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INC and the mentality of exclusivity

I’ve been an Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) member since I was born and my father is a minister. My siblings and I were raised to behold as absolute truth all doctrines without question. As kids, we’re brazen to tell our friends “Mag-Iglesia ka na kundi mapupunta ka sa dagat-dagatang apoy.” (Convert to Iglesia; otherwise, you'll end up in hell)

We’re flying with wings of righteousness holding the light to guide those lost in the darkness, we call sanlibutan; completely convinced that we’re indeed the chosen ones come judgment day. All we have to do is follow like sheep and salvation is certain. This is my myopic reality.

Into the darkness

Coming of age, I learned our creationist view is indubitably wrong given the insurmountable evidences against it, yet I find this mistake tolerable; assuming perhaps a scientifically-informed interpretation of the bible isn’t necessary for salvation. I was indifferent about this just as I am in overriding any of my rights for the sake of unity; trusting that it’s always for the good of the church. 

What became unbearable is having my consciousness raised about the multi-dimensional causes of poverty. I cannot unlearn what I know now - that the terrible social realities we dismiss right before our eyes as normal is caused by injustice from existing power structures in society. 

It was alarming for I was undeniably guilty of being part of a church responsible for reinforcing structures that sustain poverty through our social attitude and practice of ‘unity.’  

We are INC first before we are Filipinos

It is our faith, albeit fatalistic, that the world will inevitably perish and no developmental agenda by man could prevent it; we are only travelers here for our true residence is the kingdom of heaven. Hence, we resign concern about matters outside our kingdom unless it might undermine doctrines or the church administration.  

We show power in numbers through bloc-voting and secure key positions in the government in order to protect the interests of the church, never mind whether it’s a corrupt official as long as the church is secured. This is why INC was indifferent during the People Power I despite all the atrocious harm done towards the Filipino people - all because we allied with former president Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator. 

Culture of apathy

Since our primary concern is the good of the church and not of the people in general, an apathetic attitude towards social issues is fostered among members. 

We’re prohibited to participate in any form of social mobilization or unions because it’s against the unity of the church, even if such actions addresses concerns that directly affect the welfare of members.

Greedy corporations who operate with inhumane policies are fortunate as INC members are willing allies to preserve an unfair system. We abstain claiming accountability from power-holders in the name of ‘peace.’ - a peace that is oblivious of its implications.

Yes, we’re an obedient flock of docile sheep but we’re also subtle criminals and dignified perpetrators of injustices against our fellowmen. With brilliant pride we take the side of the oppressors.

Our brand of humanitarianism

The provision of generous aid to millions of non-members through medical missions, relief distributions and housing projects are token gestures, for “conversion” is our utmost motivation by exploiting the sense of utang na loob (debt of gratitude). 

INC’s brand of humanitarianism does not involve championing the interest and welfare of the poor by addressing root causes of social issues. Our humanitarian cause is the 'noblest' of all: to save your soul from damnation by converting you to the one true Church of Christ.

Masters of mobilization

We’re taught that hardships and misfortunes in life are either caused by sin or are trials we must endure. However, evidence suggests that societal structures and how its citizens participate in shaping it in the course of history is the concrete reason for the everyday struggles of today. Poverty is avoidable, development is a choice.  

The public witnessed INC’s power to amass more than a million people in its administrations’ behest. If the church could use its clout to truly help the nation by addressing long term needs and root causes of perennial social issues – such as lobbying and supporting genuine agrarian reform, a fair wage and other issues that affect the marginalized majority, where many of its own members come from, we shall contribute to societal change.

Aren't we humans first?

My conscience is disturbed when I saw my fellow brethren exalte upon news of famine, war, destruction and calamities where thousands of people lay dead. Some even said, “Makasalanan kasi ang sanlibutan, matuwa tayo dahil nalalapit ang kaligtasan natin.” (The people are sinful. We should be happy because our salvation is near.) They seem to forget we’re humans first before we even subscribe to any religion. 

'Saving your soul' as a single mission is quite selfish in the face of human suffering. I understand it stems from fear and existential uncertainties, but It’s wrong to choose a convenient personal escape and say “kung gusto niyo rin maligtas, umanib na kayo” (if you want to be saved, join us) instead of engaging in collective action driven by empathy and compassion. 

We glory over the Philippine Arena, Guinness records, and the thousands of congregations we’ve built like the elite ruler gloating over his empire.

There is harm in a mentality of exclusivity when we operate in the context of a larger society. Imagining a fragmented reality wherein we are only travelers goes against the truth that we have a responsibility to contribute and cooperate in facilitating change in the world. We can do this by renouncing apathy and using our power to mobilize for the good of people. - 

*Malaya dela Cruz is a pseudonym.  Rappler verified the identity of the writer, who asked her real name be concealed for her protection. She is a university student.

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