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Rev. Ceejay Agbayani: Spreading God’s Word

Rev. Ceejay Agbayani used to think that “hindi mo mapagsasama ang mga bakla at Bible study.” But as head of Metropolitan Community Church-Quezon City, he is now persuading others that the bakla and Bible can go together.

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Rev. Ceejay Agbayani
Metropolitan Community Church-Quezon City

“At first, my real motivation to attend this meeting was that I hoping that I could meet a guy in the group to be my ‘jowa’ or ‘churva,’” Rev. Ceejay Agbayani admits. It turned out that “I’d like the idea of (the fusion of) homosexuality and spirituality, so that, since then, I attended all of Metropolitan Community Church’s (MCC) activities – from the Pasig Bible study every Wednesday, Taft Bible study every Thursday, the Friday overnight prayer meetings, the Sunday worship services in Shalom Center in Manila, et cetera. I was hooked.”

In 1999, Oliver Andaya, his close friend, invited then Ceejay Agbayani to attend a Bible study of mostly gay and bisexual men somewhere in Diliman, Quezon City.  As it was during his “SM North EDSA ‘rampa’ days,” Agbayani was a big “skeptic with the idea – I have the Roman Catholic notion that Bible study is for Protestants, (plus) homosexuals reading the Bible is a little but shocking for me,” Agbayani recalls.  “I remember vividly saying to (Andaya): ‘Ano ito? Langis at tubig?  Hindi mo mapagsasama ang mga bakla at Bible study!’”

Agbayani decided to attend, nonetheless, a Friday Bible study at the apartment rented by Gary Apolonio – but “at first, my real motivation to attend this meeting was that I hoping that I could meet a guy in the group to be my ‘jowa’ or ‘churva,’” he admits. It turned out that “I’d like the idea of (the fusion of) homosexuality and spirituality, so that, since then, I attended all of Metropolitan Community Church’s (MCC) activities – from the Pasig Bible study every Wednesday, Taft Bible study every Thursday, the Friday overnight prayer meetings, the Sunday worship services in Shalom Center in Manila, et cetera. I was hooked – I had to know more about this group because I felt very curious about its doctrines, beliefs, and what this church is all about. I never missed any single Worship services of MCC.”

Under the helm of Rev. Edgar Mendoza, who was the MCC pastor then (after the retirement of Fr. Richard Mickley, OSAe, Ph.D., the one to establish MCC in the Philippines in 1991), Agbayani was able to experience his first Pride celebration in 2000, when “my attendance was an experience I never expected. I was thrilled and happy to march with many gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender in Malate (in the City of Manila), and it boosted my morale that it is okay to gay and Christian. At that time, I was very, very proud to be gay and happy.”

ANSWERING A CALL

In 2001, internal issues troubled the local MCC, which needed the Mother Church to intervene – the solution was the establishment of a five-member Interim Ministry Team, with Agbayani chosen as a member. By December 2001, Agbayani became the Interim Pastoral Leader of MCC in Philippines (by the virtue given by then Rev. Judy Dahl, the minister who handled the MCC chapters outside the US).

In June 2002, “a clergy invited me to go on theological studies in the Union Theological Seminary, where, until March 2008, I studied Master of Divinity in Dasmarinas, Cavite, the oldest Protestant seminary run by the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the United Methodist Church (UMC),” Agbayani recalls.

After completion of the course, “I actually became the first openly gay seminarian to graduate in this 102 year old seminary. I was given the award of ‘The Bishop La Verne Mercado Award in Ecumenics.’”

On September 14, 2008, Agbayani was ordained by the Rev. Elder Ken Martin, an MCC elder serving Region 1, also known as the bishop, at the UCCP EDSA chapel during the second anniversary of MCC Quezon City (MCCQC). He is now the second Filipino clergy ordained by the Universal Fellowship of MCC.

Interestingly, even if Agbayani’s baccalaureate degree is AB Political Science (“I could have been a lawyer or a teacher,” he says, considering that “I never thought to be a pastor of a church”), after finishing high school in 1990, “I actually entered the Order of Friar Minor Conventual, a Franciscan Order, in Novaliches, Quezon City for a year. I decided to leave the seminary on November 7, 1991, because of my family – I wanted to focus on my family, to work and to have a lot of money for my family as we had financial problems.”

FINDING THE SOUL

“There are a lot of challenges (for MCC) – my personal ambition, and the mission and vision of the MCC,” Agbayani says. “But I always say to myself, ‘What a profit of a man if he gains the whole world and losses his soul?’ I might not have a lot of money in my pocket but I have a lot lives that I’ve touched because of the ministry of MCC towards the homosexuals,” he says.

