Today I sit in our Peacebuilders Community Inc. office analyzing the history of Christian missions in Mindanao. Since my arrival I’ve seen the effects of the church’s presence in Mindanao for the last 400 years and as it turns out, the church in Mindanao hasn’t had the effect that Jesus said it should.
When the Spanish colonized the Philippines, the founding Spanish commander wrote in his journal, “The only reason the Spaniards had come to the islands was to bring the Filipino’s the knowledge of the Catholic faith…” Today, an article was published in asianews.it (http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=13401&size=A) that said the World Bank reported the Philippines as the most corrupt nation in Southeast Asia. Eighty-three percent of the nation’s population are members of the Catholic church and 63% attend mass every week. Where is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God after 400 years of Catholicism?
Spain’s political intention in taking Mindanao was to create a Spanish colony in Southeast Asia in order to transport spices and goods from Japan and China. The most frustrating part of the Spanish perspective was their honest belief that God needed them to advance Spain and the Catholic church simultaneously because God did not want to waste wealth on pagan people. They believed wealth should be handled by the chosen people of God, only those part of the Catholic Church.
Currently, a similar attitude of God-given authority is coming from the USA. George Bush’s ideology that the USA is God’s chosen nation to purge the world of evil is politically paralleled to the Spanish attitude of the 16th century. The American attitude that the bad guys are in the Middle East and the good guys are on US soil is the kind of oppressive colonial attitude that has brought devastation to the Philippines for 400 years.
In 1898 the USA purchased the Philippines from Spain for $20 Million. Mindanao’s residents resisted the colonizing forces of the Spanish and were not under spanish rule when the USA purchased the Philippines. The American solution to claiming the land was to start a migration and missions movement to Mindanao from the colonized North. The strategy was to overwhelm the island with pro-government Christians and convert the remainder of indigenous people (IP’s) to Chistianity. The government provided land for the migrants, money for missionaries and propaganda about the pagan people in dire need of Jesus.
Mindanao’s current conflict between the Republic of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro stems from this political move. The Bangsamoro people resisted the attempts to take their land by the USA and Republic of the Philippines and are still fighting for their right to self-determination.
The most maddening part of this story is that the church was a pawn in the hands of the politicians and some missionaries cooperated by manipulating scripture. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-25 in particular were used to force new converts to sacrifice their God-given desire for justice and self-determination in order to be “faithful to Christ.” They were told that God instituted all authorities and therefor all people should submit to any authority without question in order to honor God.
Jesus didn’t even do that! His example of opposing the unjust Roman and Jewish authorities of his time are part of what made Jewish leaders want to kill him.
Secondly, passages in the KJV, which were originally misinterpreted to keep King James’ subjects passive under his unjust leadership, were reintroduced to passify the new Christians of Mindanao. For example, “Do not Resist an evil one.” (Matt 5:39) People were told that this means they should be a submissive (like a doormat) citizen for Jesus. If this is the true interpretation of Jesus’ intended meaning in Matt 5:39, then even he did not act accordingly.
Matt 5:39 has been reinterpreted by many scholars as “do not retaliate with evil someone who does evil to you.” [transforming Nonresistance: From Lex Talionis to “Do not resist and evil one”] Jesus’ instructions were not to be a doormat, but rather, not to retaliate in kind. The examples used in Jesus’ original context were methods of nonviolent resistance. The victim should implement these methods to turn the table on the oppressor and redeem their God-given human dignity.
Is the Biblical message manifested in Mindanao today?
The evangelical church in Mindanao tends to be an inward-looking, spiritually focused church. In my research I have not seen much emphasis on living a spiritually and practically transformed life in Christ. I was surprised to learn that the word “Lord” means power, authority and influence. Claiming that Jesus is Lord is making Him the sole authority and giving him all power and influence in all areas of our lives.
Jesus said, “You are truly my disciple if you do what I say” (Luke 6:46-49), James called believers to read the bible and then implement it’s teaching in their lives (James 1:22) and the end of the great commission says, “Go and make disciples of all people groups, baptizing them in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” The transformative power of the gospel is realized in a life of discipleship but this total lordship seems to have been pushed to the periphery of the church in the Philippines.
The church and missionaries in Mindanao need to analyze our output. We must observe the disciples in our churches and see if their lives are growing toward being founded on Christ Jesus’ action and His word (Luke 6:47-48). The apostle Paul wrote, “What ever you have learned or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice,” and Mindanao cries for church members who are active in reaching out to other people groups and building relationships for the sake of the realization of the kingdom of God.
The coming of the Holy Spirit as described in John 14 and Paul’s words that God is transforming us from glory to glory is no excuse to be passive disciples. John 14:15 starts with the command, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” and followers of Jesus need to take this command to discipleship and act on it.
My prayer is that the memebers of the church in Mindanao will be full of scripture and committed to acting out the commands of Jesus. I pray that we will live lives of active, countercultural, indiscriminate love for all people of all ethnicity, religion and age. All of the laws, all of the prophets and all of the New Testament hang on the command to love all people.
I pray that the church would understand our Lords commands, and read the gospels so that we will be an educated and active church representing the values of the Kingdom of God: justice, peace, mercy and love.
I pray that we can live in peace and harmony with one another as brothers and sisters in God’s creation.
As I sit in our office, and pray this prayer. I see 3 military helicopters fly over head on their way into the battlefield. Two are armed with machine guns on each side designed to rip a person apart in the blink of an eye and the third chopper is armed with the same rockets that went stray a few weeks ago and killed 4 innocent children. The men operating those helicopters are most likely Christians; it breaks my heart to see them fly into the battle field…God help us.
God’s peace to all of you,