Apollo Quiboloy

[OPINION] Stop getting owned by Apollo Quiboloy

Joseph Nathan Cruz

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[OPINION] Stop getting owned by Apollo Quiboloy
'It is up to faith-based communities to show that Quiboloy is the exception, not the rule'

Unless you are a member of the religious group Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC), you probably would have made fun at some point of the more outlandish teachings of its leader, Apollo Quiboloy. A few such teachings include his claim to be the “Appointed Son of God” as well as “Owner of the Universe.” His claim of divinity is what he uses to legitimize his claim of ownership over the universe and everything – and everyone – in it.

In internet parlance, the expression “to get owned” means to be totally ridiculed, embarrassed, deceived, or defeated. And that is exactly what is happening. Apollo Quiboloy is owning us all – the judiciary, the Senate, the country’s religious communities, and his followers.

Abuse of religious institutional freedom

When did we start getting owned by Quiboloy? It all started with KOJC, of course. The con started with what was obviously a church model that abused the doctrine of separation of church and state. The doctrine of separation of church and state means the state is not allowed to directly interfere with faith practices unless these practices break the law. It also means, among other practical implications, that the state shall neither heavily regulate religion nor tax donations, tithes, and church offerings, for these are not fruits of enterprise but of faith, which is outside the purview of government.

The KOJC is proof of what happens when this doctrine is abused. It demonstrates what happens when churches and religious organizations are left to their own devices with regard to their operations and finances, with no accountability to the state or any regulatory body. 

Yes, there are churches whose leaders are honest and frugal, and who manage their finances as people who are accountable to God. But then there’s Quiboloy, who does not see himself as accountable to anyone. For why should a self-declared Son of God be bound by earthly regulation? Besides him, there are other groups whose leaders are, in their hearts, accountable only to themselves.

These are the sort of leaders who, despite the fact that churches are not taxed because they are not businesses, build and operate churches as if they were businesses. They pay lip service to God when they spend their money: “God told me to buy myself this property and mansion for myself as a testament to God’s goodness” or “God told me to buy this car, this boat or this jet so I can more effectively spread God’s message.” 

But these pronouncements are self-delusions, if not outright lies. Ideally, finances generated by members’ faith should build up the church and support its growth. But for charlatans in preachers’ suits, it’s the other way around: churches are built and made to grow in order to generate income.

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Apollo Quiboloy and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, from abuse to multi-million properties

Apollo Quiboloy and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, from abuse to multi-million properties

This opinion piece is not an advocacy for total government control of the religious sector. Few Filipinos would want a religious environment that is the opposite extreme, such as the one in China, where the freedom of religious organizations is totally curtailed by the iron fist of the state. Moreover, it’s not as if Quiboloy is the first to create a church designed to maximize the generation of untaxed income. Many church leaders walking the fine line between enterprise and ministry are not necessarily charlatans. But where Quiboloy distinguishes himself is in his outright descent into criminality.

Behold the wolf

Christianity extols the virtue of faith, which is a kind of suspension of rationality when rational or empirical evidence proves limited. Faith is described as “the evidence of things not seen,” an ability to know the deeper layers of reality beyond human perception and beyond ordinary ways of thinking. Having said that, Jesus and the apostles were not naïve. They were aware that being so open-minded could lead one to become vulnerable to the guiles of charlatans.

Jesus famously told his followers to be as innocent as doves, but as wise as serpents. He said he was sending out his followers as sheep among wolves, and he also warned them against false teachers. Of course, when one lives by faith, it may be difficult to discern between a genuine teacher and a con-man, but he advised his followers: “You shall know them by their fruits.”

So, what are the “fruits” of Apollo Quiboloy?

First is the abuse, if not utter disregard, of the doctrine of separation of church and state. Quiboloy has been known to have close ties with political figures, including former president Rodrigo Duterte. Such political connections have led to speculation about the extent of Quiboloy’s influence on government policies and decisions, especially when his followers have been known to support political candidates who align with their interests and beliefs. This symbiotic relationship between Quiboloy and certain political factions may afford him a degree of leverage within the government, in violation of the very doctrine of separation of church and state that protects him from regulation.

Quiboloy’s second fruit is of greed and materialism hidden beneath a veneer of spirituality. In the desert, Jesus was tested by the devil, who offered him the wealth of this world. But while Jesus refused, Quiboloy seems to have no problem saying yes to affluence and opulence.

