Melba Padilla Maggay
While Filipino politicians may rant and rail against the church for interfering in such issues as reproductive health, come election time, they all make a beeline for the head of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) sect, or to emergent church movements such as th
The mystique of church power is not just about the number of worshippers but also the authority and cohesiveness with which it is able to summon and direct the faithful. Part of the power of the INC derives from its perceived ability to deliver a solid vote because of its practice of bloc voting.
Yet other mainline Christian movements were more hesitant to present themselves as power blocs ahead of the elections.
There are two reasons for this.
One is history. The church’s track record as it relates to the state has not been without blemish or lapses into “worldliness”. Through the centuries, the church in its relationship with the world has swung from domination to capitulation, from separation to solidarity.
The other reason is a theological misunderstanding of Jesus’ oft-quoted remark “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” This has been construed by the likes of Martin Luther as the “doctrine of the two swords”, or the separation of church and state. But, as the Anabaptist scholar John Howard Yoder now points out, what Jesus cunningly left unsaid was that what belongs to Caesar also belongs to God. There is no area of human life that is outside the rule of God.
This means that while the church and the state are separate institutions, both are directly accountable and subject to God’s purposes for them. Justice is God’s minimum requirement for governance; the state has been given the power of the sword precisely to be able to execute justice for all. This cannot be arrogated to one individual or clique, however, and there are limits to the power of the state. There is that whole realm, now known as “civil society” where the state cannot encroach. In this sphere, human beings are given autonomy and freedom to exercise their will. “We must obey God rather than men,” said the apostles when the Jewish court bid them to be silent (Acts 5:29).
Today, mainline church traditions are torn between the impulse to be prophetic – that is, to make errant powers accountable and governance more responsive, and the need to stay clear of becoming, once again, a worldly power.
Certainly, the church as a political player needs to discern the difference between prophecy and politicking. When the church upholds the norms by which society is meant to be ruled, it is being prophetic. But when it turns into a powerbroker, using its authority over the flock to deliver a command vote, then it is merely politicking.
The INC has acquired political clout by judiciously parlaying its command of two million votes as a swing vote.
Along the same vein, the Apollo Quiboloy sect in Davao fielded an army of 2,000 “cyberwarriors” to campaign for Duterte. This perhaps explains the unprecedented level of virulence spewed out on the social media.
A church that has turned powerbroker is no more than just another vested interest, to be fought and resisted in much the same way that other vested interests need to be resisted when they ultimately subvert democratic processes.