Among the biggest of the challenges that MCC is facing has to do with building the credibility of MCC as a church. “A church like all mainstream churches,” Agbayani says. “MCC has no physical church yet, and we are still renting a space for our Sunday worship services. This is not helped by the lack of funds, (what with) almost all members, but not all, not working; some are only students who want to have a group to identify with.”

And then there’s the “big challenge (of spreading) the Good News to Pinoy LGBTs; that we now have a church like MCC where you could go to and worship God without any problems with your sexuality.”

“There are a lot of challenges (for MCC) – my personal ambition, and the mission and vision of the MCC,” Rev. Ceejay Agbayani says. “But I always say to myself, ‘What a profit of a man if he gains the whole world and losses his soul?’ I might not have a lot of money in my pocket but I have a lot lives that I’ve touched because of the ministry of MCC towards the homosexuals.”

Agbayani adds: “Pinoy LGBTs are still skeptical with the idea of a gay church. They think that gay church is blasphemous and hypocritical. And that our sexuality can not mixed up with our spirituality. The idea of a church for homosexuals is not possible. You know, I believe that issue of homosexuality is a religious thing. Although, of course, I know that gay rights is a human rights. But as long as we changed our minds, thoughts about homosexuality is not a sin. We can not have a clear mind about our spirituality. Our spirituality will follow (us until) our sexuality is secured. Meaning, if a gay person recognizes and acknowledges that it is okay to be gay, then his or her longing for a God to worship, praise, and adore will surely follow.”

GROWING NUMBERS

Agbayani expects for MCC to soon have its own “physical church,” perhaps when the membership reached over 150, and “money will not be a problem anymore.” This way, “spreading the Good News will be much more easier.”

For now, though, there are achievements Agbayani is proud of – e.g. “to be the first openly gay seminarian in Union Theological Seminary; to be the first Filipino clergy of MCC ordained in the Philippines (Mendoza was ordained in the US); to be the first Filipino clergy to have a formal theological degree under Master of Divinity; to have helped establish MCCQC, the first local church of MCC in the Philippines; and the growing of MCC in Baguio City, even as there are already plans to have churches in Cebu City and in Davao City.”

For Agbayani, “we will grow if people knew we are here. That is why (I am motivated to) promote MCC via Web sites, social networks, mIRC, and other modes of promotion and propaganda. My desire is that one day, MCC could have its own billboard in EDSA.”

ACCEPTING GOD

As a Christian denomination, MCC’s most prominent stance is in believing that homosexuality is not a sin. “We believed, based also in the Bible, that homosexuality is not a sin. And that the Bible is not ant gay but rather pro marginalized – we recognize and believe that Jesus Christ would never ever discriminate,” Agbayani says. “What is interesting with MCC is that we never argue on the Table of the Lord, whether it is transubstantiation or consubstantiation, what matters to MCC is that we worship God in spirit and in truth regardless of our sexuality.”

Not that the LGBT community has been the best audience, truth be told.
“(I remain disappointed with the LGBT community in the Philippines) because we are divided with political ideologies. Can we not be united with one common cause of action without ideologies, but rather common experiences?” Agbayani says, adding that he remains hopeful, nonetheless, since “we can be united, if we will all work very hard to have it. There is hope. We can tear down the walls, we can build up hope.”

For Agbayani, the solution is in education. “If we transform minds and hearts, we will transform our lives, then we will surely have a different history. Dialogues and forums, conferences and conventions, I think, will be of great help. The more venues to discuss our experiences (will provide us with) chances to know what to do. We will know how to counter the present anti-gay culture,” he says. Thus, “the gay community should organize itself, otherwise, who will help us? ‘Di ba tayo din ang makakatulong sa atin?”

Thus, for now, the push is to give LGBT’s a venue to worship – a venue that proves that God is love.

And it’s all in a day’s work for Agbayani.

"If someone asked you about me, about what I do for a living, it's to 'weave words'," says Kiki Tan, who has been a writer "for as long as I care to remember." With this, this one writes about... anything and everything.

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VP Robredo extolls LGBTQIA community’s spirit; recognizes a lot of work still needs to be done

Vice President Leni Robredo expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community, even as she acknowledged that a lot of work still needs to be done, including passing an anti-discrimination law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos.

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Screencap from the Facebook-uploaded message of VP Leni Robredo to the LGBTQIA community

Vice President Leni Robredo expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community, even as she acknowledged that even as the LGBTQIA community marks June as Pride month, a lot of work still needs to be done, including passing an anti-discrimination law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos.

