Tuesday, June 28, 2005

revisiting my old article about brother eddie

After two months of hiatus, I updated my blog. Mainly because of liberation theology. I am currently finishing an article about Bangon Pilipinas' politicization. I am posting here the article I circulated days before the elections supporting Brother Eddie's candidacy. But many things have changed since May 2004---from Bangon's spiritual platform to apparent social activism after the elections. This article maybe a good starting point to open the discussion about the theology of struggle in the Philippines and maintaining a good distance from the complex and messy world of governance.

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WHEN GOD AND POLITICS MIX: ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY AND BRO. EDDIE

When Bishop Brother Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus is Lord Church formally filed in COMELEC his Certificate of Candidacy for the 2004 presidential race, he did not only represent the cause of God for the Philippines but he likewise awakened the senses of the ‘Body of Christ’ in the country. Bishop Villanueva calls his mission as a “prophetic gesture to redeem the Philippines from political and social scoundrels”. His decision prompted many believers to rethink their religious and political values. Philippine history dictates that Evangelical Christians [The term ‘evangelical Christians’ and ‘born-again Christians’ are used interchangeably in this paper. They are interdenominational in nature. A Christian is defined as a ‘person who has a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.’] in the country have been alienated from the political process for a long period. Protestant and the so-called ‘Born-Again Christian’ Churches underwent episodes of political indifference which was compounded by their preservation of an apolitical culture. It is anticipated that Brother Eddie’s decision could elicit philosophical and even theological challenges from both Christians and non-Christians.

The Body of Christ in the Philippines is in its defining moment. This could be a make or break situation for all Christians who profess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and confess their primary allegiance to Him. Several issues surface which require immediate and convincing responses. What are the responsibilities of Christians in government? How should the Church respond to the challenges posed by politics? And most importantly, what does the Bible say about Christianity and politics?

Several people (including church leaders and ministers) have depicted politics as the ‘territory of the unbelievers’. This paper debunks that notion. It is necessary for Christians not to distance themselves from the affairs of the government. Christian Churches should maintain a pro-active role in advancing God’s mandate for the Philippines.

TO PARTICIPATE OR NOT TO PARTICIPATE

Governments are not workings of power-hungry politicians. As the Psalmist wrote, the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (Psalm 24:1). God initiated all world governments (Colossians 1:16) and has ordained them to control evil activities (Rom. 13:4), preserve social order and regulate the behavior of the people (1 Tim. 2:2). Accordingly, God institutes civil rulers, good or evil, according to his purpose and plans (Romans 13, Daniel 2:12).

The Church was called to accomplish three purposes: 1) fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) 2) Minister to believers and 3) reach out the society as a fulfillment of the Great Commandment (Matt.22:37-39). The Church’s primary mission is to be a witness to the nations through the proclamation of the Gospel and introduce Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. As Apostle Paul reiterated in 2 Christians are the representatives or ambassadors of Christ on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). Secondly, the Church serves as the spiritual family of all believers. Christians are considered children of God because of faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12, Eph. 1:5). All believers are being discipled, nurtured for God’s service and bonded with one Spirit within the context of the Church.

Thirdly, Christians are members of the kingdom of God as well as the social order of this world. We are commanded to act as responsible citizens of our country, abide by the civil laws, respect and pray for our leaders, participate in community and governmental activities, exercise our voting rights, pay our taxes and voice out our public concerns especially on moral issues (Mk 12:13-17; Rom. 13:1-7; 1Pe. 2:13-17). Nevertheless, Christians’ adherence to civil laws ends when they are anathema to the laws of God (Acts 5:29).

Should Christians, therefore, be entangled with politics? First, we must recognize the two opposite dangers. The first pitfall is the politicization of the Gospel of many churches, treating the Bible as a political manifesto. Also, there is a danger of over-spiritualizing the Gospel as though it had nothing to claim about the political, social and economic implications of the State. Views on Christian involvement in political exercises can be divided into three schools:
Many liberal churches belong to the Activist School who values the direct involvement of the Church in addressing people’s poverty, especially their physical needs. Christian activists, as they are described, posit that the shortcoming of the governments must be complemented by the intervention of the Church. They believe that the so-called Christian nations like the Philippines should have a Christian government. This principle was intensified during the 1960s with the emergence of the liberation theology espoused by South American evangelical Churches. On other hand, these liberal churches are criticized for abandoning its responsibility to proclaim the real Gospel because of their preoccupation to the "social gospel."

