The Christian Filipino Nation and Prejudice

[For Pakighinabi, Manila Times, May 25, 2015]

The Philippines has been touted as the only Christian nation in the Asia Pacific region. Within the Philippine Catholic Church, hopes are often reposed that Christianization of the entire region might occur through its missionary activity.

Personally, as I stand to my faith and believe in its truth, this is also my hope. Whatever is true in my faith is not meant for me alone to be confined to a private personal sphere. Whatever is true must necessarily be shared.

But no longer with the cross in one hand and a sword in the other; no longer with the power of the state to “complement” the truth of the Gospel.   No longer with the conviction that Christians from the Philippines with the sorry state of social injustice in their country have the truth and the light, and those who are presiding over great non-Christian societies in China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar do not. If there is any sharing of our faith today it cannot be merely from the pride of our doctrine and the arrogance with which it is often handled. It must rather be from the integrity of personal and social realities, without which doctrine does not ring true.   This integrity must be the frontline of any missionary effort.

Where we confess that integrity to be broken in our lives, a sharing of our faith must come simultaneously with an openness to learn from the integrity of how other peoples live their faiths. Today, the Federation of Asian Bishops propose that the way of evangelization in southeast Asia has necessarily to take the shape not of conversion but of dialogue.

The attitude of openness to truth in the lives of others may suggest that we open ourselves to the integrity of life in those who are not Catholic in the Philippines. This may begin with a reexamination of the notion of a “Catholic Philippines” or even of a “Christian nation.” Pious Christians may not intend it, but the term itself excludes some eight million Muslims today from the Philippines. It also excludes Filipinos who are Taoists, Hindus, Buddhists and indigenous peoples. The “Filipino Catholic nation” is a notion that has willy nilly coopted the nation for the Catholic faith that cannot be defined by a nation, or coopted the Catholic faith for the nation that cannot be defined by one faith. Yet, recalling the way the Spanish colonisers combined the hispanization of the Philippines with its Christianization and the way the American colonisers preferred the “little brown brother” Catholic Filipinos from Luzon and Visayas to the Moros in Mindanao who struggled against their hegemony to preserve their Islamic identity, the notion of the “Catholic Filipino nation” has defined culturally who are “in” and who are “out” in Philippine society. If you are a Catholic you are “in;” if you are a Muslim you are “out.” Of course, salvation and heaven and all the benefits of the Kingdom of God on earth belong only to those who are “in,” and since those who are not “in” are “out,” discrimination and injustice against them cannot be all that bad.

In a conversation I had with Muslim educators in the Jamiatu Muslim Mindanao madrasah in Marawi City, they shared their pain. When they look for a job in Manila and the employers discover their names to be Muslim, the job is suddenly not available to them.   When they look for a place to rent and the owner discovers them to be Muslim, the property is not available. Incredibly, this is true not only for low-cost units; it is true even for high-end subdivisions. The roots of the prejudice run deep. Some recall instances where they have been duped or swindled or harmed by a Muslim; but individual memories and judgments are then extrapolated to the entire Muslim community. There is no parallel extrapolation when they are duped or harmed by a Christian. No one says as a result of a Christian crime, “The only good Christian is a dead Christian.” But such is easily said of the Muslim. The Christian majority wields social and cultural power in favor of those who are “in.” It discriminates against those who are “out.”

This is of course relevant to the efforts in the legislature today to end the enmity and war between Muslims of Mindanao and the Government of the Philippines through the passage of a Bangsamoro Basic Law. Peace is now in the hands of the legislators to provide the legal framework where those who have been “out” because they are decidedly Muslim might be brought “in” to the fold of the Philippine nation.

Erasing the actual prejudice against Muslims and those of “other” religions will not be effected alone by the law. Pope Francis has told the Catholics in China to be good witnesses to the truth of the Catholic faith. He might say the same to Catholics and Christians in the Philippines. Live faith in such a way that it becomes edifying to those who do not share this faith. Christian love is incompatible with bigotry, prejudice and hatred. Sin and brokenness is part of the Christian experience. Be humble enough to learn integrity of faith even from those who do not share the Catholic faith. Where there is difficulty finding God in a materialistic world, learn of those who firmly believe in one compassionate God. Where there is difficulty finding the relevance of Jesus in one’s daily life, learn of those who revere Jesus as a great prophet. Where there is difficulty finding time to pray, learn of those who pray five times a day and truly venerate Jesus’ mother. Where there is difficulty parting from one’s money to help the poor, learn of those who give alms regularly. Where there is difficulty deciding where to go for one’s next vacation, learn of those whose life dream is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the center of their faith.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II decree, Nostra Aetate, which urges Catholics “in our times” to look for those elements we share in common with those of other faiths, rather than dwell on those which separate us. “The Church reproves as foreign in the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men [and women] or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion…” (5).

In the Philippines this means that as Christians we undo the prejudice against the Muslims and those of other faiths that our evangelization may have conditioned. It means making the Philippines a home for the Muslim and Non-Christian Filipino not only in a Bangsamoro homeland, but throughout the Philippines.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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