Helping people sign up at the 2009 Manila Pride March, Fr. Richard Mickley continues to show his support for the LGBT movement, as he has done for the last 40 some years.
With firsthand experience of the founding of MCC Philippines, along with memories of starting the first Manila Pride March in 1994, Fr. Richard took the time to share these reflections and others with me recently concerning his involvement with MCC.
1. Can you tell us about the history of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in the Philippines. What do you believe makes the ministry different from others?
Well, now there are four MCC churches in the Philippines. I am so proud that each of them is pastored by a fine Christian young man (in this case). MCC Philippines (Manila, Makati) with Pastor Art, MCC Quezon City, with Pastor Ceejay, MCC Dasmarinas wikth Pastor Regen, and MCC GB (Greater Baguio) with Pastor Myke. Al have websites and facebook listings with photos.
I was pastor of MCC Auckland in New Zealand in 1991, and had a thriving church with several capable ministers on staff, and the Lord kept telling me to check out the Philippines because the word got to me that gay and lesbian people in the Philippines were hurting — with no one to publicly tell them God loves them unconditionally; God welcomes them into the full embrace of God’s friendship; that nobody can take God’s love away from them.
Yet, of course, such a supposed separation from God is what gays and lesbians perceive to happen in a church which rejects them, in a church which does not welcome them (at all, or fully as the case may be). And since the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country, the well-known prejudice of the Catholic Church prevailed everywhere to the detriment of the mental, spiritual health of Filipino LGBT people.
So In May, June, and early July 1991, I scraped up some money for an exploratory visit to the Philippines. I did not know a single person here. I came and began to net work. On June 26, 1991, at the high altar of the Cathedral of the Holy Child, 50 people gathered for the first ever full-blown public Gay and Lesbian Pride Mass in the Philippines, I preached of how Rev, Troy Perry started MCC and how MCC was spreading around the world with the message of God’s love for LGBT people.
When I left July 5, 1991, I was carrying a petition signed by 43 gay and lesbian people for me to come back and begin an MCC ministry here. I took the petition to MCC headquarters in Los Angeles. The Elders and officers were thrilled that the people of the Philippines wanted a church. But they sadly informed me there was no budget at that time. Then I remembered I was old enough to begin collecting US Social Security benefits, and would be able to support myself and my ministry. My mission to the Philippines was approved.
On September 7, 1991, I conducted the first official MCC service (after approval by the headquarters). I had gone back to New Zealand, resigned as pastor, gave up my house, my car, my salary, and came here where the people had promised a bed and at least a bowl of soup every day.
I kept the ministry gong on my Social Security income (and later occasional supplements from headquarters) until I reached (surpassed) the MCC mandatory retirement age in 1995.
In 1995 I founded The Order of St. Aelred to supplement the work of MCC, but never replace it. I never offered a “parish,” (as MCC is), but if anybody, and many did, came to me for parish services, I referred them to MCC. Even today, many of the MCC leadership are those whom I referred or encouraged to worship in MCC.
2. How many pride parades have you participated in? And, what was your role in this year’s parade?
All of them. So, today, at 81, I am a retired MCC minister, and an ordinary member, invited from time to time to preach or celebrate the worship service in one of the four MCC churches.
In 1994, one of the gay activist board members of MCC, Oscar Atadero, and I discussed that it was the 25th anniversary of Stonewall and high time for a Pride March in the Philippines. On June 26, 1994, His “other” organization where he was an officer, ProGay Philippines, and MCC co-sponsored the first Gay and Lesbian Pride March in the Philippines. We later learned that it was the first Gay and lesbian Pride March in Asia. It was a rainy day, but 50 some brave and proud LGBT people immortalized the first march from EDSA along Quezon Avenue to Quezon Memorial Circle where I celebrated a Pride Mass and spoke, and Oscar was MC (master of ceremonies) for the Pride Rally and Program. There are still photos floating around of this historic occasion.
3. What were your thoughts on this year’s Manila Pride Parade? How did it compare to past marches?
I was filled with pride, even before the march, when I talked with your husband, looked around the big Remedios Circle (the march gathering area), and saw such a huge crowd assembling.