The Separationist School posits that Christians should totally veer away from the affairs of the state. They see the civil government as part and parcel of Satan’s mechanisms to extend his influence. Hence, Christians should never take part of it and instead focus their energy on fulfilling the Great Commission through various evangelism, discipleship and missionary projects. Further, separationists see political solutions as temporal solutions. Involvement in politics should be done on individual basis because it is not the duty of the Church corporately to alter governmental institutions. We must always come back to the God who transforms things for better. As such, the concepts of earthly and heavenly kingdoms must be put in their proper contexts. Spiritual results can only be achieved through spiritual means. Genuine and lasting moral reform can only be realized not by changing laws, but by changing the hearts and minds of people. Since the power of persuasion lies in the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit to convince and convict humans (John 16:Cool, Christians should abandon protest rallies and demonstrations. Nazi propagandist Joseph Gobbles said, "Churchmen dabbling in politics should take note that their only task is to prepare for the world hereafter." The Anabaptist of the sixteenth century was known for this philosophy.

The Strategist school firmly believes that the Church must always be faithful to fulfill the Great Commission. In addition, as a Bride of Christ, she must also exercise strategic involvement in the political process as a springboard for the expansion of God’s kingdom on earth. There is a consensus in the Christian world that this is the most balanced and biblical position. Quoting Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, “Politics is not the Church's first calling. Evangelism, . . . providing discipleship, fellowship, teaching the Word . . . are the heartbeat of the Church. When it addresses political issues, the Church must not do so at the risk of weakening its primary mission."

The Bible introduces many political and/or government figures: Melchizedek (priest and king of Salem, Gen. 14:18), Daniel (governor during the time of King Darius) and Nehemiah (political butler in king’s court). Some Bible scholars interpret "Caesar's household" (Phil. 4:22) as the converted civil servants; "Erastus the chamberlain" (Rom. 16:23) was probably a Corinthian treasurer; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were members of the Jewish Sanhedrin. There is no verse in the Bible that prohibits God’s children from engaging public affairs. All Christians are part of the city-state and have the same civic duties as others. The main argument is: If we can be soldiers, judges and government workers, why can’t we become national leaders?

It is imperative for Christians to get involved in Government. To abandon the idea is to miss the mandate of God to the Church as a whole. Many Christians are very quick to recognize the dirt and filth of politics, saying that it is impossible to engage in it without staining one’s hands; without compromising the faith; without exercising dishonest back room deals. Further, to enter into politics is to be sidetracked and distracted from the real calling of Christians—the Great Commission. One might conclude that any Christian serving in the government will either be forced to compromise or just give up out of great discouragement.

The State has its inherent weaknesses. Politicians can legislate laws for the common good of the people but they cannot abolish evil and change the inner beings of men. The transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ was given to the Church to accomplish this task. The implications of Bro. Eddie’s candidacy are akin to the propositions of the Vatican II Council of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s. Indeed, it is impractical to separate the ‘secular’ from the ‘sacred’. The involvement of the religious people is crucial in the resolution of social injustices and conflicts.

WHEN A CLERGYMAN ENTERS POLITICS

Matthew 5:16 says that Christians should be the light and salt of the world. How can we magnify the name of the One who have redeemed us from our sins if we will veer away from the affairs of the State? Redeeming the government for Christ is the will of God for his people. The political sphere is a good venue for Christians to proclaim the glory and goodness of God. World history is summoned to show that societies are prone to social decay. Moreover, transformation of societies cannot happen in a moral vacuum. Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke once said, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

When Christians abandon their moral responsibility to influence society with their values, other influences will fill the gap. This has happened in the Philippines. The most fundamental Christians in the Body of Christ have left the political arena, considering it inherently evil and outside the legitimate realm of Christian influence. In one of his interreligious dialogues, Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, an ordained Lutheran minister, states: “Clergymen do not usually become politicians. I believe, however, that theology can be a rich and powerful source of responsible policymaking…Faith in God gives life meaning and direction for millions and millions of people.”

