This blog post is one in a series containing responses to the denomination's proposed ecclesiology document, "Wonder, Love and Praise." These responses are written by United Methodist scholars and practitioners around the world. This piece is written by Norma Dollaga, a deaconess from the Philippines Annual Conference of the Manila Episcopal Area - Philippines Central Conference. Her episcopal appointment is at Kapatirang Simbahan Para a Bayan (KASIMBAYAN) / Ecumenical Center for Development.
The Lenten season is always an invitation to ponder upon the path that Jesus has taken, the choices he made, and the love he shared. His passion, death, and resurrection have become who we are now as a Church.
I read with great interest an important church document – Wonder, Love, and Praise. As I reflect upon it, I was wondering what does it mean to be a church in the context of poverty, hunger, homelessness, imperialist war, exploitation, oppression, human trafficking, landlessness of the peasantry, climate change, militarism and indigenous people as they defend their land and long for agrarian reform; of workers fighting for their rights, peace and human rights activists; and drug-related killings in the name of war on drugs. The killings happen with impunity. The Church faces the challenges for the prophetic and priestly response. She is always in the kairos moment – or at the crossroads, how it could nurture the grace and the power of resurrection!
I weep inquiring whether it is still true that grace is for all people, as I am reminded of a boy who could not even shed a tear for the death of his father who was a victim of drug-related killing right at the very shanty they considered as home. He could not even afford to mourn and stay at the wake, as he needed to work at the fish port, otherwise, the family would not be able to have their meals. Where is the grace promised in a heart- wrenching situation when even weeping is denied to poor ones?
I seek the Holy Spirit to shepherd me in understanding that the saving love of God is transformative. How do we as a church become a body that participates in the radical LOVE of God that would enable us to stand side by side with the “blessed poor”? Are they not the exploited and the oppressed? They are blessed with the gift of knowing and visioning a transformed world where exploitation exists no more, but rather is replaced with genuine love and justice that become a norm in any relationships. Thus, SALVATION is experienced in a concrete sense through a transformed community manifested when exploitation is eradicated.
Who are we as Church? What defines our being? Are we overcoming our internal contradictions by following the greatest commandment? (Matthew 22:36-40)? Have we become now as she promised to be? Do we belong in the world – as salt of the earth, integrated, immersed in the journey of the people towards the resurrection of humanity – not just a few, but all.
Are we afraid to be irrelevant? Not because we have not responded to the needs of the broken world, but the Church would no longer be needed because the HEAVEN on earth has come, and that GRACE and REDEMPTION are no longer confined in conferencing, in the fellowship of believers, in the edifices and the endless engagements with the principalities that destroy the great destiny and design for humanity: the love and joy.
When the exploitation of one against another, personal and structural shall have ceased, HEAVEN shall replace the salvific work and mission of the church.
Meanwhile, we struggle to become a church, to be a Church. This process leads us to wonder, love and praise!
The teachings and preaching of the Church are much needed today. She needs to fulfill her prophetic role to denounce injustice, to proclaim gospel wisdom and values, and to work for ethical alternatives to poverty, want, the sufferings of the many – alternatives to the increasing structural violence of exploitation and oppression. It is right and just to condemn unjust practices that have been well-institutionalized in the economic, political, and cultural life of society.
We need a Church that will take the side of the poor who have been wronged by the system that benefits only the rich and powerful elites. We need a Church that denounces the powers-that-be, who have entitled themselves to an exclusive right to accumulate properties, profits, and personal benefits at the expense the poor. We need a Church that will align herself with farmers asserting their right to own the land, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and to share these with the people. We need a Church that will not hesitate to cry out loud along with the workers as they demand living family wages and security of jobs. We need a Church that would denounce the evil of contractualization, an invention of capitalism to advance its greedy purpose. We need a Church scandalized by any curtailment of people’s freedom to resist the fetters of oppression and the seduction of corruption. We need a Church that seeks the release of political prisoners put behind bars because they lived out teachings of the prophets to defend the rights of the poor and to struggle for their emancipation.
We need a Church that would stand with the people in claiming the people’s right to self-determination, including the right to resist and engage in liberation movements to unshackle themselves from slavery, exploitation, oppression (Exodus 1:1-10:5). The historic Exodus narrative could be a shining exemplary for those desirous of justice and peace and prosperity for all. It was wrong was for Pharaoh to enslave the Hebrews. It was right for slaves to defy and subvert the oppressive rule and go for a historic exodus. No one dared to say that God was not with them.
There will neither be harmony in this world that we consider our home nor common good in human community probable in a structure and system of society characterized by injustice. Where social justice is absent, love is far away and peace, distant. The Church’s participation in the journey of the people to a better life is always righteous. She is called to immersion in the hope and struggle of the poor for salvation and liberation.
A great priest, Fr. Joe Dizon, a humble priest of Cavite who died a simple man of God once said: “The Church will never go astray if it continues to be with the poor as they work and struggle for their resurrection from the many forms of “deaths” imposed upon them by the evils of injustice.”