Back when I was actively promoting the Iglesia ni Cristo to my friends and family who were outside of the faith, I would occasionally be told “That’s not a real religion, it’s just a small fringe cult.” At the time, it was easy to show that, although the church’s doctrines were definitely not “mainstream Christian,” the church was nonetheless a “real religion” and not a cult. However, given the ways in which the church has fundamentally changed under the leadership of the current executive minister, it is worth asking the question “Is the Iglesia ni Cristo now a cult?”
Communication, Corruption, and Stuff
Before I went off-the-grid a few months back, I started to notice more direct responses to my articles (and the writing of other bloggers) by ministers. The responses were arrogant, narrow-minded, and dictatorial. It was overwhelmingly obvious that they weren’t actually reading (listening) to what we were writing, but rather, they were selecting specific snippets from the articles that they felt they could argue or defend. There was no opening for true dialogue. There was no hint of empathy or love.
And I could not help but laugh out loud when recently, the first article I post in months is responded-to by a minister who does exactly the same thing. Like those ministers from months ago, his main attack on me and others like me is that we express our feelings, questions, fears and frustration under a pseudonym.
I am not 100% right, and I know it. Like all humans, I am susceptible to occasional errors.
I am always open to intelligent and respectful debate. That is how we learn.
What the ministers – both then and now – fail to see and understand is:
- I sincerely, wholeheartedly wish and pray that I didn’t feel the need to write the articles I write.
- I yearn for the day when sites like those run by William Smith and Manny Ebangelista and Fawkes Rizal and so many others are no longer necessary.
What these antagonistic ministers and our current Church leadership fail to ask is:
- “Why are our Brethren creating pseudonyms and websites like this?”
- They weren’t necessary before.
- Why is that?
Over the last year, I’ve heard hundreds of stories – many of them mirroring mine.
For decades, we members were allowed to ask our ministers and district ministers any question that concerned us, and we had absolutely no fear of rejection or reprisal. In fact, the ministers (then) were eager to answer our questions to the best of their ability. And, on those rare occasions when they had no clear answer to our questions, they did not hesitate to send the question to the next person in the chain of command in the hopes that they would have an answer. For more than 30 years, I almost never had to go beyond my locale minister for answers.
Then came the time when, slowly, questions became something “bad”. Instead of sincere, researched and empathetic answers, we began to receive the response “Simply submit!” And, for a while, I did.
But then – the need for answers became more and more frequent because the decisions being made, the severe change in lessons and hymns, and the steadily increasing arrogance and authoritarian nature of our ministers became less and less tolerable. This is when being able to ask questions would have easily allayed the concerns and fears of the Brethren – but, we were no longer free to ask those questions.
“Simply Submit!” was all we got in return, along with subtle and not-so-subtle threats (depending on the minister) that additional questions would be considered as
Then the lessons started saying the same thing. Submit, or be marked as a rebel!
I know that there are many out there that are more concerned about money mismanagement than anything else. I understand this. Is there money mismanagement going on? I have no idea. I’ve read the articles (just like you) and some of them cause genuine concern, while others are obvious exaggerations. But it wasn’t the money issues that initially drove me to write under a pseudonym in the first place. Those fears were much more basic.
But, before I address them, let’s tackle one very important point:
Corruption. What does that word mean?
Of course, there are the more extreme synonyms: fraud, perversion, immorality, debasement. For some, the word “Corruption” is often used as a slap across the leadership’s face in relation to perceptions of money mismanagement. These Brethren (and ex-Brethren) can easily trace a line that says that all of the inexplicable things the leadership has done in the last few years is simply a means of covering up their poor money management.
For me, however, the synonyms for “Corruption” that make more sense and have more impact are: dishonesty, degeneracy, distortion, and harm. There have always been bad ministers: The young, inexperienced ministers; the ones with horrible tempers; the ones who hold biases and prejudices; the ones who are fighting individual vices; the ones who have no real Life Experience and, therefore, have no ability to counsel or lead. I’ve known these ministers. These weren’t all necessarily bad people, but, for a time, they were definitely bad ministers.
