|The Metropolitan Community Church of Quezon City
(Photo by Patrol ng Pilipino)
Every Sunday afternoon, a small building in Quezon City is filled with voices, singing praise songs that sound familiar to any church goer.
Reporter Ryan Chua and the Patrol ng Pilipino team arrived at the place while the church members were busy preparing for what they deem to be the most important day of the week, a day of praise and worship.
It appeared to be similar to any typical Christian church--- From the set-up of the altar, to the way their pastor was dressed to the members.
But people say this church is a “different” one.
The only difference is that the pastor, the officials and the members of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) are “different” in the eyes of society.
They are gays, lesbians and transsexuals, who grew up believing that it was wrong to be who they chose to be now.
But when they are in their church, they say they are freed from this belief and they are able to embrace both religion and homosexuality, two things, which the Church teaches, are impossible to reconcile.
It has been twelve years since Rev. Ceejay Agbayani, Administrative Pastor of MCC felt that he had to choose between accepting his chosen sexuality or following the teachings of the Church.
“May tumawag sa akin isang matanda matalik na kaibigan, Kris, join ka naman ng Bible study ng mga bakla. Bible study ng mga bakla? Hindi mo pwedeng pagsamahin ang bakla at Bible study. Langis at tubig yan! (A close friend called me and said, Kris, join this Bible study for gays. Bible study for gays? You can’t put gays and Bible study together. It’s like mixing water and oil!),” Ceejay said.
Bible study for gays? You can’t put gays and Bible study together. It’s like mixing water and oil!),” Ceejay said.
Ryan Chua with Pastor Ceejay Agbayani. (Photo by Patrol ng Pilipino)
Ever since that first Bible study, Pastor Ceejay never left MCC. He then studied at United Theological Seminary, where he was open about sexuality.
After he became pastor, he married Marlon, his boyfriend of three years in a Holy Union ceremony also by the MCC.
Pastor Ceejay said it has now become his mission to share to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community that God loves them regardless of their chosen sexuality and that same sex relationships are allowable as long as they are truthful and responsible ones.
“Ang nagiging problema kasi ng mga bakla kapag ang simbahan sarado sa kanila they become atheist they forget about the existence of God, yun ang hinahabol naming bakla. Meron pa, may pag-asa pa ‘teh, yun ang sinasabi namin (The problem is that when gays are shunned by the church, they become atheists and forget about the existence of God. This is what we are after. There’s still hope for us. This is what we’re saying),” Pastor Ceejay said.
Another member of the MCC, Jason, dreamed of becoming a priest at an early age. But since he was out early on when he was in high school, he knew that becoming a priest was impossible.
He got depressed and got hooked on vices until he found out about the MCC in 2007.
“I searched for the number of pro-gay and asked if there’s a church where I can be myself,” Jason said.
Today he is now the secretary of the MCC and is being trained to be a deacon, while studying film in University of the Philippines and working as a copywriter.
Jason is now happy to have found a church where he is comfortable to be himself. But what gives him greater joy is he has finally gained the support his parents, which he admits was hard to get.
“Talagang di ko matanggap. Baka isang drum na nga ang naiyak ko (I really couldn’t accept it, I think I cried a drum full of tears),” Jason’s mother Josie said.
Jason with his mother Josie. (Photo by Patrol ng Pilipino)
Josie discovered what her son was up to when she went with him to MCC’s worship service. There her perception on the likes of her son was somehow changed.
“Yung love for each other nakita ko doon. Nakita ko rin ang pagbabago niya. Pwede pala silang maging productive. Pwede silang maging religious. Pwede silang gumawa ng mabuti (I saw the love for each other there.I also saw the change in him. They can be productive, they can be religious and they can do good),” Josie said.
But not all members of the MCC are “out,” like Gerald, not his real name, who is a seminarian in a big Catholic order.
“Napakahirap sobra. Pag nasa loob ka ng seminary nandun yung de numero yung galaw mo. Kasi pag nalaman nila, dalawa lang naman yan eh, expulsion or exclusion (It’s very difficult. When you’re inside the seminary, your every move is calculated. Because when they find out it could only mean two things, either expulsion or exclusion),” Gerald said.
Knowing that gays cannot serve as priests in the Catholic church, Gerald is still determined to continue in seminary and conceal his sexuality.
The Metropolitan Community Church
Today, the MCC has 60 members in the Quezon City Chapter. It is a continually growing church in the country with Chapters in Makati and Baguio.
Rainbow Sunday Worship Service. (Photo by: Patrol ng Pilipino)
MCC International started during the gay rights movement in 1968 in America. It spread to 23 different countries, including the Philippines in 1991.
The MCC teaches that everyone is loved by God, whether you’re gay or lesbian or in a relationship with the same sex.
It is an ecumenical church, meaning members of the church come from different Christian groups--- Catholic, Protestant, Iglesia ni Cristo and other religious denominations. People who attend the MCC church need not leave their religious denomination to be a member of MCC. But most of MCC’s members never went back to their previous churches.