Non-entity in politics such as Bro. Eddie is being attacked in three major fronts: 1) competence issues; 2) religious biases and 3) legal questions. Brother Eddie is being typecast as a novice and inexperienced in politics. He is judged as an ineffectual minister who knows nothing of the ‘realpolitik’ since he is more concerned with heavenly things rather than the things of this world. The media projects that Filipino voters require more evidence about his capacity to be a political leader from being a Church minister. Philippine presidents from Aguinaldo to Arroyo were educated with ‘ivory tower’ ideas. They had crawled up the political ladder with no non-sense performances. Bishop Villanueva neither have the military background to solicit the sympathy of the AFP and the police force nor he carries a showbiz career which can entice the votes of the masses. Bishop Villanueva wants to be known as an educator, as an economist and as an evangelist.

Amidst the collision of curriculum vitaes, we should bear in mind that our votes for 2004 elections must be premised on God’s standards and guidelines. The public often look at the outward appearance of the candidates. They can be easily swayed by image-building ploy of the presidentiables’ campaign managers. BUT GOD LOOKS AT THE HEART (I Samuel 16:7). David defeated Goliath not with strong military experience but with a burning desire to protect the name of the God of Israel (I Samuel 17). Gideon and his people were delivered from the hands of Midianites, not with legion of army but with the wisdom and provisions of the God of Israel (Judges 6). Joshua defeated Amalek and his soldiers when God’s presence consumed their enemies (Exodus 17). David, Joshua and Gideon first found favor in God’s eyes before their victory. As John Maxwell puts it, leadership is all about influence and respect. If Brother Eddie has commanded respect from the Body of Christ and managed the 5 million members of Jesus is Lord Church for the past 25 years, he should be considered as an specialist in administration and management. If Fernando Poe Jr. boasts of his movie career as a pretext for his candidacy, Brother Eddie’s track record likewise provides justification for his presidential bid.

Many Filipinos perceive the president as the Chief Executive Officer of the country and not its Chief High Priest. People are afraid to go back to the period of Middle Age crusades. They misinterpret the current vigorous role of the Evangelical Church leaders as the return of messianic zealots of old and Cromwellian Puritans of 17th-century England. They perceive Church personalities as people who will hastily ‘judge the heathen land’. For them church leaders can be poor political leaders because of their zeal to forward their religious biases that might go against their mission to unify the country. Apprehensions can be felt regarding Bro. Eddie’s identity as a Church leader which can easily translate into a religious war with other Church denominations just like what happened in Nicaragua where the Evangelical Alliance of Nicaragua declared its war against the Catholic politicians during the 2000 elections. In 1992, some religious camps watched over former President Ramos because of his Protestant background. Likewise, Protestants were amazed when John F. Kennedy won as the first ‘Catholic president’ of US. US President George Bush, Jr., a Methodist, has been vocal about his faith and his stance about the continuous struggle between the forces of ‘good and evil’. People who are not adept to understanding the ‘spiritual truths’ behind the Bush doctrine can only blindly question the Washington’s decision to wage war in Iraq.

The greater challenge facing the political party of Brother Eddie is how to translate Christian spiritual principles into programs which can be easily absorbed by the common people. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”. Unbelievers cannot easily grasp the rationale behind the utopian attitudes of many Christians. They cannot fathom the concept of a "Christian nation" or an "evangelical Philippines”. Paul Freston, one of the leading Christian politics researcher in the Third World, can only observe the following: “There is one tendency [among several evangelical political tendencies] we have termed "triumphalism." This is the Third World futurist equivalent of nostalgia for "Christian Europe" or "Protestant America," but goes beyond. It is predicated on a reading of the bible rare now in traditionally Protestant countries which have been through wars of religion and the Enlightenment…this is usually combined with the ritualistic and mystical approach to social blessing characteristic of newer concepts of macro-level spiritual warfare.” Now is the time that Christians open the eyes of the people about the rationale behind the involvement of Christians in politics.