In a messages posted on her Facebook page, Robredo noted the uncertain times. “many of the things we once cherished and held on to are now being questioned and challenged,” she said in mixed Filipino and English. “Sa kabila nito, marami pa ring bagay ang di nagbabago at nagpapatuloy: tulad ng ating laban para sa patas na karapatan, dignidad at kalayaan.

Robredo noted that “for many decades, the LGBTQIA+ community has been tirelessly fighting for equal rights and representation at the frontlines. It has provided a shelter to the oppressed, a voice to the marginalized, and a family to those who have been abandoned by their own communities. Ito ang dakilang ambag ng LGBTQIA+ community sa ating (b)ayan.

She added: “Sa bawat Pride March na inyong inoorganisa, isang teenager ang mas nagiging proud na yakapin kung sino siya. Sa bawat awareness campaign na inyong sinisimulan, isang komunidad ang mas nagiging bukas ang isipan. At sa bawat pagpiglas ninyo sa tangkang pag-agaw ng ating mga kalayaan, isang bayan ang mas natututong lumaban.

There are – nonetheless – members of the LGBTQIA community “who hold positions of power in our society”, such as lawyers, executives, doctors, educators, artists, policymakers and public servants. The VP hopes that they will “use your influence to change mindsets, promote acceptance, and push for reforms on the ground. Now more than ever, we need to set an example to the younger generation. Ipakita natin sa kanila, na wala silang dapat ipangamba at na malaya silang maging kung ano at sino sila,” Robredo said.

The VP similarly recognized that teaching people to open their minds may be challenging, but “huwag sana kayong panghinaan ng loob.”

She suggested doing small steps to push for Pride, including forming support groups; reaching out to the needy; and introducing concepts re SOGIESC to relatives who may not be well-versed on the same.

Darating din ang araw na babalikan natin ang lahat ng ito at sasabihing, everything was worth the effort. Everything was worth the sacrifice. Everything worth the fight. Push lang ng push, mga besh,” Robredo added.

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Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach voices support for LGBTQIA community

Pia Wurtzbach said she’s making a stand so “that our friends and family in the LGBTQIA community have the right to take up space in our society… that their voices should be heard, that we don’t invalidate trans women as women.”

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Screencap from the Instagram account of Pia Wurtzbach

Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach voiced her support for the LGBTQIA community.

Via an Instagram post, Wurtzbach said she’s making a stand so “that our friends and family in the LGBTQIA community have the right to take up space in our society… that their voices should be heard, that we don’t invalidate trans women as women.”

She added: “We can learn to accept these concepts by having a dialogue. By listening and understanding our differences. we will grow and uplift one another as one community in strengthening equality and diversity.”

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Learning is always a two-way process.. we listen as we understand each other’s points of view. This #PrideMonth, we stand for the rights and advocacies of the LGBTQIA+ community. 🏳️‍🌈 Being an ally is someone who gives a sense of a safe and affirming space for our loving community… Let’s provide higher platforms for community members to openly discuss issues and concerns that affect us. 🙏 Here we can discuss our differences and remind ourselves that we are together on this journey, and achieve our shared goals for equality. ❤ . I know we may differ in opinions today.. but our constant discourse will make our tomorrow better because we understand one another better. This will also enable our broader community, especially those with differing views, to ponder on things that matter to our fellowmen. . Let me just make a stand that our friends and family in the LGBTQIA+ community have the right to take up space in our society…that their voices should be heard, that we don’t invalidate trans women as women. We can learn to accept these concepts by having a dialogue. By listening and understanding our differences.. we will grow and uplift one another as one community in strengthening equality and diversity. 😊🙏❤ Happy Pride! 🥰🏳️‍🌈

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Wurtzbach’s statement of support came after she co-hosted an online discussion involving Kevin Balot, who was crowned Miss International Queen in 2012. Balot reiterated her segregationist perspective, saying that when transgender women ask to join beauty pageants traditionally only for those assigned female at birth, “hindi na siya equality eh, parang asking too much na (this is no longer about equality; it’s already asking too much).”

In her Instagram post, Wurtzbach said that even if people had different opinions, it’s still important to provide platforms for community members to openly discuss “issues and concerns that affect us.”

For Wurtzbach, “this will also enable our broader community, especially those with differing views, to ponder on things that matter to our fellowmen… [O]ur constant discourse will make our tomorrow better because we understand one another better.”

This isn’t the first time Wurtzbach expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community.

