It is rare that dissent rocks the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), the most secretive, hierarchical and tightly run religious organization in the country. After all, strict obedience and submission have been its hallmarks, making the INC endure for 101 years, spreading its faith outside the Philippine shores.
Recent events thus came as a surprise.
While the roots of the discontent appear to run deep, simmering for years, its first visible manifestation burst out on YouTube July 22. Two members of the Manalo family asked for help, saying their lives were in danger. (READ: Infographics: The Manalos of the Iglesia ni Cristo)
(The Manalos have ruled the INC from the start. After the founder, Felix, died in 1963, son Eraño took over as executive minister. Then Eduardo succeeded his father who passed away in 2009.)
That broke the thick silence that has wrapped the Christian church. Since then, insiders have been sharing with the media and the public stories of corruption and extravagant lifestyles of high officials.
The INC is far from a democracy; there is no space for criticism. Ironically, this is what has made it a powerful player in Philippine politics. The group, with about 1.8 million adult members, votes as a bloc.
It leverages its support for politicians by getting its allies appointed to plum posts in government.
What is remarkable is that it took a very long time for members to shake up the INC hierarchy. It remained rock solid as the country went through historical milestones, as if it were insulated: the military rebellion against a dictator and people power revolts deposing 2 presidents.
Around us, as the world changed, the INC clung to its iron-clad rules. Democracies have swept many countries and moments like the Arab Spring and the fall of the Berlin Wall have shifted the ground beneath our feet. In China, the Communist Party is openly purging corrupt officials. Technology is forcing governments to be transparent.
In the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has breathed fresh air into a doddering institution, unifying it, making it globally relevant with calls to countries to heed the negative impact of climate change. On the home front, he has rid the Vatican Bank of corrupt officials.
Here, the INC has yet to accept that accountability matters. It has yet to clean up its ranks.
Many members have steadfast faith in their doctrines and feel secure in the centralized structure that provides them housing and health services. In fact, a day before its 101st anniversary on July 27, Brother Eduardo gathered the INC flock at the Philippine Arena to show force amid internal hostilities. There are no crowd estimates as the event was not open to the media.
Even if it recovers, the INC could emerge a scarred institution. And if it does not address corruption issues, it could become a politically weakened power broker. – Rappler.com