This article was first published in the author's blog Bits & Bites. We are republishing it with the author's permission.
I read about the opinion piece you wrote on Rappler and while I initially tried to ignore it, something stirred in me and made me decide to write a response.
First off, I would like to know why you felt the need to hide behind a pseudonym, when the Iglesia Ni Cristo doesn't expel their members for asking questions about the validity, veracity, and practicality of their beliefs, especially when they are valid ones. Do we not practice transparency and accountability in the Church? Do we not state our whole name and affix our signature in reports of wrongdoing inside the Church, before an investigation is done to prove if the reports are true?
But that aside, as your brethren, I would like to ask how you've been, how your workload is as a student, how many units are you taking, and how often have you missed out on attending worship services because of your studies? Because isn't that part of how we take care of each other in the Church, we check on each member's situation, ensure that everyone is making it out well and that no problem or sickness or obstacles prevent us from continuing our service to God?
I ask this because I am confused. As someone who was raised inside the Church and being a minister's daughter, I would think that you of all people will have a first-hand source to answer all your questions and clear your concerns. I ask you, before you sent in your piece to that website, have you talked to your father about these concerns? Or any other minister, even any other member? Because my Dad was a policeman and my Mom is a practicing Catholic but I can answer all the questions you didn't ask in your piece, even though the article's intro stated you were questioning the teachings you grew up with. I ask again if you've attended worship services lately, because if you have and you weren't spacing out or dozing off, all your arguments would have been addressed.
If you are active in Church activities and are present in your father's officiation of Bible studies in doctrine and Evangelical missions, then I doubt you would be asking those questions.
Now since you never mentioned even one bible verse in your piece, I won't do so here as well.
I won't be able to answer your piece point by point because whenever I try to refresh the webpage, it takes forever to load (probably from the many commenters who give their two cents without really thinking about where the other side is coming from). But I'll try to remember what I can.
Reading your piece, I felt like you were speaking from a socialist point of view, and no longer from a creationist one, where clearly the INC is coming from. Why you have that view now, I can only guess is from your university education, where you most probably were exposed to the harsh realities of how capitalists, oligarchs, economists, bureaucrats, and all the other powers-that-be rule the world.
When I entered UP Diliman (UPD), I was also exposed to all those views. I mention this not to brag, but to make you understand that I see where you're coming from. Atheists, agnostics, existentialists, activists—you name it, I have a friend from UPD who subscribes to one of those beliefs. And strongly too at that. I have a non-INC friend from high school who became an activist when she entered UP and eventually immersed herself to the kilusan (the movement), and years later when she died from a car accident while being chased by alleged military personnel, all her high school friends—including INC members, because we all graduated from New Era University—went to her wake and some even attended her funeral. I was one of those who sat quietly and respectfully (non-apathetically if I may add), while her comrades from the kilusan spent about half an hour in front of her coffin edifying those who went to pay their last respects to my friend. They called my friend a different name (she was called a very Filipino name much like your pseudonym, Malaya), one that her family and friends didn't recognize, and barely gave her loved ones a moment to say goodbye. Because to them, my friend already belonged to the movement, to the society, and no longer to her family. And they persuaded us to continue her fight up until the last pound of dirt was shovelled into my friend’s grave.
I tell you this because I want you to know that I agree with you on questioning your beliefs, because no one should blindly follow anyone else or any one religion or organization, especially when they have been given the chance to learn and question and inquire. But I also remind you that we always have the freedom to leave when we no longer subscribe to those beliefs, and having a religion should not prevent you from being a human being, a friend, a daughter, a son. My activist friend still went to our reunions whenever she wasn't immersed in the mountains. She still spoke to us like we were carefree Girl Scouts gossiping about our crushes. I have friends who are Muslims, Born-Again Christians, Seventh Day Adventists, and Buddhists. I have friends who are gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and transsexuals. But we all manage to continue being friends without calling the others’ belief myopic or liberal.
Now about those medical and relief missions that you say are only done to gain more Church members. That's partly true, we do conduct evangelical missions vis-à-vis our medical ones. That has always been a component of religious missions, regardless of the religion. But to say that we're doing that because our ONLY goal is to gain more members, is an absolute mockery of the brethren and medical volunteers and professionals who attend those missions. Are we all heartless people who tell our guests, “You have to stay for the evangelical program because if you don't, we won't give you the medicines/check-up/relief bags?” Do we tell them they need to be members of the Church first in order to receive these voluntary services? Isn't it a bit off to call the program “Kabayan Ko, Kapatid Ko (My Countrymen, My Brethren)” if we don't really care about their welfare?
