2022 Philippine Elections

[OPINION] The 2022 elections and the sovereign will of God

Jayeel Cornelio
[OPINION] The 2022 elections and the sovereign will of God
'It might be wise for Christian communities to now begin reflecting on their collective responsibility to society'

That it appeals to deeply held religious views is one reason disinformation flourishes in the Philippines. 

Think of forgiveness.

While the premise of forgiveness is justice, we know that it has been hijacked for Marcosian interests. When the dictator was laid to rest at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, numerous verses were shared about forgiveness and moving on. While networks of disinformation initiated them, many Filipinos, who truly believed in forgiveness, eventually passed them on.

But it was not an isolated moment. 

In the events that led to the election, Christians were finally convinced that forgiveness was necessary for national reconciliation and healing. After having opposed the Marcoses for many years, these Filipinos now maintain that forgiveness might be a more noble path to take. All of it in spite of Marcos Jr.’s refusal to admit his family’s responsibility for Martial Law.

The same observation might be said about the sovereignty of God. In the wake of the elections, Christians exhorted one another to “let God’s will prevail.”

But like forgiveness, the “sovereignty of God” disempowers the people of God. It asks them to accept defeat, move on, and then shut up. 

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Theology of sovereignty

The idea of God’s sovereignty has been long debated in theology. 

Most of the time it’s discussed in relation to human freedom in the areas of salvation, sin, and morality. In these debates, the questions typically revolve around the limits of God’s will and the extent of human responsibility.

Its complexity, however, did not deter people from using it as soon as it became clear that Marcos Jr. won the election. 

In some cases, Christians have found in it some encouragement that perhaps “God has a better plan for the Philippines.” Alluding to the prophet Isaiah, they then assure themselves that “God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts.”

In other cases, however, Christians have invoked it to invalidate the grief that many others are going through. Believing that what they do is their Christian duty, they ask their fellow Christians to accept defeat, pray for the presumptive president, and desire that he would be blessed. 

In this rhetoric, God’s sovereignty operates on three levels. 

On one level, it asserts that electoral victory perfectly matches the will of God. On another level, it also insists that if God (sovereignly) had another candidate in mind then that person should have won the election.

And yet on another level, God’s sovereignty is asking everyone else not only to accept their defeat but also hold their tongue.

The last one is perhaps the most sinister because it renders grief an evil response. 

As a matter of fact, I know that there are Christians out there who call others “rebellious” for grieving over the turn of events. As usual, Romans 13:1 is their verse of choice, “for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

In this case, the sovereignty of God asks people to abandon their freedom to feel, think, and reflect.

Worse, it absolves people of their ethical responsibility for the choices they make that affect society.

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Faith and political choices

Before the elections, I appealed to Christians to rethink their vote for Marcos. But the fantasy of unity and national reconciliation has proven to be far more seductive, especially for those who seem to know their Bible well.

Let me be clear though. My issue is not about these Christians’ moral choices. I get it that pastors and priests are still trying to understand how and why their own people could choose a thief.

While there is pastoral urgency to make sense of that, I feel that the burden is greater as to why faith and political choices seem to be distinct for many Christians. That is another issue altogether.

It turns out that I am not alone. 

After the elections, my own student, himself an evangelical, shared with me that this very issue finally erupted in his own congregation. Apparently, his church has been criticized for staying silent throughout the campaign season. 

Defending their congregations’ neutrality, many of his peers reasoned that “the church’s primary focus should be on discipleship and evangelism.” They then called on everyone to “let the sovereignty of God prevail.” 

That did not sit well with my student. 

A sophomore, he responded with a question that reflected both his pain and aspiration: “When we begin to imagine a godly and righteous society, aren’t we also imagining a society that fully embraces its civic character?” 

Known for her widely sung Christian compositions, another friend reached out to me on this matter, too. In fact, she was deeply bothered that her peers could simply explain it all away as God’s will. She then wondered if other Christians could be morally accountable too for the choice that they made. 

Admitting that she is still “heartbroken,” she has resolved not to accept defeat and continue working for communities.

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Public consequences

Given that forgiveness and now God’s sovereignty have been used to silence dissent, it might be wise for Christian communities to now begin reflecting on their collective responsibility to society.

This is because the theologies proclaimed in our congregations and echoed in our networks have public consequences.

In other words, they are not only “spiritual” matters, no matter how one insists that a Christian’s main duty is “to evangelize.” In fact, recognizing that theology is publicly consequential compels faith communities to reflect on the quality of citizens they promote in their midst.

Does it foster vigilance? Or does it silence dissent? Does it promote accountability? Or does it enable impunity?  

In the eloquent words of my student, “to be Christlike is a dialogue between discipleship and mindful citizenship.” My student would never realize the impact of his words on me.

These are, after all, the words of a man fully convinced that the sovereign will of God demands truth, justice, and accountability. – Rappler.com

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is a sociologist of religion at the Ateneo de Manila University, where he holds the Oscar R. Ledesma Professorial Chair. He is a 2021 TOYM awardee in the field of education and sociology. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.