Members of the MCC. (Photo by Patrol ng Pilipino)
Members say, “Why should they go back? When in this church, they can embrace both God and their sexuality.”
Homosexuality and religion don’t mix
If for the MCC, they believe that it is possible to live in both faith and homosexuality, some ex-gays believe, otherwise.
For ex-gays, they must leave behind their being gay to truly become a Christian. The attraction to the same sex is admittedly still there, but they say it can be resisted. Something that a leader of the Philippine Ichtus Community, a Catholic group for people with same-sex attraction, Alfie Dela Vega was able to do.
Alfie Dela Vega counseling a guy seeking help on how to deal with
being a homosexual. (Photo by Patrol ng Pilipino)
“Aminado ako lumubog ako sa gay lifestyle, at kung ano ano yung experiences na naranasan ko. So lahat ng mga bagay na yun parang naranasan ko, pero hindi napuno kung ano man yung hinahanap ko (I admit that I used to live an active gay lifestyle and experienced so many things. But none of that filled what I was looking for),” Alfie said.
Like Alfie, Erwin Aduca was able to successfully turn away from the gay lifestyle. Today, Erwin is an active member of Aftercall, another Catholic ecumenical community for those who do not want to live as homosexuals.
“Alam naman natin sa kalagayan ng mga tao na may ganitong struggle sa buhay ay dumadaan sa madaming brokenness--- rejection, family problems, sexual harassment, all kinds, different kinds of brokenness. So para sa amin yung therapy dito ay yung pag turo sa tao,para makita niya yung sarili niya, according dun sa image and likeness ng Diyos na binigay sakanya (We all know the situation of people with this kind of struggle in life. They go through all sorts of brokenness--- rejection, family problems, sexual harassment, all kinds, different kinds of brokenness. So for us, the therapy here is teaching the person to see himself according to the image and likeness of God that is given him),” Erwin said.
Alfie and Erwin serve as the examples of the kind of life that the Church wants for the LGBT community.
The official belief of the Church based on the catechism of the Catholic church is that homosexual acts, like having sex with the same sex is intrinsically disordered. Meaning it is still wrong any way you look at it, because procreation or the conception of a child is impossible.
According to Father Dave Clay of the Episcopal Commission on Family life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the Church does not condemn gays and lesbians directly, but the acts they commit or homosexual acts.
“Is it normal for men to be attracted to men? Is it normal for a man? Can a man have sexual reproduction with another man? Can a woman reproduce with another woman? It’s impossible, so we go by what the Church teaches and by what God taught us way back, 900 years before Christ, that marriage is for and between a man and a woman,” Father Dave said.
According to him, the Church is mandated to care for, love and redirect the LGBT to the right path. But like priests and nuns, they should be celibate; something that Father Clay admitted would be difficult for the LGBT community.
“The challenge is more difficult for them. The challenge is more difficult because like for example, I can avoid the temptations by not going into the comfort room of a woman and not taking a shower with a naked woman. Can they do that? They have to go to the comfort room of men they are attracted to. They have to shower with men. Do you know how difficult it is for them?” Father Clay said.
But for Father Richard Mickley who brought the MCC to the Philippines, acting on their sexual orientation should not be prohibited.
“We all should live a life of chastity, but chastity does not necessarily mean no sex the whole life. There are a lot of other aspects of chastity that does not involve depriving us of what God has given us. If a priest wants to give a vow to no sex ever, who am I to object to that? We know of course, that there’s a lot of hypocrisy in that because it is so against human nature”, Father Mickley said.
A gay couple holding hands in public. (Photo by Patrol ng Pilipino)
Father Mickley is known for marrying gay and lesbian couples in the country in ceremonies without the blessing of the Church, the law or the government.
One of the bishops of the One Spirit Church in America, he brought MCC to the country in response to the requests of the LGBT community who do not feel accepted by their respective churches.
“Romans 8 is one of my beloved texts. It simply says nothing no power anywhere up or down or all around, no power in anywhere can separate you from the power of God we are loved by God unconditionally. And one of those conditions that the church is placing on us, no love, no sex but that’s a condition. But God loves us no condition, no ifs,” Father Mickley said.
Twenty years after Father Mickley set foot in the country, he said the MCC has gone a long way. If way back, many are embarrassed to come out, times have changed. Many are now unafraid to be open about their sexuality.
While gay and lesbian relationships are not yet accepted and while there are no laws protecting them from discrimination, their desired rights and status in society will still take a long time to be achieved, Father Mickley said.
But somehow, at least inside the MCC they are free and can openly be who they are, something that they could only dream of doing outside the church’s four walls.
“You know gay people are religious people. Dapat nandun din sila sa simbahan, hindi dapat sila nasa labas ng simbahan (You know gay people are religious people. They should be in church, not out of it),” Pastor Ceejay said.
Alfie and Erwin believe this too, they just have a different way and direction from the MCC.
Nobody could tell which from the two different churches’ way is the true and right one, or if there really is just a single way; No one, aside from the God they both believe in. March 8, 2011