by Hadje C. Sadje.
“Sociologically, (Pentecostalism) it was a religion of the poor, marginalized, and dispossessed, who had little interest in matters of theology or church politics.” – Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (2007): 436-437.
Notably without a question mark, the quotation above expresses the truth about Filipino Pentecostal/Charismatic movements are more attractive to poor and marginalized. According to Julie C. Ma and Wonsuk Ma (2010), a Korean couple who spent the 13 years working as missionaries in the Philippines, argue that such daily struggle has made Filipino people turn to religions which promise divine answers, and Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity has presented the most attractive message. For instance, they both describe that the nine-million strong El Shaddai Catholic Charismatic group in the Philippines exemplifies the flight of poverty-stricken masses to the miracle-performing God (p. 239).
Besides Catholic Charismatic group, there are non-Catholic Pentecostal Christians to be found all across Philippines. A 2006 Pew Research Center survey shows that 81% of the population is Catholic and more than 7% is Protestant. A 2003 survey finds that 15% of Philippine Catholics are charismatic, while more than a third of non-Catholic Christians are pentecostal or charismatic. For example, The Philippines General Council of the Assemblies of God, Inc. (PGCAG), Church of the Foursquare Gospel in the Philippines, Cathedral of Praise Manila, Jesus is Lord Movement, Victory Christian Fellowship, The Kingdom of Jesus Christ: The Name Above Every Name, and Jesus Miracle Crusade to name a few. Although some Filipino social scientist demands these survey to be update. Like Terence Chong, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute; and regional editor for the News from Southeast Asia section in the Newsletter, clearly writes,
A 2011 Pew Research Centre study estimated that there are 279 million Pentecostals worldwide, comprising 12.8 percent of all Christians. There are no accurate estimates for the number of Pentecostals in Southeast Asia but the percentage of Christians (including Catholics) in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore are 13.2 percent, 8.8 percent, 85 percent, and 18 percent, respectively. The exact number of Pentecostals are difficult to pin down because most country censuses do not differentiate Pentecostals from the larger Christian community. In addition, Pentecostalism does not have strict doctrines or hierarchy, and may manifest as standalone churches or as fringe congregations in mainline denominations.
What is certain, however, it is difficult to ignore this phenomenon, particularly in the Philippine religious landscape.
But, the ongoing problems (poverty, human rights violations, natural disasters, corruptions, etc.,) that have beset the Philippines for many years revealed, according to Joseph Rommel L. Suico (2003), the ambiguity of the Pentecostal movement’s understanding of its role in society. Suico argues, “Pentecostalism in the Philippines has been interpreted mainly by outsiders who tend to ignore the context, particularly the socio-economic dimensions of its members” (p. 13). Suico further explains, “There is an obvious lack of knowledge and understanding of the significance of the Pentecostal experience especially its institutional relationship to society” (ibid). As Suico observes, “…the attitude of other churches and communities is often marked by theological and cultural prejudices” (ibid). Therefore, Suico claims, “pertinent that formal studies are undertaken to assess the validity of the prevailing perception of Pentecostals’ lack of involvement in socio-economic and political activities” (ibid).
Despite of Filipino pentecostals strong emphasis on prayer and evangelism, one of the results of Suico’s research (mixed method) demonstrates that majority of his Filipino Pentecostal respondents perceive prayer and evangelism plays an important role in social, political, and poverty alleviation. Simply put, they see prayer and evangelism in a distinctive way that leads to social transformation.
The Challenges of Reinventing Pentecostal Prophetic Ministry in the Philippines
One of the ongoing challenges, however, face by Filipino Pentecostals to reconstruct contemporary pentecostal public ministry in the Philippines. There are, of course, those who do Pentecostal political theologies and contextual theologies, who are often more aware to these challenges. For instance, Joel A. Tejedo and Doreen A. Benavidez, recently attempt to reinvent the pentecostal prophetic ministry in the Philippines. Although such reconstructing or reinventing contemporary pentecostal prophetic ministry is always theologically challenging and often messy. Nevertheless, both Tejedo and Benavidez take up the call.
Joel A. Tejedo is one of the emerging Filipino pentecostal theologians. Tejedo is a professor of Asian Pacific Theological Seminary Philippines. His areas of specialization are in research method, public theology, and moral economics. Tejedo has published numerous international and local articles. Recently, he published the book entitled, “The Church in the Public Square: Engaging our Christian Witness in the Community” (2016). This book is a collection of Tejedo research and conference papers. He arranged the book into six chapters. In keeping with the theme of the book, namely arguing that Pentecostal theology have a strong biblical foundation for civic engagement, potential religious non-state actor to combat human trafficking, poverty reduction, and economic problems. According to Tejedo (2016),
The wealth of theological evidence supporting the theology of civic engagement should encourage believers in their Christian witness in society. God is at work in all of creation, and by virtue of creation and redemption, he has empowered us to be witnesses in word and action. While the Holy Spirit is increasingly making the church as a charismatic community, it is the task of every believer to creatively engage in his or her community through empowered ministry, and address the complex issues found there. With the help of the Spirit of God, Pentecostal local churches will remain at the cutting edge of Christian mission if they work collectively to promote the common good of the community in which they are called to serve” (p. 10).
For Tejedo, there is proof of God’s strong emphasis on social justice numerous times in the Scripture. Take for example, Exodus 20:1-17; 23: 11 and Leviticus 19:10; 23:22; 25:35 stresses the caring for the poor, weak, sickly, marginalized, and oppressed people. Pentecostal local churches, as Tejedo insists, can be a powerful social force for social and economic developments. Also, Tejedo challenges the popular view about Pentecostals that frequently labelled as less concerned over public life due to their preoccupation to other-worldly (p. 12). Using empirical research, Tejedo proves that Pentecostal churches work and partner with other organizations to produce a just and loving society.