I could not avoid thinking back to the first march in 1994, especially as I hugged Oscar Atadero, and I am sure we both felt a tinge of pride as we a shed a little tear of wonder and gratitude and pride.
I marched with the MCC contingent. The MCC contingent was larger than the entire number of marchers in the first Pride March. Praise the Lord.
There have been big and bigger Pride Marches over the years. One of the biggest was in 1998, under the leadership of Jomar Fleras and Reachout AIDS Foundation, when the Gay and Lesbian Pride March was part of the Centennial celebration of the Republic of the Philippines. There was a huge People’s Parade, and the Gay and Lesbian Pride March was invited to march in front of the President of Republic (along with thousands of others). As far as we know that was history also as the first Pride March in the world scheduled to march in front of a Head of State.
From 1999 onwards, the Task Force Pride, a coalition of Gay and Lesbian organizations and our friends planned and carried out the annual celebration. This year the Task Force was headed by Great Ancheta, coordinating the work of many organizations and individuals. (These organizations have expanded to dozens since MCC was founded in 1991 as the first openly gay and lesbian organization.in the country.)
4. What were your feelings at seeing protesters using religion to put down the marchers?
This is nothing new to me. I attended some of the earliest marches after Stonewall in the early 1970’s. In LA as early as 1972 and 1973, the same religious biots were there with the same signs. I actually thought i was having a flash back this yeqar in Manila. Some of us tried to bring them to their senses by asking them if Jesus would discrimiate? But, actually they continued their bigrotry, can i say, good naturedly, (As in holding a sign with a very hateful message on it, while keeping a smile on their face) which in a way makes it more palatable (if that is possible), but more inexplicable. What I have learned in my ministry over these nearly forty years in LGBT work is it is counterproductuive to argue or try to reason with prejudiced people. They have already judged *(prejudged = prejudice), and it is a waste of time to exchange shouts with them. Some bigots are converted; some atheists are converted, but in a setting quite different from a gay and lesbian pride march.
5. Do you think in the future mainstream churches will become more inclusive towards the gay community?
It is interesting that you use the expression “mainstream” churches. I am sure the definition varies from locale to locale. Ever since the beginning of MCC, Rev. Perry and the leaders (and even I as a teacher in the MCC seminary in the early Yeats) consistently claimed that MCC is a mainstream church. By that we mean we uphold the historic Apostles Creed and the Nicean Creed, for example (which sets us apart from Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons which have quite different sets of beliefs).
So, “mainstream” puts us side by side with Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Independent Church of the Philippines, Methodists, Lutherans, and United Church of Christ in the Philippines (and their counterparts in other countries). Some of these “mainstream churches have adopted an “understanding” attitude, which is only slightly different from “tolerant.” Some are outright intolerant.
The next question about your question is: what do you mean by “more inclusive”? It’s a good question. But to hope for full “inclusiveness” of LGBT people in some “mainstream” churches is as hopeless, for example, as hoping for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Unitarian Universalist Church in the Philippines (and in the world) is visibly ‘inclusive,” (as they even participated in the Pride March in the Philippines this year and last year).(But, frankly, you cannot legitimately call them “mainstream” as defined above.)
In a church like the Roman Catholic Church where the “doctrine” comes from an international headquarters (Rome), it seems very unlikely that church “doctrine” would accept “inclusively” LGBT people.
On the other hand, there are interesting handwritings on the walls of history. One example, in a country, described as a Catholic country, Spain, the government has approved same-sex marriage along with divorce and contraceptives. (Of course we are not speaking of a change in church attitude there. We, to be honest, are noting the diminished influence of the church.)
In the Philippines, on the other hand, also described as a Catholic country, the government, the congress, the policy makers are so much under the domination of the Catholic bishops (who dominate volumes of votes), that there is neither divorce (the only country in the world besides Malta), nor approval of contraceptives, nor same-sex marriage (God forbid!).
The answer to your question is a flat no in the Philippines for the Roman Catholic Church. I see it as open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the other mainstream churches.
Thank you Fr. Richard!
Fr. Richard R. Mickley, O.S.Ae., Ph.D.
The Order of St. Aelred
Fr. Richard’s personal blog: http://richardrmickley.blogspot.com
Catholic Diocese of One Spirit (CDOS) website: http://www.onespiritcatholic.org