Many non-Christians are threatened by openly Christians who stand their ground and make noise for their convictions. Bro. Eddie’s activist background easily conflates with his evangelistic spirit. His statement that the ‘world is too poor to buy his convictions’ is a pronouncement that if he will ever be elected into the highest position in the government, it will signal the progressive demise of illegal and immoral projects in the government and in society as a whole. Consequently, people’s cynicism can be discerned with their disapproval of Bishop Villanueva’s Malacanang dream which they call as another attempt to establish a political dynasty. His sons, Jonjon and Joel, are currently serving as mayor of a Bulacan town and as a Congress party-list representative, respectively. Bishop Villanueva has argued again and again that he has no grandiose plan to establish a political family. His candidacy, with the confirmation of the Churches in the Body of Christ, is an unexpected ‘call to duty’ which was never planned.

Bishop Villanueva wields power over his 5 million Church members including the coalition of Churches under the Philippine for Jesus Movement (PJM) which he also spearheads. Some Church leaders and legal experts have been invoking the ambiguous concept of the separation of the Church and state as a counter-attack to Brother Eddie’s ticket. The dichotomy of the Church and the State requires serious analysis. Article 2, Sec. 6 of the Philippine Constitution states that the separation of the Church and the State should be inviolable. The classic Jeffersonian doctrine of separation of Church and the State means freedom from religion and not freedom of religion. Freedom from religion stress that the state should not demonstrate preferential treatment to any religious denomination. It was originally written to exclude the formation of a state church or religion. The Philippine Constitution was not framed with a view toward excluding Christians from civil affairs. The Preamble of our Constitution even invokes and implores the ‘aid of Almighty God’. How can we now claim that we can detach God from the affairs of the state? Jesus in Matt. 22:21 declared that there are things that are reserved for the government (Caesar’s) and the Church (God’s). He also stressed that government’s policies are only valid as long as they do not contradict Biblical principles. The goal to follow God’s laws must rise above obedience to civil laws.

WHY VOTE FOR A CHRISTIAN PRESIDENT?

Psalm 33:12 says that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; the people He has chosen for His inheritance.” The Body of Christ in the Philippines has been praying for a righteous president that will rescue the country from the vicious cycle of political, economic and social turmoil. We have witnessed God’s workings before and after the 1992 elections when Fidel V. Ramos, the first Protestant president of the Philippines, was ordained by God to lead the 75M Filipinos. His openness to the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ boosted his performance as a leader. His legacies are noteworthy and left an indelible mark in the history of the country. During his term, the Philippines achieved the ‘new economic tiger in Asia’ status.

The stories of Israel’s leadership in 1 and 2 Kings of the Bible reverberate a common theme: without God’s blessing and favor on leadership, social and political stability and success are far-fetched. The principles of Biblical Christianity are the best alternative to the existing political ideologies of our time. Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase was catapulted into power after tumultuous years of national crises. When he was elected into office, he committed his country to God with a mission to establish a ‘Christian’ nation. Fiji is now beginning to recover from its social, political and economic setbacks. In one of his speeches before Church leaders, he declared: “As I get deeper into politics I can observe some of the least attractive of human instincts at work. Politics is a strange business - ego, naked ambition, power for power's sake….. all these things come into play. I remind myself constantly about the way Jesus Christ would want me to conduct myself…. Jesus Christ, then, is my guiding influence in the mission I have undertaken through the new political organisation I have just launched…”

I believe that while many Christians are commissioned by God to accomplish spiritual works reserved for the Church, relatively few Christians are called by God to political work. Brother Eddie is one of them. Genuine Christian political work necessitates an extremely strong personal foundation, which must be first strengthened before entering the political arena. Integrity and an unblemished name are the core pillars of a Christian presidential candidate. Brother Eddie meets these criteria.

