I have been in the Philippines for about two weeks with a meeting of the Worldwide UMC Study Committee and the Connectional Table. It was powerful to gain the perspective of the the Philipino UMC members. We heard two days of testimony from them about their desire to be autonomous from the UMC. Before they were conquered by the Spanish 400 years ago, the Philippines were Muslim. Then the Roman Catholic Church and the state combined to oppress the people in every way imaginable. In 1896 they revolted, then the US had its war with Spain and we took over until after WWII. At first we treated them about as badly as the Spanish. Our saving grace was liberating the Philippines from the Japanese.
UMC missions began in the Philippines around the same time as the US occupation. The country was divided up among US denominations. The UMC’s in the Philippines were enculturated with US church polity, and their has been tension ever since. There are around 228,000 UM’s there now; in 24 annual conferences. The overwhelming desire that I heard was for independence to form their own church and not be so US-centric. They need the money the US UMC provides but want to go their own way.
I don’t blame them. I’m happy that we have been able to facilitate ministry there. It’s a powerful ministry and we saw it first-hand. The worship service I attended at Puno UMC was fantastic. We were there for hours, but it seemed much shorter. The church was filled with young people and was Spirit-filled! That kind of vibrancy is something I would hate to miss if the Philipino UMC becomes autonomous. There is so much that we can learn from indigenous churches!
At the Worldwide UMC Study Committee we spent hours debating issues and finally came to the decision that whether or not the constitutional amendments are passed as the vote is announced next week at the Council of Bishops, we do not want to resubmit them to General Conference. Of course, that opinion may change, but I think there are other legislative ways to protect both local freedom and connectionalism. We must remain a connectional church. It would be much easier, in my opinion, to call all UM Central Conferences “Jusrisdictions” outside the US, and keep the 5 current jursidictions in the US. One of the biggest developments was our vote of 12-1 to keep the Social Principles and all issues about Human Sexuality at the General Conference level. This includes all of Par. 304 about minimum ministerial credentialing. I am very pleased with this vote.
We must uphold our polity and not let money or sexuality issues drive our ecclesiology. I will say more about my Philipino experience as I recover from jet-lag, introductory visits, and our Cabinet meeting today. Visiting the UM mission at the Payatas trash dump is something you have got to hear about. Jesus was crucified on a trash dump, and at Payatas we saw his resurrection in the midst of garbage. Such is our shared ministry, to bring good from bad; and unashamedly take Christ to a hurting world.