Every person's confession and choice must be regarded with due recognition and respect. Every person's sacred worth is treasured regardless of gender orientation and preference.
We prayerfully join all United Methodists in their hopes that the 2016 General Conference will lead us into a more inclusive and forward-looking future where our differences on issues concerning human sexuality are finally resolved.
With compassion, provide for them safe sanctuaries in their local churches. We need to promote compassion and acceptance for gays and lesbians."
Retired Bishop Daniel Arichea Jr., who was part of a 2014 Connectional Table dialogue on human sexuality, invoked the commandment to “love thy neighbor.”
Arichea quoted the Apostle Paul by way of explanation:
"When the unity of the community was undermined by the gift of speaking in tongues, Paul produced the most exalted passage on love, which, as expected, begins with the basic problem that was undermining the unity of the community: I may be able to speak many languages, including the language of angels, but if I do not love people, I am like a clanging bell."
The Rev. Liberato “Levi” Bautista, who heads the U.N. office of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, pointed out that human rights apply to all people.
"The aspiration is the affirmation of the universality, indivisibility, and interdependence of human rights in what peoples, nations, and institutions say and do," he said, “but especially in what they inscribe in texts, be it in secular or religious documents, that describe their foundational beliefs and mission."
Bautista reminded the forum to be cautious with words that invoke violence. "We must be careful that what we write in texts do not hurt,” he explained. “While words don't kill just like bullets do, hurtful and discriminatory words can inspire others to commit acts beyond simply hate and bigotry into acts of violence."
'I have had enough'
Although the forum was scheduled immediately after a briefing for Philippines delegates to the denominations 2016 General Conference, not everyone was interested.
One clergy delegate, who declined to be named, said he would not attend the forum because “I have had enough of that issue.”
The Rev. Jonathan Razon, from Northeast Philippines, said he believes the process of holy conferencing is needed for divisive issues such as the full inclusion of LGBTQ.
"I am not for same-sex marriage but I am open to respect them and give them space,” he said. “I will not drive them away, there is always a way to be together in unity by having holy conferencing."
The Rev. Dexter Ceballos wondered if separation was the answer, since he doesn’t believe either side will change their opinions. "In certain scenarios, could separation be the logical solution?"
But he added that conversation is part of the healing process, and thought the forum offered a chance for people to understand the struggles of the LGBTQ people.
The Rev. Israel I. Alvaran, lead organizer of the event with the Rev. Nestor Gerente and Deacon Haniel Garibay, has a broader goal. Alvaran is an organizer with Reconciling Ministries Network, an advocacy group that seeks greater inclusion of LGBTQ individuals in the life of the church.
"My dream is to have some UMC congregations in the Philippines to publicly declare themselves as open, welcoming, and reconciling communities that will embrace and love everyone regardless of race, sex, class, gender identity, and sexual orientation," he said.
The Rev. Kakay Pamaran of Metropolitan Community Church, pointed out that diversity can lead to friendship and unity.
A statement from Union Theological Seminary’s Center for Gender and Sexuality — authored by the Rev Lizette Tapia-Raquel, who also helped facilitate the discussion — affirmed the seminary’s commitment “to stand in solidarity with those struggling for equal rights and gender justice and to be a sanctuary for the victims of gender violence."
The gathering was not about whether people can love someone of the same sex, she reported, but about the church and "how we follow Jesus's commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
"There are people crying out for acceptance in the United Methodist Church,” Tapia-Raquel said. “Let us listen to them and find the courage to truly follow the Christ who embodied radical love."
Mangiduyos is a correspondent for United Methodist News Service. She also was a panelist at the forum.
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