Iglesia ni Cristo: From Colonial-Ecumenical to Supremacist
Truly impressive, the devotion and discipline displayed by the individuals who responded to matters taken up in my last blog. (READ: 2015: Iglesia ni Cristo’s Year of Errors?) Never have I received such ‘patronage’ albeit mostly masquerading as brickbats. The fervor, almost bordering on the fringe of ferocity, along with an in-your-face expression of unflinching devotion to Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) indoctrination are indeed admirable. In fact, awesome. Were I a dictator desirous of assembling an army of loyally blind adherents, such is the behavior I would exact. Somewhat scary, yes? Happily, I received no threats of eternal damnation. Nonetheless, one responder called me an over-the-hill pedophile!
Much of the ‘fan mail’ centered on what they uniformly denounced as rumors and gossip. Their collective anger and discomfort have been stoked by the reported purchase of an Airbus jetliner (plus an executive jet, not mentioned in the last blog) and a Forbes Park mansion for the Executive Minister, expenditures all drawn from Iglesia ni Cristo community funds. This now public information was originally sourced from two items written by veteran newspaper columnist Emil Jurado of the Manila Standard and by the late able and credible Rufo Aries (bless his soul) for an investigative report in the Rappler, a Philippine-based news website. Both appeared in late July this year and remain unrefuted in mainstream media.
I enjoy sharing verified information, fruits of readings and research, commenting upon them in essays. Of course, just like you folks, unless you are candidates for beatification, I also enjoy gossip, rumor and conspiracy theories. However, when I publicly utilize these, they are always labeled as such. I am entitled to my opinion but never to my own made-to-fit facts.
Of the jets and the mansion, there has been no official denial, much less a demand for an apology and retraction, from the leadership of the Iglesia. Gossip? Rumor? Or, Truth. Perhaps, a strategic decision from up high was taken. Do not rock the boat. Do not aggravate. Do not exacerbate. Enough already! “Silence is golden….” But, wait, that’s not biblical. So, how is this then: “…blessed are the meek…” (Matthew 5:5) or “…..turn the other cheek….” (Luke 6:29 and Matthew 5:39)
As a Filipino, I am proud of the expertly accomplished rise of Felix Y. Manalo in his chosen field and the ensuing organizational success of INC today which he trailblazed. Who would not be? Kadugo natin! (Our blood kin.) From just thousands in the 1940s, they now call upon 2.5 million congregants worldwide housed in about 1300 chapels, home congregations and cathedrals, with the vast majority being in the Philippines, naturally. INC is now also in the lucrative business of education, information, entertainment and amusement.
Felix Y. Manalo, the Iglesia’s founder, is unquestionably a Philippine social phenomenon that deserves to be recognized for the physical and material advance of INC as a Filipino organization and religious institution. I am not qualified to speak of spiritual salvation and theology. Let the clerics, ministers, pastors, mullahs and lamas joust and tussle over life’s imponderables. I simply happen to be one with the rest of our multitudes who exult and jubilate at sterling international accomplishments of fellow Pinoys ---blood kin-- regardless of fields of endeavor. As we all know, recently these have been mostly in the field of sports and music. Well, here is one truly outstanding Filipino who has made it to the world stage of religious organizations. Let us rejoice and be proud!
This does not mean, however, that we ought to be in consonance with and accept Manalo’s/INC’s interpretative teachings and parochial dictat especially those that infringe upon freedom of conscience, to which all humanity is heir. Blatant examples that sorely stick out are the INC’s anti-labor union membership rule; the herded collective bloc voting as a practice of political leverage, and the supremacist “no salvation” outside the realm of the INC doctrine. And the unforgettable chauvinist declaration: “….we now ought to reject… …the Catholic Church and the different protestant churches, for they are not of God, but of Satan and the devil.” (from ‘Pasugo,’ Aug. ‘61--an INC doctrinal tract, meaning ‘Message.’)
The control exercised over INC members’ political and economic rights are neither Christian nor democratic. Supremacism is an affront to democracy. In fact, as a citizen governed, not by the Bible nor by the Quran, but by his Constitution, by its civil and criminal codes, one has to realize that the INC restrictions are un-Filipino!
Iglesia ni Cristo did not start that way. The journey of the INC’s success as astutely steered by its founder, the incremental, developmental and innovative adjustments in doctrine and religious practices that Felix Y. Manalo took and directed will all be worthy of academic investigation and documentation. How such edifying endeavor can ever be achieved, however, will depend upon the Iglesia. And that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon, brethren.
Succinctly. At birth, a colonial legacy. With baby steps, ecumenical. Today, a supremacist.
History has an irreversibility clause to its contract with society. The beginnings of Felix Y.Manalo and of the Church he spawned and nurtured is now indelible. He was born a Catholic towards the sunset of Spain in the Philippines (1886). The new colonial master, the United States of America, took over the islands and allowed/encouraged the entry of Protestantism. As a young apostate to the religion of his birth, Felix had dalliances at the smorgasbord table of newly available religious persuasions. Before deciding that he wished to and could “preach” on his own, he had religious internships with American mentors. First with the Methodists. This was followed by a stint with the Presbyterians, until he actually preached for the 7th Day Adventists. This is not religious promiscuity, silly! It is ardent search for the convenient and useful truth. Iglesia ni Cristo was the personal epiphany of Felix Y. Manalo after a span, calculated to be at least some 10 years, of sitting at the feet of colonial American Protestant tutors.
Imagine, had Commodore Dewey sailed away from Manila Bay and President McKinley washed his hands of the Islands, Protestantism would not have come at all, at the time that it did. But America kept the new territorial possession. (Don’t we know it!) Then came the non-Catholic Christian pastors and ministers. Isn't it easy to see that without America, there would have been no Felix Y. Manalo and no Iglesia ni Cristo?
Prodded by a sense of gratitude for his earlier multi-church peregrinations as well as a need for acceptance within the Christian community, the self-declared “last messenger” of Christianity decided that he will of assume his church’s leadership in a public ceremony. Invitations were issued for the event of his official assumption as “Pastor and Administrator” of INK (Cristo was initially spelled with a K). The ceremony took place morning of Christmas Day of 1918 at Cine Gloria in Calle Sande, Tondo, Manila. (Btw, INC does not recognize and observe Christmas). Very noteworthy, as we look back, is that this landmark ceremonial solemnity was officiated by invited “Bishops and pastors of the different churches established in the islands.” (“mga Obispo at mga Pastor ng mga iba’t ibang mga Iglesia na natatatag sa Kapuluan,” so the invitation printed in Tagalog says.) They were even enumerated: Alejandro Reyes, Victoriano Mariano, Gil Domingo, Guillermo Zarco, Nicolas Fajardo, Emiliano Quijano and Roque Bautista. (The wonders of the Internet and Google! How else would I have known the foregoing!)
Inarguably, Christmas Day of 1918 was an ecumenical assembly for Felix Y. Manalo and his Iglesia! But wait, didn’t the INC ‘Pasugo’ clearly state that these guys “are not of God…but of Satan and the devil”?
As Yul Brynner sang in the musical “The King and I” -- ”A puzzlement!”