Under the previous leadership, the damage these ministers could do was minimized because there was a process in place that allowed the Brethren to shine a light on their actions (or inactions) and give them an opportunity for correction and growth. Those that embraced this system were the ones that showed the greatest growth and maturation. They became the best ministers I ever knew. While others who loathed this system would eventually run away from the Church, or may eventually be expelled. Others returned as simple members.
Perhaps being a minister was not what God had intended for them. I don’t know.
But now, this system is no longer in place. No one can question a minister anymore. If you try to contact a district minister about questionable actions by your locale minister, the response is “Simply Submit!”
It is this environment – one with no light – where corruption can grow and spread. And it is within this dark growth that – in addition to their unanswered questions – tends to add to the uncertainty of some Brethren.
So, when I read comments and posts by INC ministers that are arrogant, dismissive, callous, and lack empathy, I am easily reminded of why I am Bro Nico.
When I look on the Facebook pages of ministers and district ministers and see cartoons and caricatures of ex-members, ex-ministers, I am reminded even more of why I am Bro Nico.
When I hear of a young sister who is expelled from the Church simply because her parents were expelled, and that she received no prior notification, no warning, and no reason. Then in the following worship service, we receive a lesson that contains verses that stress that The Child shall not suffer for the sins of the father, it is these times that I am reminded of why I am Bro Nico.
The ministers I know and love are those that still (despite intense pressure, I’m sure) do their best to follow the spirit of the lessons they teach.
We recently had a wonderful (and very rare) lesson that had absolutely nothing to do with the importance of being an INC member or blind obedience or giving offering or propagation. The entire lesson was simply How to Be a Good Member. (paraphrasing).
In it, our minister stressed the importance of members showing love and patience and courtesy and integrity to each other. To correct with empathy and patience. To be open to communication (especially listening) and to listen with love. To turn the other cheek. To avoid gossip. He stressed the importance of being able to say that we did absolutely everything we possibly could for our Brother or Sister before their name was even considered for expulsion.
For the first time in over a year, I smiled after this lesson.
For the first time in over a year, my heart felt a little lighter.
Logically, this same lesson should have been communicated in the same manner to all of the other locales across the world too. But, from experience, I know that the message of that lesson likely varied widely from Chapel to Chapel – depending on who was giving it. I know that this is true – from experience.
This is the kind of lesson that you want to call your family and friends in other Locales and share your enthusiasm with them, and it is sad when you hear that the message they received was only a shadow of what you heard. That, in their Locale, the messages of Obey and Give Money and Propagate and One with EVM still bled into the sermon, corrupting the positivity and restorative energy of the real message.
To ministers who take the time to attack or challenge the writings of people like me, please take a moment to ask yourself:
- Were writers like me necessary before?
- If we could talk to you, would we feel the need to write our articles – articles that are usually filled with unanswered questions?
So, next time – before you ask the asinine question of “Why do you hide your name?” please take a moment to re-read the above article. Or – perhaps use a little bit of common sense. We’ve already tried time and again to speak with you face-to-face. We were met with a wall of insensitivity and (I think) insecurity.
That is why (in part) I am Bro Nico.
Please know that I have no hate for you. In fact, I love you dearly and pray for you and all of my Brothers and Sisters daily. I ask that you pray for me and others like me as well.
That’s what a real minister of God would do.
“WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?”
I have long been a student of history and philosophy. Not only are these topics very interesting to me, I strongly believe that they hold important lessons that every single individual could learn from; especially those who are in positions of power and influence.
Think of it: It’s nearly unheard of for us to encounter a problem or obstacle or challenge that others before us haven’t had to deal with already. Sure, the specific shape of some of these challenges may seem different because they often involve technologies that didn’t exist before, but the core problems and stumbling blocks are essentially the same.
The main reason we study the Bible twice a week (if not more) is for exactly this same reason. Christians before us had to deal with temptation and frustration and poverty and uncertainty. Our ancient Brethren regularly experienced crises of faith. Over the centuries, the Children of God have repeatedly faced the seemingly impossible.
In the absence of answers…
In the presence of flawed leadership…
Under the thumb of severe persecution and corruption…
What did our ancient Brethren do?
They had faith!