Playing politics and collecting real estate, such as mansions, are shady enough for a religious leader, but Quiboloy is made shadier by his third fruit: alleged outright criminality. His own members have accused him of sexual assault, and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has placed him on its most wanted list for human trafficking and money laundering. Two cases are filed against him locally: one in a Davao court for the maltreatment and sexual abuse of minors, and one in a Pasig court for human trafficking. The Philippine Senate and House of Representatives have also issued arrest warrants for a contempt citation because of Quiboloy’s refusal to attend multiple hearings investigating his alleged crimes.

“You shall know them by their fruits.” By his fruits, Quiboloy is a really successful scammer.

Where is Quiboloy?

The self-declared “Owner of the Universe” continues to own the courts and the Senate because, despite three warrants of arrest issued, the man still has not been arrested. He has made a joke of the dignity of the courts and the Senate by going into hiding, essentially an act of defiance that puts into question the power of the government to enforce justice. Despite the fact that Duterte already distanced himself from Quiboloy, and despite the confidential and intelligence funds allocated to the police and the military, we seem to have no intelligence on the whereabouts of Quiboloy.

Those who are sympathetic to Quiboloy cite the doctrine of separation of church and state as evidence of unjust persecution. After all, why should a religious figure be hounded so by the state? This argument is outright trash. Religious freedom has limits, and it absolutely ends once it crosses the line of violating the law.

Some have even accused the Senate of sensationalism. Why insist on investigating a man on matters that will already be covered in the coming court trials?

In an interview by Dr. Melba Maggay during an ISIP-ISAK podcast by the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC), Senator Risa Hontiveros argued that the Senate already has a well-established precedence of being allowed by the Supreme Court to hold investigations if they are “in aid of legislation.” Quiboloy’s case is particularly relevant to legislation from questions that arise in three areas:

  1. Rape laws and the nature of sexual consent (For example, is a woman’s consent legitimate when her mental state is under the influence of coercive teachings, such as when one is coerced to provide sexual services to the Appointed Son of God and Owner of the Universe?)
  2. Labor laws in relation to church volunteers (How can we protect church volunteers who are not formal workers and are vulnerable to exploitation?)
  3. Anti-trafficking laws in relation to religious freedom (What are the limits of religious freedom when invoked to justify acts that may violate existing laws?)

Despite the legitimacy of the Senate’s inquiry, Quiboloy refused to attend a single hearing. As Hontiveros pointed out, the right to avoid self-incrimination is not a legitimate basis to refuse to attend a Senate hearing, and neither is the separation of church and state. Religious leaders are also citizens and are accountable to the laws of the land. Quiboloy is not being persecuted for his heretical teachings but for rape, money laundering, and human trafficking.

So, with three arrest warrants issued against the man, why has he not been found and jailed?

Lock him up

Quiboloy’s case is especially pertinent to the Philippines’ religious communities because it exposes the worst-case scenario of religion not being under any kind of governmental oversight. Even though Quiboloy’s group is an outlier and more of a religious cult, he still makes other faith-based communities look bad. While no one wants a China-like scenario of vise-like state control over religion, people like Quiboloy who abuse religious freedom with audacity raise the question of whether or not Philippine religions have too much freedom.

As the legitimacy of religious freedom is undermined by Quiboloy, faith-based communities will be best served by stepping up under these circumstances. Ideally, with the separation of church and state, faith-based communities should police themselves and one another. But this is difficult given that religious organizations are not under a single body. Is KOJC even under any religious network or association, or is it operating with no accountability to anyone but itself?

Nevertheless, given these limitations, faith-based communities should offer what they can. Information, for one, if they have them. Or they may offer sanctuary and protection to victim-survivors of KOJC.  It is because of people like Quiboloy that many citizens have lost faith in the value of religion. It is up to faith-based communities to show that Quiboloy is the exception, not the rule.

At the very least, we will all feel slightly better if Quiboloy’s current mockery of the state and the law is stopped. Enough is enough: the state should bring down the full might of its police apparatus and its intelligence funds on Quiboloy so that he can be found and locked up. We cannot allow this charlatan to continue “owning” us – the public, our courts, our government. If he is to own something, let it be a cell and an orange jumpsuit. – Rappler.com

Joseph Nathan Cruz writes for the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture and works as head of quality management for a financial services cooperative. He has a master’s degree in sociology from the National University of Singapore, and was an assistant professor in behavioral sciences before moving to the private sector.

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