Friday, August 3, 2018

What are United Methodist views on homosexuality in the Philippines?

 Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Recently, United Methodist Insight published a story about students at a United Methodist seminary in the Philippines participating in the Manila Pride March. The story includes pro-LGBT quotes from several United Methodist youth leaders.

For those who have a dichotomous view of regional opinions on homosexuality in The United Methodist Church, this story might be surprising or confusing. Often, the narrative in the UMC goes that northern and western Americans (and Europeans) are pro-gay marriage and gay ordination in the UMC, whereas southern Americans, Africans, and Asians (i.e., Filipinos) are anti-gay marriage and gay ordination. Yet there are reasons to be wary of overly simplistic narratives, including this one.

First, we should not assume that the conversations happening about homosexuality are the same in all places in the world. There are significant differences between countries where gay marriage is legal vs. countries where gay marriage is not legal vs. countries where homosexuality itself is a crime. There are differences between theology, marriage, ordination, membership, and acceptance in other aspects of the life of the church. These are all different conversations, and different countries are having (or not having) different conversations about homosexuality. Americans, however, tend to conflate this wide range of conversations into a binary pro/con conversation that mirrors our own experiences of the theological/culture wars in this country.

Second, as most Americans experience in their own areas, there are a range of opinions, even in supposed liberal or conservative areas of the US. There are conservative United Methodists in Oregon, and there are liberal United Methodists in Mississippi. Geography correlates with but does not determine one's views on homosexuality (or any other topic). We should not be surprised if the same is true elsewhere, including the Philippines.

Given these considerations, where then does The United Methodists Church in the Philippines stand on questions related to homosexuality?

A word about the context of the Philippines is in order. The Philippines as a whole actually has relatively accepting views on homosexuality, more so on average than the United States, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study. Gay sex is not criminalized. Gay marriage, however, is not legal in the Philippines, though there is a case under consideration by the Filipino Supreme Court that could change that. The Philippines is facing a variety of justice-related challenges under the rule of current strongman president Rodrigo Duterte. While LGBTQIA+ Filipinos seek for greater rights, gay rights issues are only one of a variety of active rights struggles in the Philippines currently.

Filipino United Methodists exist as a small minority church within that context. The country is overwhelmingly Catholic, and United Methodists are a minority within the country's Protestant minority. Nevertheless, Filipino United Methodists have some good connections to the center of society in realms such as education, health, and social services. Thus, Filipino United Methodists also have a different sense of their relationship to the rest of society than American United Methodists, who, while recognizing America's religious diversity, retain some sense of when they were the country's largest denomination.

These two pieces of background set up a better understanding of Filipino United Methodist views on homosexuality. In short, Filipino United Methodists are, on the whole, opposed to gay ordination and gay marriage in the church, but a variety of opinions exist, and Filipinos do not see this issue as central to the church's identity.

As the article about the seminarian students clearly shows, there are Filipino United Methodists who are pro-LGBT inclusion in the church. Some might see the students in this article as a minority fringe in the church, but there are other indications that a variety of opinions exist. A United Methodist forum on LGBTQ issues held in 2016 gives some sense of the variety of opinions held by Filipino United Methodists. Retired Filipino Bishop Daniel Arichea has been public in his support for gay rights in the church, after his son came out as gay. As in the US, younger and more urban United Methodists tend to be more supportive of LGBTQ inclusion.

The majority of Filipino United Methodists do remain opposed to gay ordination and gay marriage in the church (though the latter is currently less pressing, since as noted, Filipino law does not allow for gay marriage). Nevertheless, Filipino colleagues have suggested that the division of opinion is perhaps somewhere in the 70/30 to 60/40 range of opposed/affirming.

What is just as important to note is that, whatever the exact percentage of opinions in various camps, this issue is not as salient in the Philippines as it is in the United States. In the United States, views on homosexuality are a litmus test in the culture wars and theological wars in the UMC. In the Philippines, this issue is one among many issues facing the church and the culture. It is not the most pressing, and it does not serve as a proxy for people's views on other political, social, and theological issues in the same way that it does in the US.

Moreover, given the denomination's role in Filipino society and overall Filipino views on sexuality, there are good reasons for even those opposed to homosexuality in the UMC in the Philippines to not make this opposition a central issue for the church. Minority religious groups in general pick and choose carefully what issues they want to challenge society on. Currently, the UMC is trying to challenge the Filipino government on a variety of other issues - extra-judicial killings and indigenous rights among them. Challenging prevailing social norms could reduce the support they need from people outside the UMC to make traction with the government on these other issues.

None of this is predicative of what Filipino delegates will do when they are in the global United Methodist context of General Conference 2019. As two recent UMNS stories ([1] and [2]) make clear, there are Filipino United Methodists supportive of the One Church Plan, and there are those supportive of the Traditional Plan. This is, however, a reminder to see all people and regions in the connection as complex, with a variety of objectives and views that cannot be quickly reduced to the objectives and views that people in our own contexts hold.

1 comment:

  1. David, who wrote this post? And I'd appreciate it if you could refer to our publication as "United Methodist Insight," as we are sponsored by a local United Methodist congregation. Thanks.