Many political spectators ask, How can Brother Eddie win the elections if he does not have a dependable political machinery? Realize this: a good political machinery does not necessarily guarantee political victory. Former administration presidential candidate Ramon Mitra had the finest political machinery during the 1992 elections but he landed fourth in the presidential race. His defeat even caused his political allies to betray him. Brother Eddie’s candidacy warps a new teaching in an old political paradigm. The old paradigm follows the Goons, Guns and Gold strategy to win the elections. The prevailing political strategy requires the operation of “money politics”. An ordinary councilor spends at least P2M, a congressman, 40M and a senator, P300M to secure a seat in the government.

The Bangon Pilipinas National Renewal Movement’s new paradigm gives credence to clean and righteous governance. The movement relies on the sincere and voluntary support of the so-called ‘silent majority’, the God-fearing people and the nation-loving Filipinos. Underground money does not deserve a niche in Christian political campaigns. Christians should realize that only God can install leaders and establish governments (Daniel 2:21). Mudslinging and money politics cannot thwart God’s agenda for the Philippines.

Brother Eddie is an alternative to "politics as usual." Trapo politics characterized by warlordism, bossism and kinship politics have submerged the whole nation to a quagmire. The Bangon Pilipinas National Renewal Movement offers the option of a clean and righteous leadership devoid of corruption and injustices. The agenda to establish a ‘clean government’ is not a utopian project but a declaration of faith. The core mission of the Body of Christ is to pull up and destroy the root causes of social evils. I believe that the current efforts of the Movement are paving the way for the institution of a Nationwide Coalition for righteous governance akin to US’s Christian Coalition.

Several pitfalls must be recognized in this Christian crusade for Malacanang’s power. To quote Charles Colson, "The everyday business of politics is power." Personal ambition is the most powerful temptation facing servants of God in politics. The personality-focused public prominence can lead a Christian politician’s attention away from pleasing Christ. However, it is possible for Christians to be both faithful and effective as God's servants in politics. The Body of Christ should pray that Christian politicians could stand the pressures that come along with their calling. The Christian politician is, first and foremost, accountable to God who installed him/her and to the members of the Body of Christ which supported his/her political calling. Godly political philosophy among Christians in the government must never be compromised with the tenets of different ideologies or simple pragmatism.

Brother Eddie’s current predicaments can be likened to the struggles of William Wilberforce, one of the finest Christian politicians in English history. Wilberforce was known for its successful campaign against the British slave trade. When Wilberforce was converted to Christianity, his political motivation was changed. Instead of pursuing an alluring parliamentary career, he devoted the rest of his life to promote the good of the Church and the good of the nation. He distanced himself from the machinations of party politics which further gave him more opportunities in the House of Commons to speak freely on any issue. He declined all offers of cabinet positions since membership in the cabinet requires adherence to party policy even to the violation of the conscience of the cabinet member. Bishop Brother Eddie Villanueva is an epitome of man of God who wants to redeem the country’s leadership from political mess. This is the identity of the leader that all Christians must support in the coming elections.

There is a trumpet call for all Christians to stand for truth, righteousness and justice. This is not the fight of Brother Eddie alone but of the whole Body of Christ in the Philippines. If we want to offer a good future for our children, let us unite for the cause of God for our generation. Reverend John Stott, the Founder and Honorary President of the London Institute for Christianity states: “Christians have been blaming the meat of society for going rotten when the preserving salt has been taken out of it, and the house for getting darker when the light has been removed. It is time for Christians to recognise their responsibility to be salt and light in society."
When God’s people intervene in national politics, the country will never be the same again.

CHRISTIANS OF THE PHILIPPINES UNITE! WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR SHAME!

1 comment:

andrea's corner said...

hi! i just stumbled into your paper and i congratulate you for a work well done. just wondering, are you thinking of updating it to include post-election developments? so many things have happened. while a lot christians criticized bro. eddie especially after he refused to buckle down on the allegations of fraud, i believe he had somehow vindicated himself after the "hello garci" tapes came out, and several credible people gave their testimonies (like gen. gudani and col. balutan, etc). even the latest bruhaha on con-ass should awaken the sleeping christians that we can never separate the so-called "secular life" from our "christian life." there is no such thing, according to the great apologist ravi zacarias. i can only agree with him. god bless you more!