Reflections on the Philipino case

     The United Methodist Church continues to amaze many. Recently, the Central Conferences of The United Methodist Church were amazed to hear that should they want to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, as is happening in the United States, they cannot do so using Paragraph 2553, currently being used by American Conservatives. This is so because the said paragraphs has been judged to apply to The USA only. This, apparently, is the “ruling” given by the current Council of Bishops President after being asked to rule on this matter by the newly elected bishops of the Philippines Central Conference. Clearly  this interpretation does not affect the Philippines Central Conference alone but all Central conferences of the united Methodist  Church in Europe and Africa. This cannot go unchallenged. This action raises two questions: First, why should bishops ask an apparent question of law to a fellow bishop than ask the Judicial Council mandated by the Church to deal with such questions?   Second, does this not put Central conference bishops in a second-class position where they must consult the first-class bishops before they decide? As a delegate to the General Conference, I do not believe that paragraph 2553 was meant for the American United Methodists alone. It is the law for the whole Denomination. My recollection is that the implementation of this paragraph was to be delayed for the Central Conferences until after the sitting of the 2020 General Conference to accommodate time needed for translations to take place. That  2020 General Conference has not yet sat and is now scheduled for 2024. This then means that that paragraph cannot expire for Central Conferences until after the said General Conference to give the same opportunity to Congregations in the Central Conferences the same opportunity to disaffiliate should they feel the UMC is no longer the place for them to do ministry. The main issue that bothers us about this issue is not whether Central Conferences should use this paragraph or not. It is the repeated segregated interpretation of church law by the Council of Bishops that bothers us a lot. We assumed that the United Methodist Church is one Church on four continents, under one Church law and under one judiciary system. In recent times we seeing  a very worrying trend where Central Conferences are treated differently than the USA . The most disturbing factor is the danger this trend is posing our much-respected governance system of our beloved church where the doctrine of separation of powers is held in high esteem. We see in the Philippines case the Executive is crossing governance lines usurping the role and powers of the Judiciary. In that case the bishops are asking themselves a question of law and respond to it themselves and pass a declaratory order to the entire Church! This is a repeat of the issue on the election of bishops past their retirement ages. Such an important case  was relegated to the desires of  colleges of bishops in Central Conferences to decide. Obviously there was a clear conflict of interest as those affected were given the opportunity to decide on a matter affecting their interests. In Africa they chose to protect their interests. The rampant disobedience to Church law that we have seen in the USA is emanating directly from this kind of dealing with matters of Church law. For us this is a fore – taste of what the post separation UMC will look like especially should the regionalization of the denomination occurs as is proposed by the Christmas Covenant proposed legislation. Central Conferences will be relegated to the peripherals of power as all major decisions about the Church will be classified as American only matters!

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