For instance, Pentecostals provides livelihood program among poor communities to create financial literacy, to combat addictive vices, and to achieve desirable lifestyle changes (pp. 34-35). But, Tejedo is aware that Filipino Pentecostals need to realise their unique gifts and capacities as a social catalyst. To carry out this, however, Tejedo strongly suggests, “there is a need for a new breed of Pentecostal scholars to develop a Pentecostal theology of politics, integrating their biblical doctrine on politics in the fellowship meetings and bible studies, whereas members of the local church need to develop a holistic understanding of political society” (p. 126).
In 2017, Doreen A. Benavidez, a Pentecostal scholar, published an article entitled, “Pentecostalism and Social Responsibility,” that offers a critical reflection towards contemporary Filipino Pentecostalism. Aside from social services, Benavidez (2017:171-178) suggests that social action is part of the Pentecostal spiritual mandate and has a pivotal role in the global mission. “Filipino Pentecostals should be able to contribute to transforming the structure of society,” she further contends.
Furthermore, Benavidez insists that evangelism and social concern should be a unified effort among Filipino Pentecostals. She suggests, “What is needed is a theology of church ministry capable of integrating programs of evangelism and social concern into a unified effort in fulfilling the church’s global mission” (p. 174). For Benavidez, they have to overcome the dualistic view between evangelism and social concern. She proposes that evangelism must go hand in hand with social concern. Nevertheless, Benavidez argues that pentecostals need to distinguish these two concepts. Apart from evangelism, she further claims, social action is part of the Pentecostal spiritual mandate and has a pivotal role in the global mission. In conclusion, Benavidez writes,
To be a Christian is to have your ‘heart broken by the things that break the heart of God.’276 In the Philippines alone, the majority of the Philippine people are below the poverty line. Because of this poverty, together with other social problems such as prostitution, drug addiction and corruption, the society is affected. We are living amidst of fear and social decay. What does our pentecostal belief offer to solve this problem? How can our faith be relevant to the people in the world? The church cannot afford to be apathetic when the world is suffering. The ministry of the Spirit is to control how the churches address the present socio-political and economic issues and Scripture must be recognized to provide the key principles and framework for this task (p. 177).
Being colonized by Spain for 350 years, Philippines is known as a multi-faceted society with a long struggle for independence. Acknowledging socio-historical context, Filipino Pentecostals have hardly remained static. The complexity of Pentecostal theologies and various forms of ministry with colonial experiences have thus shaped such facets of the wider society as identity, class, gender roles, ministry, and public discourse. Ignoring the inherent diversity of Filipino Pentecostalism fails to do justice toward its complex worldviews, theologies, and practices. Giovanni Maltese and Sarah Essel, for example, argue that Filipino pentecostals perceives themselves differently. Also, they suggest the construction of Filipino Pentecostal identity is a process that is ongoing and shaped by different markers including gender, ethnicity, theological orientation, affiliation, and interpersonal relationships (Maltese & Essel, 2015). In short, it would be naïve to think that Philippine Pentecostal movements are static and monolithic, but dynamic and developing.
Moreover, Philippines is one of the countries that openly embraces the economic globalization (liberalization, deregulation, and privatization). With in-depth social analysis, however, Walden Bello (1997), a prominent Filipino sociologist, describes that globalization process in the Philippines has also generated peripheralization and social exclusion. For example, the gap between poor and rich Filipinos is broadening. According to Social Weather Station survey, “In 2017, the percentage of (Filipino) families rating themselves as mahirap (poor) was 50 in March, 44 in June, 47 in September, and 44 in December, for an average quarterly rate of 46 for the whole year.” Aside from the persistence poverty, most of Filipino faces several social challenges such as human rights violations, economic inequalities, narco-politicians, failed democracy, land grabbing, human trafficking, environmental problems, and powerful oligarchies. These social problems have continued to challenge many Filipino pentecostal theologians to undertake constructive or reinvent Pentecostal prophetic theologies from a political-social-economic spectrum.
Evidently, Tejedo and Benavidez put forward a bold proposal for pentecostal political and public theologies informed by the particular experiences and perspectives of Asian, particularly Filipinos. Therefore, Tejedo and Benavidez see contemporary Philippine social problems as inevitable locus theologicus or new source of doing Filipino pentecostal theologies. But, it clearly shows that Filipino pentecostal political and public theologies are ongoing projects among contemporary Filipino Pentecostal theologians.
Hadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Center for Palestine Studies-SOAS.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please join our Facebook forum, and sign up for our newsletter!
Benavidez, Doreen A. (2016). “Pentecostalism and Social Responsibility,” Prospects and Challenges for the Ecumenical Movement in the 21st Century”. Insights from the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute, No. 12, (Geneva, Globalethics.net), 171-178. Retrieved July 13, 2017, http://www.globethics.net/documents/4289936/13403236/GE_Global_12_web.pdf.
Maltese, Giovanni and Essel, Sarah. (2015). “The Demise of Pentecostalism in the Philippines: Naming and Claiming the Impossible Object and the Politics of Empowerment in Pentecostal Studies”. In Asia and Oceania, Amos Young and Vinson Synan (Ed.). Global Renewal Christianity vol. 1. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma, 255-279.
Suico, Joseph Rommel L. (2003). “Institutional and Individualistic Dimensions of Transformational Development: The Case of Pentecostal Churches in the Philippines”, Ph.D. Diss. University of Wales.
Tejeda, Joel A. (2016). The Church in the Public Square: Engaging our Christian Witness in the Community, Baguio City, Sambayanihan Publishers.