In 2017, for instance, she called out the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) following a drug bust involving 11 men in Bonifacio Global City. “Because of what PDEA and the news outlet have done, some people are now associating drugs and immorality with being gay. It’s ridiculous,” she said then.

In 2018, she urged decision makers to address the causes that put young people at risk of HIV.

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‘Riverdale’ actress Lili Reinhart comes out as bisexual

Lili Reinhart – from “Riverdale” – announced that she is a “proud bisexual woman” in a post on Instagram.

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Screencap from Instagram

Lili Reinhart – who plays Betty Cooper in “Riverdale” – announced that she is a “proud bisexual woman” in a post on Instagram.

Reinhart’s revelation was linked with her post that she would be attending an “LGBTQ+ for Black Lives Matter” protest in West Hollywood in the US. Underneath a poster for the march, she wrote: “Although I’ve never announced it publicly before, I am a proud bisexual woman. And I will be joining this protest today. Come join.”

Reinhart dated co-star and onscreen partner Cole Sprouse, who played Jughead in “Riverdale.” The two had recently split.

Visibility, obviously, matters.

Earlier in June 2020, a study noted that those who have seen LGBTQIA representation are more accepting of gay and lesbian people than those who haven’t (48% to 35%). They are also more accepting of bisexual people (45% to 31%), and of non-binary people (41% to 30%).

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Emma Watson speaks out for trans rights after J.K. Rowling’s transphobic comments

“Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned.”

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Screen capture from the Instagram account of emmawatson

Emma Watson – who played Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” series – is the latest actor to speak out in support of transgender rights after author J.K. Rowling made controversial comments on Twitter that were deemed transphobic.

On June 6, Rowling posted a tweet equating womanhood with being able to menstruate.

When called out, she seemed to own up to the TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or women who claim to be feminist but do not believe transgender women are female). She also backed her perspective via a lengthy post that cited a study criticized for its transphobic bias.

Claiming to have read “all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don’t have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive,” Rowling wrote. “Women (are told they) must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves… But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume.”

Watson appeared in all eight of the big-screen adaptations of the books by Rowling. By expressing her support for transgender rights, she joins former costar Daniel Radcliffe (who played Harry Potter), and “Fantastic Beasts” star Eddie Redmayne who also voiced their disagreement to Rowling’s warped thinking and defense.

“Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are,” Watson tweeted.

In a subsequent tweet, she added that she wants “my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are.”

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Eddie Redmayne joins Daniel Radcliffe in opposing J.K. Rowling’s anti-trans comments

Eddie Redmayne joined “Harry Potter” lead actor Daniel Radcliffe in criticizing J.K. Rowling comments about transgender people. “Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative, and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself. This is an ongoing process.”

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Screencap from "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"

Eddie Redmayne joined “Harry Potter” lead actor Daniel Radcliffe in criticizing J.K. Rowling comments about transgender people.

In a statement, Redmayne said: “Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative, and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself. This is an ongoing process.”

Rowling wrote the “Harry Potter” series that starred Radcliffe, and the “Fantastic Beasts” series that starred Redmayne. In a series of tweets starting June 6, where she actually owned the TERF tag (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), Rowling used the “I know and love trans people, but” argument by tweeting to her 14.5 million Twitter followers that transgender people are “erasing the concept of sex”.

Redmayne – who similarly starred in “The Danish Girl”, the 2015 biopic of Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery – said: “As someone who has worked with both JK Rowling and members of the trans community, I wanted to make it absolutely clear where I stand. I disagree with Jo’s comments. Trans women are women, trans men are men and nonbinary identities are valid.”

Redmayne continued that “I would never want to speak on behalf of the community but I do know that my dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities, which all too often results in violence and abuse. They simply want to live their lives peacefully, and it’s time to let them do so.”

Radcliffe said as much earlier, when he wrote for The Trevor Project that “transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations, who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.”

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Transgender women are women – Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe

“Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations.”

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Screencap from "What If" (2013)

Following the backlash the “Harry Potter” author, J.K. Rowling, got for statements deemed transphobic, Daniel Radcliffe wrote on The Trevor Project that “transgender women are women.”

On June 6, Rowling used the “I know and love trans people, but” argument by tweeting to her 14.5 million Twitter followers that transgender people are “erasing the concept of sex”.

In response, Radcliffe said: “Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo (i.e. J.K. Rowling) or I.”

He added that with 78% of transgender and nonbinary youth reporting being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity, “it’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.”

Radcliffe stressed that while certain press outlets may paint his statement as proof of infighting between J.K. Rowling and himself, “that is really not what this is about, nor is it what’s important right now.”

In closing, Radcliffe said: “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you.”

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