[Two Pronged] Leaving Iglesia ni Cristo?
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer:
I have been a member of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) ever since I was born, as my family, all my relatives from the mother's side up to my grandparents, are all INC. My mother, father, brothers and sisters all hold church duties so it can be said that our family members were devout in faith. It was all okay for me until a few years ago.
The new church administration always plays the scare game: If you don't obey, you will be excommunicated and will face the lake of fire at judgement day.
First, it seems that this leads to some ministers asking more than what someone can wholeheartedly give by scaring them when it comes to their faith.
Next is the way the sermons are being constructed, as to denote that if you face difficulties in your life, you must just bear with it or ignore it for your faith.
Nowadays (just this 2015), it is made worse by pointing out in sermons that the reason you are still poor, still suffering is because you do not obey the teachings of the Church.
And in just the last sermon before this writing, the topic was about ignoring everything unrelated to church activities because God will still help. It stressed that things are better now compared to Noah's time – he didn’t complain, so neither must you.
There has been a drastic change since the past executive minister and I want to break from this as soon as I can.
I am still able to tolerate the teachings when I go to church but I fear there will be a time when I will be brainwashed by this mentality and be metaphorically turned into "zombies" of the faith. Also, some excommunicated church members are announced in the worship service in the week they are excommunicated, and we are told "not to even talk to them.”
And so my dilemma goes... I need advice about leaving this church even if the repercussions would be to be ultimately shunned by my whole clan, all my INC friends and worse, to be kicked out of the house and to be forced to live alone. I am sorry for the long letter. I wish for anonymity for the situation I am in… hope you understand
Thank you and I hope you can help me with my dilemma.
Thank you for your letter.
I have to confess that as a former Catholic and current agnostic I am not familiar with the beliefs and practices of INC. However, from what you say, it seems to conform to a well established religious model: obey or be damned, tithe or be damned, everything good or bad is God's will so accept it or be damned.
This approach is very attractive to lots of people. Its straitjacket of belief and behavior gives certainty to their lives, meaning to what is otherwise apparently mere caprice and a ready family of co-believers within which to find comfort.
However it is less appealing to those who are more independent-minded, more questioning or simply less willing to follow the herd. These people are therefore offered a stark choice: either belong without dissent or leave and have no further contact. This persuades all but the most courageous to keep their views to themselves and remain outwardly devout adherents to the party line. (READ: Iglesia ni Cristo and the mentality of exclusivity)
Your letter clearly shows that while you are still just about able to stomach the teachings at present, you anticipate a not too distant day when you will no longer be able to do so. You already understand what an enormous difference this will make to your life, have come to terms with the consequences and are prepared to act in due course despite this. Use the time therefore to make the transition as easy as possible by planning your exit route and the next phase of your life.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter.
If truth be told, I am not all that worried about you. I care about your problem and about you. A lot. In fact, you sound like the kind of person I would love to have for a son, which is an absolutely no-no to even hint at in therapy, but happily, this is not therapy.
The reason I say this is that you are obviously not only smart, but emotionally mature.
Smart in that you have analyzed the INC in terms of what is most important to you: freedom of thought, a non-judgmental attitude, a non-punitive way of dealing with infractions and a desire to avoid unnecessary cruelty to others, like shunning those who have left the faith.
Emotionally mature because you know in your heart of hearts that you have to leave. I feel you’ve tried to convince yourself to stay in the INC, and yet realized the cost would be too great. In your heart of hearts you know the cost of staying will mean compromise and deceit about how you truly feel. In addition, you fear that in time this deceit will no longer be necessary since you will start to truly believe what all the other members do and thus turn into a zombie. Thus, given the way you want to live your life, you will have to leave the INC to get the peace you want.
Leave despite all the possible repercussions to follow.
Even the logistics seem overwhelming: not having a place to stay, not having any real friends outside the INC you can count on etc. I cannot help feeling however that these odds are not insurmountable. The emotional maturity you’ve shown – especially your ability to predict possible scenarios depending on the path you take – will help you choose the best course of action. Should you feel stymied by a particular difficult problem, please write to Two Pronged once more and we will see what we can do to help.
The only thing that truly concerns me is how you will feel (and thus what you might do) if (when?) even your family reject you. Because what that means is that, given the choice of following their religion or choosing you they chose the former. What this decision implies is that they, too, have already become the zombies you fear you might turn into. What may ease your pain is reminding yourself that, if they are prepared to lose you simply because you had the courage of your convictions, then perhaps you lost them way before this final cutting of ties.
There is much more to be said about the reason cutting ties can be more devastating for the child rather than for the parents, despite that old Filipino believe "Hindi matiis ng mga magulang ang anak" (Parents cannot stay angry at their children). This I will do fairly soon in my third Clinical Notes. In the meantime, I hope being forewarned makes you at least somewhat forearmed.
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