This piece is by Norma Dollaga, Kapatirang Simbahan Para a Bayan (KASIMBAYAN) / Ecumenical Center for Development. Ms. Dollaga is a deaconess in the Philippines Central Conference. This piece is written in response to the recently announced non-ratification of two amendments to the United Methodist Church's constitution regarding gender justice. It originally appear on Ms. Dollaga's personal blog, patentero, and is republished with the permission of the author.
“If voted and so declared by the Council of Bishops, ¶ 4 would read:
"The United Methodist Church is part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ.
"The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection. In the United Methodist church, no conference or another organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability, or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.”
Unfortunately, the amendment on women’s equality did not get enough vote to legislate that very important provision. However, the failure of the church to consider the said amendment does not define the totality of the church. It becomes a parable of the Church’s failure to celebrate grace, inclusive community and a welcoming church for everyone.
The parable goes like this:
“There was once a church who longs to fulfil and live out the message of Jesus Christ. It kept on proclaiming about how Jesus welcomed everyone in the table of communion, including the outcasts and the despicable ones. That Jesus welcomes those who, according to the standard of the empire, are deemed as problems of society. He welcomes even the sinners who discriminated and exploited the people, as long as they are willing to repent and join him in his cause. Jesus loves the children. He welcomed the women as his disciples and entrusted to Mary of Magdala, the most important news of resurrection becomes the theological basis of being church today. Jesus commissioned and sent her out: GO AND TELL. She was an apostle par excellence.
"Yet, as the church lives and ages, it looks like it has forgotten by heart the gift of humanity in female and male persons, in women and men. It has failed remember that our faith impels us to protect each one’s dignity, and nourish the gift of equality given us by God. The church becomes comfortable in accepting the poisonous normalcy of patriarchy that breeds inequality and discrimination.
"But there is a spirit ponders upon the gifts and this spirit that cannot be silenced within the church. This spirit cries out against the church system when the church becomes accustomed to the practice of patriarchy that marginalizes, discriminates, and promotes inequality. Thus, in a practical and humble action, this restless spirit tries to call the attention of the church and offered a proposed amendment. It takes only a practical and logical sense, and deep spiritual eyes to discern the value of the amendment. But lo and behold, this envisioned bequest did not translate into a vote that would make it truly a gift to the next generation!
"Today’s generation could have taken this historic moment to make a decision to truly affirm women’s place in the United Methodist Church’s constitution. Sadly, today’s generation made instead an oversight in perpetuating inequality within the church."
It continues the parable of ingratitude and the inability to celebrate to the gift of community, humanity, and solidarity. The church has become complacent and has let go not only of its priestly role, but also its crucial prophetic task.
The dignity, beauty, grace of LIFE and humanity is God’s gift to us. The protection, nourishment, and solidarity are our ways to honour these gifts. Today, it is not included in the church law, and so we wonder if the church could even speak of it within the ambit of love.
Those who voted for the amendment, and all who voted against it are part of the body of Christ. There are internal contradictions within and amongst us. Paul reminds us that we have to strive to make the greatest gift of love in concrete terms.
One thing is sure: the daughters of Zelophehad of modern times will continue and keep on knocking at the doors of justice and equality. They will not stop until strands of I justice and discrimination in church whether implicit or explicit will be dismantled. This we will do in memory of our foremothers who did trailblazing in eradicating discrimination and exclusion of women from the church and society. There is no other option but to pursue the dream of justice and equality.