Faith that God has a plan and that He would (eventually) see them through their difficulties. And, if an answer in life was not part of God’s Plan, then the answers (and Peace) would be found later in Heaven. For non-Christians, this is a concept that is completely foreign to them. While, for us, it is as natural as breathing.
For us, being a faithful Christian is not rocket science. The core tenets are few and very easy to understand. But, as we all know, it’s often the “Doing” that’s much harder than the “Knowing”.
So, with all of the craziness that has occurred in the last several years (during the EVM-Era), why are so many of us struggling? Why are more and more of us choosing to simply cut-the-cord from the present-day-Church in favor of accepting expulsion or just choosing to leave our membership? Does this make it easier to wait for a Restoration (or, as I heard one person call it: “A Renovation”)?
This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered obstacles and trials and tribulations in our lives. They’ve rarely been easy to deal with, but they’ve never felt this difficult – this challenging.
So… Why does it feel SO different this time? Why does this feel SO insurmountable?
In my opinion, it has to do with WHERE the uncertainty and obstacles and persecution are coming from. We’ve become used to facing these challenges from OUTSIDE the Church, and then turning INSIDE the Church for strength and spiritual replenishment.
But where are we supposed to turn to when the persecution is coming FROM the very place we are used to turning TO for strength? The very people we used to turn to and rely on for guidance and answers are the very people who are now persecuting us. They are the ones who are lying to us. They are the ones who are weakening us instead of strengthening us.
In many ways, it’s like a marriage. As long as the husband and wife are united in all things, there is nothing in this world they can’t stand up against. But as soon as one spouse takes a different path from the other, their strength diminishes. Their once-solid wall now has cracks. That’s when worldly things like Finance or Fidelity can sneak between the cracks and break them apart.
The Church – the body of Christ – is made up of people. Before EVM, we were united. Our Wall was solid and unbreakable. We were 100% united in all things, so there was no challenge in this world that could destroy us. But we are now crumbling from within because those entrusted to lead us are no longer united with the True Teachings of God and Christ (despite their repeated and insistent assertions that they are).
Back to the marriage metaphor: When one spouse lies (and yes, sometimes this may simply be a lie of omission), faith has been broken. If it’s only one lie, then it may take some time and some serious effort by the offending spouse, but the broken faith can eventually be mended – but only IF both spouses are willing and put in the effort. But if there are multiple lies, then mending that broken faith becomes less and less likely. And, if the offending spouse refuses to take ownership of their lie(s), then restoring that faith is essentially impossible.
I honestly feel that this is what is missing within the Church.
We have leaders who have taken NO responsibility for the lies they have told. As a result, there is no path to reconciliation. Ordering us to “Obey without question!” doesn’t work in a marriage, and it CERTAINLY does not work in the Church either. You cannot erase lies by telling us to close our eyes and close our mouths.
We have all learned the doctrine that there is no divorce in the Church, but we also know that this is not strictly true. If one spouse continues to sin and every possible step has been taken by the other spouse and by the Church Administration to correct the offending spouse – without positive effect, then yes… the Church DOES approve divorce, but only AFTER the offending spouse is expelled from the Church.
So what should happen with our leaders who continue to lie and omit and mislead and bully… and refuse to admit their wrongs?
Is there any chance at all for reconciliation with the Body of Christ?
Should there be a divorce?
Some of us have chosen to wait outside the Church for God to affect the “divorce”, while many of us are waiting inside the Church for the exactly same thing. Whether inside or outside, we have all essentially given up hope that the offending “spouse” will admit their mistakes and seek reconciliation. EVM and his administrators are the husband who is saying “Those texts mean nothing. She’s only a friend!” and “I don’t know what happened to the money in our joint account. It must be a banking error.” There’s very little chance they’re ever going to admit their wrongs.
Whether you are waiting inside the Church or outside of it for God’s next move, please continue to pray – please continue to believe – and please continue to have Faith, dear Brethren.
Faith that God has a Plan.
I believe – 100%.
The Main Issue
At this moment, the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) is filled with Four distinct types of people:
- You have those who are completely satisfied with how things are going and the leadership they have, and they are either oblivious about the questionable activities going on, or they are they fully content to follow without question and continue to move on with their service and their lives. These members have been labeled as Blind Followers. Although, I’m sure they’d consider themselves as Devout Followers.
