THE IGLESIA NI CRISTO is a church at the crossroads. It has been so for many years now, albeit in a benign and quiet way.

This week though, a rupture in the INC hierarchy broke out in the open. Two members of the family of the INC’s founding patriarch came out on Youtube seeking rescue, saying their lives are in danger.

But more than just being a home-grown church, the INC is a shrewd political and business operator, too.

In 2002, the PCIJ ran a two-part report on the INC to document how it parlays the votes of its members for political and financial concessions to the church.

INC has done so over a series of presidential elections and political administrations from the time of the late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Read back the PCIJ report on the INC:

Iglesia ni Cristo: Church at the Crossroads
Iglesia ni Cristo: A Most Powerful Union

In 1998, the INC threw the support of its members, voting as a bloc, for Joseph Ejercito Estrada. Nudged out of the presidency in 2001, INC numbers swelled the ranks of those who mounted what is now called the EDSA 3 people power revolt, to demand Estrada’s return to power.

In 2004, however, INC endorsed Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for president.

In 2010, INC gave its votes and blessings to Benigno S. Aquino III, Arroyo’s arch critic.

This early, those who profer and offer themselves as supposedly the best choice for president have apparently started courting the INC’s votes for the May 2016 elections.

The Iglesia doctrine is based on the Bible and the “prophetic interpretations” of church founder Felix Y. Manalo, who left both the Catholic and the Protestant churches before founding the INC in 1914.

Manalo’s son Eraño is now the powerful executive minister of the church, while grandson Eduardo is deputy executive minister. They and 11 other senior ministers compose the “Central Administration,” which issue edicts that church members are compelled to follow.

Pasugo, the church’s official publication, asserts the church’s fundamental article of faith: that INC members constitute “the elect of God” and that God listens to them alone. To them, there is no salvation outside the Iglesia.

As Fernando Elesterio wrote in a dissertation submitted to De la Salle University: “It is this exclusivist attitude, generated naturally by the teachings of the ministers, that bestows on the members a sense of security and even of pride in their organization.”

“It does not matter that they are few, compared to those in the Catholic Church, or if they are viewed as unlettered; after all, they will go to heaven while the rest of mankind will go to hell.”

The church’s Internal Constitution lays down strict rules of behavior for its members. Drunkenness, adultery, and disobedience of church teachings are punishable by expulsion. Church members are also not allowed to join unions, making them ideal recruits for certain business establishments. “The church itself is a union, a most powerful union,” said a senior INC member.

The INC was founded on the eve of the World War I with only four ministers and 12 disciples. By 1936, it had grown to 300 ministers and evangelists with 500 churches and 350 chapels on Luzon island, according to the Encyclopedia of the Philippines.

Julita Reyes Sta. Romana, in her seminal study of the INC, said that by the 1950s, the church was recruiting from 10,000 to 15,000 converts a year. The 1990 Census of Population and Housing places the number of Iglesia members at 1.4 million, three times more than its membership in 1970.

By 2002, the INC has members among overseas Filipinos as well and says it has churches in 66 countries, including 39 in the United States, 23 in Asia, 15 in Europe, 11 in Australia and Oceania, and eight in Africa.

But it is not numbers alone that make the INC such an influential church today. The Iglesia commands strict obedience from its members. It votes as a bloc, and its leaders are wooed by politicians eager for support.

As explained in the May-June 1986 issue of the INC’s official publication, Pasugo: “The Church of Christ observes unity even in electing public officials (Philippians 2:2:3; I Corinthians 1:10). This is not to interfere with politics, but in obedience to God’s commandment. This unity is never betrayed by a true member of the church of Christ, even if some would be displeased.”

By 2002, INC claims to have 2 million members of voting age, although pollster Felipe Miranda believes that the actual figure is closer to 1 to 1.5 million.

At the national level, this bloc is a strategic swing vote, especially in multiparty electoral contests for the Senate. It is a swing vote for the presidential race as well, but only if there are multiple candidates. At the local level, especially in Luzon, the Iglesia command vote could determine the fate of a candidate.

For sure, the Roman Catholic Church itself has exerted its influence on government as well. The INC’s actions in fact mirror what the Catholics have done. It can even be said that the INC’s political activism is a reaction to the Catholic Church hierarchy’s active political involvement, then as now. – PCIJ, July 2015

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