Filipino author and theologian, Dr Rico Villanueva, was asked to comment on issues facing Christians today in the Philippines. He replied:
‘If there is one main issue facing Christians today it is a political issue….What do you do when people are being killed in a war on drugs and you remain silent and don’t say anything at all?’ 1
The journalist Jonathan Miller offers this perspective in his biography of the country’s leader:
‘For Filipinos who keep their heads below the parapet, life just goes on. They’re aware, of course, of the killings, and still intrigued by the antics of Duterte Harry and his iconoclastic outbursts. But if you’re middle class and educated, the closest you’re likely to come to Duterte’s death squads is when you chance across a paragraph in a paper reporting some slaying in a slum you’ve never been to, or your eye is drawn to the photograph of a five-year-old who’s been shot and whose killer will never be caught. The writer Margaret Atwood captured well such collective insouciance in her 1985 book The Handmaid’s Tale:
“We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers of course, corpses in ditches…”’ 2
How to resolve the complex of issues associated with drugs, corruption and violence, divides opinion in the Philippines. Whatever our point of view, silence, or ignoring what is going on around us, is not an option for Christians committed to the mission of Jesus. But what building blocks might help guide a response on issues facing Christians today in the Philippines and elsewhere?
- Leave our comfort zone.
Gospel witness takes place in the world of sin, suffering, injustice, and disorder. It is into this world that God sends his people to serve, to demonstrate his love and to share the good news. It is impossible to follow Christ and “live by ignoring”. The Lord calls us to follow him to the margins and to participate in his kingdom agenda of proclaiming good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and setting the oppressed free. (Luke 4:18).
- Cultivate diversity.
We can be more attentive to the issues facing society when our churches are more diverse. It’s also important to draw upon the rich depository of theological reflection and biblical interpretation from across the global Church when trying to think Christianly about how to respond in a particular context to what is happening around us politically. Diversity can help us identify our blind spots and to guard against reading our Bibles in ways that reinforce injustice or support tyranny.
- Embrace a big agenda.
God’s missional agenda deals with the totality of sin’s impact. “It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather… our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.”3 This is what is meant by integral mission.
- Seek justice.
True service calls for justice so that root causes of societal problems are addressed. But we can’t call for justice from a place of comfort or detachment. As missiologist Scott Sunquist reminds us, “it is our job to live justice for the poor and then call others, mainly the church, to walk together in this justice.”4 That will mean working with other Christians and often collaboratively with those outside the Church, for the common good, to challenge unjust practices embedded in economic and political systems.
In the Bible, lament plays a key part in prayer and worship. God’s people call out to him in poetry and song in opposition to injustice and oppression. If church worship is only ever praise and never lament, our spiritual life is diminished, and justice will no longer be hungered for. Where the community of faith incorporates lament spirituality deepens, eyes and ears become attentive to suffering, and the church is galvanized into action in its proclamation of the kingdom.
Use these five points to pray for Christians in the Philippines and elsewhere in East Asia seeking to live out the Lordship of Christ under challenging political circumstances: for wisdom, discernment, and the courage to act.
Dr. Peter Rowan
OMF (UK) Co-National Director
1 On Mission with Chris Wright. Langham Partnership Podcast. 30 November 2020.
2 Jonathan Miller, Duterte Harry: Fire and Fury in the Philippines. London: Scribe, 2018, 11-12.
3 The Micah Declaration on Integral Mission.
4 Scott Sunquist, Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013, 365.