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Filipino Methodists Abroad Try to Redeem the Past

Pinoy Newsmagazine, Commentary, Mariano Santos Posted: Aug 13, 2009

Filipinos as a people of faith are predominantly Roman Catholics (85%). But it is rarely when a Catholic ever bothered to know about the religions of the other 15 per cent. Filipinos know so little about Islam or Protestantism. Ignorance or little learning breeds intolerance.

I was baptized and raised as a Methodist. It was not easy growing up as one in a town like Arayat, Pampanga. I had known the trials of being different. Classmates would taunt me as a poropot. I remember being forced inside a dark and dumpy capilla where an image of a dead Christ was laying in a carroza. I was told to kiss the wounded foot or risk the fate of going to hell. As a young boy of seven, that was terrifying.

On the first day of taking my 24 units of religion as part of the prerequisite of getting your bachelor of science degree from the pontifical university of the Philippines, my professor asked the class on who are not of the Catholic faith and I alone raised my hand. Before my classmates, I was told to recite the Apostles Creed. For one who was so used to reading it from the Methodist Hymnal, I was caught off-guard and was embarrassed not able to recite it from memory. Even in college, it was tough not to be a Catholic. That was the 1960s when the ferment of student activism permeated the air - THAT even made it tougher to be a Methodist.

From the teach-ins of that ultra-nationalistic era, I learned about the history that was glossed over from school textbooks. Until that time, students hardly knew about the Philippine-American War. My father was taught by the Thomasitesmostly Methodists missionaries who pressured their fellow Methodist in the White House, President William McKinley, to go along with the American Imperialists to take over the Philippines from Spain.

In 1898, Methodists including faculty members of the Theological Seminary in Chicago became recruiting officers for soldiers to civilize the savages in those islands in the Pacific. My grandparents would become some of the first coverts in Pampanga. My father spent his youth in Chicago in the 1920s. As a family, we swore by the benevolence of America.

McKinley on the day after he was visited in the White House by a delegation of Methodist clergymen, issued a statement that he knelt down and prayed to God, then claimed that he heard the voice of God telling him to Christianize the Filipinos. American Catholics believed him too despite the fact the Spaniards did a good job of converting the Filipinos into Christianity. But it was the Methodists who unwittingly played on the hands of the expansionist leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge who were itching to get a share in the growing market in Asia with the ports of Luzon to be acquired as coaling stations for the US steamers.

After an exploratory team reported to Washington that the Philippines was rich with natural resources, the depressed US stock markets recovered into a roaring bull market. Admiral George Dewey was carefully instructed not to acknowledge the First Philippine Republic though he continued to deceive the Filipino revolutionaries to continue fighting the Spaniards. When victory was imminent, the Americans turned against the Filipinos and promptly called them bandits and insurrectos.

That led to the bloody and one-sided war which saw 300,000 Filipino casualties. No fewer than 5000 Americans died in battle but US casualties reached 50,000 because of tropical diseases. Historian Daniel Boone Schemer called it Americas First Vietnam. This war was ignored in history books to the detrimental interest of the US who did not learn the lessons of that tragic war. The war of liberation of the Filipinos was aborted by massive atrocities. Strategic hamletting was first employed in the Philippines before it was used in Vietnam. Water cure which was condemned in the Iraqi War was a routine tactic used by the US Soldiers against the soldiers of Emilio Aguinaldo more than a century earlier.

After US armada did its military work, Methodists boarded the SS Thomas and completed the job of the American first colonial adventure as missionaries and public school teachers. They won the hearts and minds of the little brown brothers as William Howard Taft would call them.
President George W. Bush is a Methodist, as is Hillary R. Clinton. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Reynato Puno is a Methodist. Bush and McKinley were both Republican and their foreign policies were similar. Clinton and Puno practice the faith consistent with the social gospel associated with John Wesley, the preacher who was a member of the Church of England and later the founder of a fellowship society of Methodists who actively fought slavery, labor and human rights and who was largely credited to have saved England from the same fate that befell France in a bloody class conflict. Wesley took care the English downtrodden.

John Wesley, like St. Paul, had an epiphany, experiencing a heart-warming experience at Aldersgate, a small chapel near the present London Art Museum. His missionary zeal and baptism of the Holy Spirit predated the charismatic groups. He and his brother, Charles Wesley, wrote over 7000 hymns that are ever present on many hymnals including that of the Catholic Church. Thus, Methodists are known as the singing congregation.

Present day Methodists make up the second largest mainline Protestant denomination in the US. The United Methodist Church is on the forefront of human rights struggles. The Arroyo Administration in the Philippines is constantly being put to task by Methodist advocates to stop the extrajudicial killings and human trafficking back home. Volunteers in Missions (VIM) is another group where Methodists play active roles. Rev. Cerna Rand of the Chicago Temple in the Loop, Rev. Noah Panlilio of Lockport UMC, Rev. Leo Constantino of Cosmopolitan United Church and several non-Filipino clergymen and laymen in area Methodist Churches are participants in propagating the social gospel that the founders of Methodism had faithfully espoused in its early years.

Come July 5-9 in Dallas, Texas, the biennial Conference of the National Filipino American United Methodists will again gather to map out their goals and to reassess their work. It is crucial in the sense that one of their own, Justice Reynato Puno is leading a crusade of moral regeneration back home and US Filipino Methodist laymen are getting vocal by the day against the continued human rights infractions in their homeland.

Filipino Methodism has indeed reached full circle. Considering the checkered way Methodism was brought from the vowels of England's coal mines via the invading forces of the US Imperial Army into the barrios of the Philippines, the grandchildren of the first converts had since migrated in the land of their former colonial masters. Last February, Filipino Methodists from the Chicago area, two volunteer teams, continue to repave the path of redemption-- no longer fired by zeal of naivet' associated with the goals of the ruling class. It is a mission that bears witness to the gospel as preached by John Wesley; a mission faithful to the admonition set forth by the Man of peace from Galilee.

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