Human Rights in the Philippines

by | Mar 9, 2020

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.

Romans 15:25-26

Among Presbyterian leaders, we often refer to our “connectional” nature.  This connectionalism informs all levels of our church:

  • We assume and encourage decision-making and mutual accountability by groups over individuals
  • We gather local churches into presbyteries, and encourage participation in ecumenical and interfaith efforts for the good of the local community
  • We send presbytery commissioners to synods and to the General Assembly, which meets every other year to discern the mission and leadership for the national church and provides guidance to churches, presbyteries, and synods
  • We participate in global ecumenical mission through formal gatherings such as the World Council of Churches and World Communion of Reformed Churches, through relationships with mission partners in different countries, and in individual relationships with local churches in other countries.

As a gear in this great connectional machine, I enjoy the greetings sections of Paul’s letters, when he celebrates connections between churches and church workers, and asks for prayers for churches in other areas.  This is a core function of the presbytery, and part of my hope in writing this column is to tell the story of our member churches, and to highlight concerns and joys of the wider church.  And our MMU always starts with a request for prayer for one of our member churches or ministries in San Gabriel Presbytery.

In our upcoming Presbytery meetings, we highlight our connectional nature in multiple ways.  On March 28th, we will hear from Mickie Choi and René Myers from our national church, and we will consider two overtures to be presented to this June’s General Assembly.  On May 30th, we welcome GA Co-Moderator Rev. Cindy Kohlmann and commission our commissioners Jennifer Ackerman and Maria Cacarnakis.  Throughout the year, we are referencing the Vision 2020 Team’s proposal that we strive to fulfill our mission as the PCUSA to be “Prayerful, Courageous, United, Serving, and Alive.”  In March we will consider what it means to be Courageous, and in May it works nicely to welcome the Co-Moderator and give thanks for being United in Christ.

Today and next week I wanted to highlight the overtures that are being presented to us for consideration on March 28th.  You can reference both by clicking these links:

 Today I am focusing on the Philippines, and specifically on the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, our sister denomination in the Philippines and the mother church of many of our own members.

Some of you may know of our long and deep connection with the Philippines.  Presbyterian missionaries were among the first Protestants in the islands, coming after the end of the Spanish-American War in 1899.  In 1901, Presbyterians founded Silliman University, the first American school in the Philippines.  In recent years, two of our GA Moderators are of Filipino heritage, and are both based in California:  Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow (2008-2010) and Rev. Dr. Neal Presa (2012-2014).  In our own presbytery, two of our congregations have Filipino-majority memberships:  Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church in Azusa and Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church in Eagle Rock.  And our own CRE Bong Bringas, Presbytery Moderator in 2016, serves on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

But you may not know about the struggles experienced in the Philippines in recent years.  Poverty, natural disasters, and human rights violations have severely impacted the quality of life.  Resolutions were passed by the General Assembly in 2006 and 2008 to ask for prayer and partnership with the UCCP, and to decry human rights violations in the Philippines, including the murder, abduction, or torture of dozens of UCCP pastors and leaders since 2001.  Currently, their violence and harassment has been given open governmental support, most recently in November 2019, when the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, of which the UCCP is an active member, was included on the list of “front organizations of local communist terrorist groups” by the Department of National Defense.  Police are now openly arresting pastors and church leaders with false accusations of attempted murder.

Frankly, when this overture was sent to us for consideration, my initial thought was it’s a no-brainer for our presbytery to concur with it.  But then I realized how little attention has been given to this issue by national media, the church, or myself.  So this is an opportunity for us to give thanks for our strong relationship with the people of the Philippines, to learn about the needs they are facing, and to step forward in love and support with our Filipino family, here and in the Philippines, as they seek God’s help for peace, justice, and health for all their people.

Let us pray for our sisters and brothers in Christ in the Philippines, and all who love and are concerned for them.