Monday, February 17, 2020

Igmedio Domingo: Philippine Central Conference Perspective on the Future of The United Methodist Church

Today’s post is by Rev. Igmedio Domingo, District Superintendent of the Southwest Metro Manila District in the Manila Episcopal Area and a signer of the Christmas Covenant. The post contains remarks made by Rev. Domingo at the Pre-General Conference Briefing. They are republished here with his permission.

I am honored and privileged to represent the Philippines Central Conference in this post. We seek to assert our rights within our Connection, and our desire to be included as an equal part of the global United Methodist Church - not just seen and treated as a subordinate member of our faith community.

Our vision AS A CHURCH in the Philippines is strongly founded and deeply anchored in the visionary prayer of Jesus “THAT THEY MAY BE ALL ONE” (John 17). We are one in mission, ministries, and service to all people, especially the marginalized and excluded, who are in need of God’s compassionate love.  Our vision of “unity in mission” is grounded in our unique Filipino cultural and political context wherein we continue to struggle against colonial influences. It is in our work to share the gospel of love that binds us. Our polity needs to reflect this vision.

We envision a Philippines Central Conference where human dignity, human rights, and the integrity of all people are upheld. We envision a United Methodist Church that respects and honors all, regardless of their race and ethnicity, political views, class, location, age, gender and gender identity, and sexual orientation. I believe that being Wesleyan means that we extend grace and love to all. We need to work for a church that promotes the highest standard of equality, justice, and fairness. There is too much arrogance, division, violence, and hate in our society and unfortunately, even in our church. Our division has brought so much agony, frustration, and pain in the body of Christ. Thus, our witness and mission to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world have suffered.

Extrajudicial killings, the murder of innocent lives, political and economic oppression, and even the murder of church people fighting for justice are the historical elements that continue to inspire us in the Philippines to raise our voices in this season before General Conference, that WE ARE STRONGLY UNITED, WE ARE DEEPLY ENGAGED IN MISSION and STRONGLY COMMITTED IN SERVICE.

As a central conference, we have a distinct missional context. We have a diverse culture with many languages. We minister in a country of 1,641 islands. We have three episcopal areas: Baguio (Ilocano region), Manila (Tagalog region), and Davao (Visayan region). We have differences in culture, location, language, and theological leanings, but we are united in being United Methodists. Our voice as a central conference has to be heard and our context understood and respected. Central conference perspectives should not be an afterthought. In fact, we should be an equal partner at the table envisioning the future of the church, and not just an audience whose perspectives are being asked after others have made plans and decisions that affect our mission work. This demands equity and respect.

Whatever happens after GC2020, I can assure you that the Philippines Central Conference will remain part of The United Methodist Church.

As a central conference of United Methodists in the Philippines, we are intensely opposed to any move that dissolves the United Methodist Church. We value the witness of the early church as shown in the book of Acts of the Apostles, wherein division and schism were avoided and unity in mission was their highest aspiration.

The PHILIPPINE CENTRAL CONFERENCE College of Bishops passed a UNITY STATEMENT dated last August 31, 2019. This statement strongly embraced Unity in Mission and also promotes our desired structural legacy that we can be proud of, namely:

1.    Locality or contextuality: that is why we have local churches, annual conferences and central conferences; being responsive to our missional context is obligatory.

2.    Connectionality in relationships; that is why there is a General Conference and a Council of Bishops; having a global identity and organic structure are necessary.

3.    Globality in inclusiveness; that is why the UMC reaches out in mutual relations with all governments and civil communities that promote Christian values and principles. Wesley said: “The world is my parish.”

It is clear to us in the Philippine Central Conference that a church empowered by God’s dynamic spirit and biblical wisdom requires that these structural legacies be maintained and promoted in any restructuring of the UMC. These principles are all opposed to the move to dissolve or splinter the UMC.

To support effective mission work across the connection, our Philippines Central Conference College of Bishops has recommended the following, and I quote:

1.    “The UMC is to be restructured into regional conferences, within which will remain central and jurisdictional conferences, annual conferences and local churches.

2.    “The UMC will remain as one global church in which regional, annual and local conferences are organic parts; but have the authority to decide their witness, mission and ministry, thus, preserving locality and connectionality.

3.    “The Council of Bishops shall be retained as both the living organic symbol of the globality of the UMC; and the mechanism for general and local oversight over all the UMC.

“These elements for restructuring the UMC will both preserve the organic integrity and identity of the UMC and make it free and responsive to the new world that is aborning.”

Parallel to this Resolution, the Rev. Jonathan Ulanday, a GC delegate from the Davao area, submitted a Petition dated September 18, 2019, entitled “Oppose Dissolution and Preserve the Unity of The United Methodist Church”. We believe keeping the UMC united against dissolution and schism is affirmed by the Preamble and Articles 4, 5, and 6 of The UMC Constitution.

This petition highlights the following principles that promote the unity and inclusiveness of the church described in the Preamble and Articles 4, 5, and 6 of The UMC Constitution:

1.    “Any form of structure and relationship that defines and treats one part of the church as a mere extension of another is colonial in nature and unjust.

2.    “Contextualization is a missional, structural, and connectional endeavor that is an expression of our historical unity and core heritage, church order, and discipline.

3.    “The diversity of our ministry and cultural contexts is real, but unity rooted in fulfilling the mission of the church can be maintained by identifying such differences and allowing for contextual authority to be exercised equitably by both central and jurisdictional conferences, or any regional structure formed by General Conference.”

This petition asks General Conference to:
1.    “Suspend all actions furthering any dissolution, disaffiliation, and separation plans in favor of preserving the unity of the church in compliance with our Constitution and the biblically founded values of unity, inclusiveness, and redemptive grace and mission in our Preamble, also the wisdom and practice of contextual central conference authority (Par. 31.5, Par. 31.6, and Par. 543).

2.    “Authorize the Connectional Table and the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters to jointly study and submit a report with proposals to the next General Conference session that preserves and strengthens the unity of the church in mission through a restructured polity that affirms and values broad contextual ministry policies and practices, including parity in contextual authority among existing central and jurisdictional conferences and/or any future regional bodies established by General Conference.”

As I close let me share a bit about the Christmas Covenant. Together with Rev. Dr. Betty Kazadi here and other central conference GC delegates and alternate delegates, I am a signatory to the Christmas Covenant. The Christmas Covenant is a vision coming from our central conferences that is guided by this frame, and I quote:

“As United Methodists from central conferences, we envision a Church that connects globally, engages in mission together, respects contextual ministry settings, celebrates the diversity of God’s creation in its many beautiful expressions, and values mutually empowering relationships in order to strengthen our core mission of evangelism, discipleship, and social witness for the transformation of the world. This is our covenant.”

The Christmas Covenant legislation will focus on establishing a regional conference structure for the future United Methodist Church. This legislation has been sent by the Philippines Annual Conference – Cavite to the General Conference. Possibly, it will be the only restructure proposal from central conferences. We are claiming our place at the table.

As we draw closer to General Conference this May, may we be one in prayer and strongly sustain our position to stand for UNITY IN MISSION, EVEN IF IT IS A RISK-TAKING MOVE. In any event, the Philippines Central Conference will seek to sustain ourselves and be part of The United Methodist Church.

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