I have been informed that the Worship Service lessons are different in the Philippines from the other parts of the world. The lessons that have been taught in America is about how God sets apart people for Himself, while in the Philippines, brethren have been bombarded the last two weeks on lessons about voting and unity. I don’t recall having so many successive lessons in Unity before – maybe 2 at the most. Is there a “concern” that the Unity of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) is not as solid as before?
In just a matter of days, 9th of May 2016, to be more precise, the Philippines will be holding the country’s Presidential elections. Then on the 8th of November of this same year, the United States will also be holding the Presidential elections. It is indeed a daunting process for the respective countries. For the uninformed, the Iglesia Ni Cristo, the brethren “vote as one” – meaning that the Church leadership decide who to vote for, the members are simply told who has been chosen, and the registered voters go to the polls. As simple as that.
The doctrinal explanation for this is the Apostolic instruction (I had the hardest time finding this verse): “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” I Corinthians 1:10 RSV. To “judge”, in Webster dictionary, means to “vote” – therefore, voting is a form of judging who will be the next leader or head of the country.
The other reason for the INC to “vote as one” is the verse in Psalms, “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” – thus, being united (such as in voting) is done to please God. So, as the members are taught, the Church Administrator makes the decision for the Church.
Some government officials may dislike or disagree with the Church’s process. Nevertheless, in the Philippines, the INC is well known for its bloc voting. This is done because it is within the mandates of the Constitution and therefore legal.
During the time of the former Executive Minister, Brother Erano Manalo and even Brother Felix Manalo, they kept a tight rein on these matters. Politicians spoke to them hoping to get the “Iglesia vote” and many parties did approach the Church. But in the end, it didn’t matter, because they made the decisions and we just voted. After that, it didn’t really matter who won. What was important is that the brethren did their part to remain united.
But now, it is quite a different scenario. In the 21st Century, with the advent of the Internet and social media, many more are exposed to what is going on with political figures. Politics is everywhere and more politicians are much more aware of the power of the Iglesia vote.
So a “smart politician” could attempt to woo the Church vote by connecting themselves with the INC leaders. Imagine, with one decision of the Church council, you get the 2 to 3 millions of Filipino votes under your belt.
But remember, as the Bible tells us, that man is a sinner. Mankind fell and continues to fall to all kinds of temptations. And so especially when it comes to the ‘dirty game’ of politics, some politicians may use all kinds of ways to get into that seat of power. The danger now lies with those who are connected to this process done inside the Church.
The Church conducts “surveys” so they can see who the people are interested in. And it is now up to the Ministers to provide information to the Administrator for who may be the best person for the job. A politician may use this opportunity to “sway” a Minister to give a recommendation to the Administration that is favourable to that individual. It can be a very tempting and lucrative method of persuasion. I am not knocking any particular Minister but remember, the Bible says that “man is weak”. So imagine a very tempting “offer” of a politician. He can “persuade” a Minister to give a recommendation that can change the face of the Philippine politics and even the country’s history. That then becomes a very important decision. As Don Vito Corleone, the fictional Godfather (played by Marlon Brando) says, “make him an offer he can’t refuse”. The “tempted” Minister is now also in a position to ask for a very generous “token of appreciation” isn’t he? Such temptations before their very eyes!
Let’s jump over for a moment to the other side of the ocean – in America, where in November, Americans will also cast their votes to decide the next President. Since the Iglesia Ni Cristo is nowhere in number as in the Philippines, the members’ votes don’t make such an impact, especially there is the electoral college vote (which I would not even attempt to explain). In short, the INC is not as influential in America. Plus, here is also the crux in America that the INC faces – that it cannot take the same actions it does in the Philippines – that is, IT CANNOT TELL the brethren who to vote for. In taking such actions, the Church would be in all kinds of problems including losing its tax exemption status. For if it is found to be dabbling in politics and influencing the members’ votes, there could be all kinds of legal ramifications.
