“Set My People Free”
Christians in the Philippines are living in grace. We are being challenged at this juncture in history to witness to the dramatic unfolding of full humanity affirmed by Christ. Yet we see the shedding of the blood of martyrs throughout the country’s history, a history written in blood, and we are moved to rebuke. For, mission is about life in all its fullness.
Mission is with and for those who suffer from neo-colonial oppression—the many left behind by the few who covet bigger, higher and faster consumption and profit. We are called to challenge this greed as we hear the cries of the people reclaiming the Biblical God, struggling as a faithful expression of faith, and persevering with unyielding fortitude in a continuing tradition of resistance—and together celebrate in our struggles and hope.
When reduced to terms of strong and weak, the strong dominate, and the weak resist or capitulate. The days of colonialism saw the taking of Africa and the slicing like a melon of China by strong powers, as well as the sale of the Philippines from an established world power to an emerging one—not to speak of the genocide and the deception that accompanied these misadventures. The cross accompanied the sword, the Bible accompanied the rifle. But while those days are supposedly ended, neo-colonial re-arrangements that we now call imperialist globalization, whether in its economic or political faces, perpetuate the injustices that obtain from the relationship, enriching the favored party and pauperizing the other.
Imperialist globalization is like Pharaoh who, wishing to control lives and determine destiny, hardens his heart and tries to stop a lucrative slave enterprise from escaping his clutches, despite the people’s cry of anguish and God’s repeated admonition for their freedom. But like them who made a golden calf to return to the old way of Pharaoh, do we too shun desert discomforts, uncertainty and risk, and desist from building the alternative — the future of a people under God — which was promised Abraham and Sarah, and Jacob and Rachel? To Moses of old, returning to the fleshpots of Pharaoh as slaves of empire was not an acceptable path to take. Nor is it acceptable to us today.
Imperialist globalization takes the world farther and farther away from sustainability that preserves diversity in both culture and nature, and prevents just sharing of resources in creation. What emerges from this is likely to be a uniformity leading to a one-culture world, often with erosion of life-promoting values, culture of death, and irreparable damage to ecosystems.
We need to reflect anew on the imperialistic concept of using the Cross and the Bible to conquer the Philippines, and de-colonize our concept of mission and evangelism.
We must expose the hegemonic character of unfair trade that rearranges economic relations and tilts them toward mergers and cartels to corner opportunities, beat competition, and accumulate wealth as it appropriates the good at the expense of others. It is evil—one percent of the world controlling the ninety-nine percent, and preventing the oppressed from demanding their rights, crushed by the military might of empire.
In the Philippine experience alone, clearly ten percent of the richest in the population consume more than 30 percent of the nations’ wealth; while the ten percent representing the poorest of the poor avail of 2 percent only of what’s left after the rest have had their share. One-third of the population enjoys amenities, siphoning off the resources from the other two-thirds in the agrarian and indigenous areas. We only need to scan the private-public partnership blueprint, the financial policies that are anti-poor and anti-people, the deregulation of prices especially of oil, the effects of policies of privatization, liberalization and deregulation imposed by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. We only need to feel with our people the effects of violent demolitions of dwellings in urban areas and other cities as part of the unjust and chaotic situation, including forced migration.
Poverty, injustice, and ecological damage haunt this country today and endanger future generations. This is more clearly seen in the go signal given to the mining sector to open areas for exploitation by transnational corporations employing destructive methods of extraction.
The church must reflect the ecumenical vision of unity and oneness, as Jesus Christ prayed, with those victimized by the economies of greed that ignore the needs of men and women and children. We must learn what it means to be a victim — as Jesus learned for himself on the cross.
We must then launch into the deep and cast our nets, as Jesus commands. There we will find those sent away because they can’t make the grade. There we will find those who sell their bodies just to be able to live. There we will find those who are exploited in the name of money, causing separated families, broken homes, narcotized youth, and cynical adults.
People bring about their liberation, and Filipinos through the decades have mustered their collective strength to resist the powers and principalities. They attempt again and again to resist the onslaughts of empire. And do so even at the risk of repression, incarceration and martyrdom. But they persevere fully aware that the cross itself reflects liberating grace and ought to be viewed as victory, not defeat. Christians are a resurrection people.
The freedom that is our heritage and our strength ought to lead us to work for ends of justice and truth. Some church people though–including many of us– unthinkingly and swiftly condemn the victims of society’s ills instead. We blame them for their poverty and castigate them for their perceived low morality On the other hand, we move slowly, hesitatingly, to question the social forces that have caused their downtrodden state in the first place. We need to beg for forgiveness for this failing, and redeem ourselves by keeping open channels of communication with people. We must lead simple and responsible lifestyles, recover spirituality, and forge a unity where people matter.
Mission, then, is listening to people’s stories about what happens to them as a result of uninformed decisions and misguided esteem for conquest and domination. The other story of creation in the Bible tells us that men and women are caretakers who tend and keep the garden–to cultivate, to defend, and protect. Siding with the poor is not an option then for the churches, but a mandate, an imperative even as we churches need to be evangelized and need space for self-conversion to sustain the fire of spirituality.
Mission is accompanying people in their journey, as exemplified in the account of the walk to Emmaus. The church facilitates and creates the space for the faith movement to surge forward—a spirituality emerging from the vulnerable in the margins. It is being called and sent. Mission is working for justice and peace as stewards of creation, and joining in the creative process of building as opposed to unjustly regarding migrant workers as commodities to profit from. Mission, finally, is sharing; it thrives when resources are shared—not based on charity, but as a Christian value–for it is what makes us Christian. Sharing liberates both the receiver and the giver.
At best, every opportunity for study of the Word of God, whether in the sanctuary or the street, should be channels by which the people from the pews and the curb can confront the powers of evil in society, and do something through letters and petitions, and demonstrations of concern, by which all sides can be heard on issues of common risk and opportunity.
We find our mission when we put side by side the picture of the world as it is with another picture of what it should be, as God would have it. Where there is discrepancy, there our mission lies. It is there where we discover the loving but occasionally tough transformative ways by which the Christ redeems creation into restored fellowship.
The ecumenical movement in the Philippines for the past decades has been journeying with the oppressed people, but we must endeavor to move faster, fly to the side of the incarnating Christ, finding, healing, and restoring the people of God.
Presented by the Philippine Delegates
March 23, 2012