And let me just categorically correct you on one thing: we don’t try to convert people out of the utang na loob (debt of gratitude) mentality. As I’m sure your minister father and any other member (active or otherwise) can tell you, we ask them to listen, study, think, and decide if they agree with our teachings or not. And if they don’t, we don’t take it against them. It’s part and parcel of conducting a mission.
Good acts made known
You also wrote something about us revelling in the Philippine Arena and the Guinness World Records, making it sound like it is all we care about. Malaya, I'd like to remind you that it is the media who covered and featured those things, because aside from our bloc voting, those are the only things they seem to think are newsworthy about our Church. Are they going to write about how many countries, territories, and nationalities our Church has already reached, how many houses of worship, buildings, residential housing, and district offices we have in all parts of the globe? When have we ever read about that in mainstream or social media? No, we find out about this during our worship services, in our own media channels, in our own publications. Because is it not the brethren who deserve to know where their offering (voluntary amount that they give, and NOT ten percent of their income as the public is widely misinformed) is going? And how, even when majority of our membership live below the poverty line, we manage to build a world-record holder of an edifice, all without financial help from any politician or any private entity? Do you believe otherwise? Because you do know, Malaya, that this specific fact was mentioned by our Executive Minister in his circular, right? That we have achieved all these because of each brethren's contribution and, above all, by the good grace of God?
And that if you know of some wrongdoing, you can always file a report and expose it, right? You do know that there are a lot of members, yes even ministers, who were expelled from the Church because they started to live a life that's not in keeping with the Christian way, right Malaya?
And you are aware that there are others who voluntarily left, those who left without notice yet are painstakingly searched for by our dutiful brethren, because isn't that how we take care of one another? That no member is bound in shackles to stay in the Church if that is no longer what they want.
You talk about empowering society and mobilization. Do we not empower society by encouraging our members to work, discouraging them from being lazy and leaving everything to chance like gambling (which drives both the rich and the poor to financial destruction) and participating in illegal transactions? Do we not tell them to persevere, to pay the right amount of taxes, and not rely on dole outs from anyone?
Freedom of the Church
Lastly, about the bloc voting, I can't officially speak in behalf of the Church. But thinking rationally, isn't it right to ensure the freedom of the Church to continue practicing its faith, and to do so, ensure that we elect officials that won't hinder us from exercising that right? Just like socialists, reformists, activists, and members of other religions, should we not support those who have the same plans and goals and ideals as ours, or at the very least, those who tell us they will not in any way prevent us from freely being Christians or persecute us just because we don’t share the same religion? Would a communist party vote for a capitalist?
I ask you from a journalism graduate to a university student, from one brethren to another, are we compelled to take a photo of our ballots, document our inked index fingers, are we followed by Church officers to the voting precinct, to the voting booth, to ensure we exercised our doctrine in unity?
And isn’t that just what boggles your mind and everyone else’s? How millions of people—each with his own mind, each exposed to the harsh realities of the world, most of them living in it—still choose to participate in that unity?
You see Malaya, this is probably what you have forgotten to think about while you were writing your piece. You may have forgotten that we are not talking about the law, or any other system of belief here. We are talking about faith, or the Christian faith to be specific. The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition classifies faith as a noun which means:
“1. Confident belief or trust in a person, idea, or thing. See Syns at belief. 2. Loyalty, allegiance. 3. Often Faith Christianity Secure belief in God and acceptance of God’s will. 4. A religion.”
Faith doesn't operate just on what can be seen, what can be validated or certified or proven. That's how powerful faith is, how something that seems unbelievable to many can be the most ordinary and automatic thing to some. How it's possible that one's absolute truth is different from the other's absolute truth. I can give you all the rational explanation to make you remember what those doctrines mean, but to the faithless, it will never suffice.
Maybe it also momentarily slipped your mind how, as human beings, we learn to respect one another's faith and beliefs, how we understand that not everyone can accept our own, and how we should have the freedom to choose to whom, to where, and in which we put our faith.
Malaya, as you continue learning, I hope you find what it is you are looking for, and I hope you stand by it long after you've finished your studies. I hope your questions about faith and religion be answered and clarified, and your convictions about socialism remain strong whether you are living a convenient life or a less comfortable one in the city or elsewhere.
Because I can tell you one thing: you can speak your mind all you want, and I will listen and respect your right to that opinion, but I will never turn my back on the Iglesia Ni Cristo nor dream a life outside of it. No matter how people like you persecute me for exercising my right and defending my faith.
Romy Antonette Peña is a journalism graduate from UP Diliman and grew up as a member of the Iglesia Ni Cristo. When she was eleven years old, she listened to the doctrines of the Iglesia Ni Cristo and was baptized on February 20, 1999. She works as a website editor for a telecom company.