There is what is called the “Johnson amendment” that was enacted in 1954 to prevent charities, churches and other tax-exempt organizations, from participating in political campaign activity. According to section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code, they “cannot participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”
Therefore, what the Church Administration has done in the recent past, (in America) is to simply declare to the brethren, when they ask “who do we vote for?” – the reply that is given – “the Church does not meddle in politics”. The end. That is the answer. This was the reply in the previous election. It was a way for the Church to protect itself from losing the tax exemption status by “not meddling in politics”.
Back to the islands: This is the real crux of the matter – why is it that in 2015, the INC conducted a well publicised RALLY about “Separation of Church and State” and in the United States, the brethren were told that “the Church does not meddle in politics” in the last U.S. elections and yet here we are, the brethren in the Philippines are about to vote as ONE for the Presidency?
Couldn’t the Administration also decide to say, “the Church does not meddle in politics” in the Philippines? After all, it would prevent all those politicians from trying to “seduce” the Ministers and brethren.
And, if we really are only after UNITY, then isn’t this more an act of WORLDWIDE UNITY by making the same decision in America as it is in the Philippines by stating “the Church does not meddle in politics”? Hence, separation of Church from State.
What are we really after? The friendship of the next President? Would we lose favours if we do not vote for some of the politicians? Or is it not an exercise in being ONE?
Remember, what this is all about. UNITY. Being of one accord. That is why the Apostles taught: “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.” If the Administration eliminated having to choose one politician over the other and simply declared “the Church does not meddle in politics”, would it not stop all these politicians from wooing the Church? Would it not eliminate any temptation and “selfish motives” of church members who may want to gain leverage with politicians if they think that their “connections” could influence the “church vote”? After all, without the coveted “church vote”, there would be no scheming politician who would bother trying to court the brethren, the ministers and the Church council itself.
I know some might say, what about during the time of the previous Executive Minister? Wasn’t this a problem? No. For two reasons:
1. Brother Erano Manalo had full control of the Church and the Ministers. Just go search on YouTube. You will hear of his lecture rebuking the Ministers and warning that if he found any corruption, he would not hesitate to take action on them. He knew of the temptations presented to the Ministers and brethren. Nowadays there is complete DENIAL that THERE IS NO CORRUPTION. Really? Zero? Not one?
2. In the 21st Century, the social media is allowing the church members to express their opinions. It has gotten to the point that the Administration has had to “remind” brethren to “avoid commenting on politics and wait for the Administration’s decision”
The reality is, whether we like it or not, people will have their own opinions, even in politics. Voting as one is a matter of faith. Will the Administration still monitor each one of us and check if we really voted as one? It is a matter of conscience isn’t it? – meaning it is between you and God. At least I hope it still is and that there will be no little idiot following us around checking if we voted as one.
But why are the Church leaders being so emphatic more than ever about submitting and following the decision of the Administration regarding the elections?
Let’s think about this carefully; let us say the Church Administration decides that the Church will vote for someone like, for example Mr.Jejomar Binay. And let us pretend, Mr. Binay loses. What’s the big deal? If the Church voted as one, that’s all that matters, right?
But what if Binay LOST? BADLY. What if he lost by a large margin? Would this indicate that the brethren did not follow the decision of the Administration? Is this their concern? It is not only a matter of losing face to the candidate; not only does is take away that enigmatic image of the Church of being so powerful and influential, it would indicate the current leaders do not have that same grasp on the flock as the previous Administrations.
One last note; as one Minister tried to explain to the officers the other day, that we should “avoid discussing and arguing politics with each other. After all, we are all parts of the one body.” He said, “like our physical body, the body parts do not make the decision. It is the head, correct? So let’s just wait for the decision”. I thought, “hmm, good analogy.” But then when I got home, I thought about what he said. And it then struck me. WAIT A MINUTE. Did he mean “wait for the decision of the Administration”? But isn’t the Administration also part of the body? The head of the Church is Jesus Christ isn’t it?
So once again I am left scratching my head, worsening my receding hairline. Maybe I’ll have to do a Donald Trump comb over. Oh wait, is a that political commentary?