- Then you have those on the other end of the spectrum who are hyper-aware of every reported infraction and perceived lie, and they are utterly disgusted with the current church administration because they feel that this leadership is solely responsible for the perceived atrocities that are being committed. They are not shy to question the inconsistencies they see (either to fellow Brethren without concern of who’s listening, or on their real social media account(s)), and it is usually those within this group that are being expelled. Many within this group call themselves Defenders. Others within the group hate that label.
- Then you have those that have been called (rather inaccurately) Silent Defenders. These are members who have noticed that things within the church have changed drastically in the last “X” number of years (depending on who you ask), and they regularly peruse the blogosphere to keep themselves in-the-loop as to what’s going on in the P.I. and elsewhere regarding: 36TS, money matters, smear campaigns on both sides, and so on. They consider themselves highly aware of what’s going on, but they feel that the best they can do is create pseudonym WordPress and Facebook accounts and make periodic comments in perceived anonymity.
- And finally, there is the “Other” group. Like in U.S. politics where there is a large populace who neither identify 100% as either a Democrat or Republican, we have Brethren who are not Blind Followers, but neither do they consider themselves any form of Defender. They know in their hearts that “something” has changed, and that the change is extremely uncomfortable, but their bone-deep fear of either losing their membership or the possibility of Disconnection from their loved-ones serves to keep them effectively silent about their concerns as they continue to serve as best they can. They listen to the ad infinitum “sermons” about the importance of remaining a member of the church, obeying without question, and giving $$$ till it hurts with sadness, but they trust that God has a plan for His Church and will – in the end – resolve any issues that it may be experiencing.
That brings us to The Main Issue that will (I believe) make the final difference.
Some common adages about Trust are:
- “Trust takes a long time to earn, a moment to destroy, and a lifetime to repair.”
- “Trust is like crumpled paper – You can flatten it out, but it will never be the same again.”
- “After you break a person’s Trust, they may eventually forgive you, but they will never fully Respect you again.”
It’s clear that each of the Four Types of Members have different levels of Trust toward EVM and the administration. However, the one thing they all have in common is Human Nature. Humans usually react the same to Broken Trust. They abhor the person(s) who betrayed them, and they respond very slowly toward repairing that broken trust. The only difference is >> Each of us has our own unique threshold on how long and how much it takes to break that Trust.
The other factor is Exposure.
Those who – by natural proximity or by choice – have been more intensely or more often exposed to perceived wrongdoings are more likely to reach their Trust Threshold more quickly.
Keeping these two factors in mind, it’s very easy to see the incremental and escalating affect that Broken Trust has been having on the Church and its members during the last year, or so. Additionally, the number of members who are able to completely divorce themselves from what’s going on is shrinking rapidly, mostly due to two things:
- The activities going on at 36TS. This is now international news and getting larger by the day.
- The desperate actions by the administration in response to challenges of its authority.
I believe that it will not necessarily be the actions and opinions of anonymous bloggers or open Defenders that will serve as the final deciding factor in this matter. Nor do I feel that it will simply go away. The two examples mentioned above have one single unifying element:
It is their constant and repeated OVER-reaction and poor choices at 36TS that are causing the rapid escalation emotions and national exposure. If they hadn’t built their walls, posted their guards, stonewalled assistance efforts, and so on, then there’d be no news. Now, news agencies across the world have turned their gaze toward this remote address and are globally assigning two labels to it: “Atrocity” and “Cult Church”. Now, millions who have never heard of the Iglesia Ni Cristo are learning about us for the first time through this horrible example, and their reactions have been revulsion and disgust.
Then there are the pitiable “Sermons” being shoveled out during each “Worship Service”.
For many months now, the lessons have all been variations on the exact same theme, over and over and over again. I have spoken to many “Die Hard” members – members who I’ve long considered Blind Followers – and even these stalwarts are wondering what’s going on. They are complaining (silently, for now) that they’re tired of NOT receiving nourishing lessons anymore. They are disheartened by being beaten over the head during each service to remain members, obey blindly, give till it hurts, and propagate the faith… rinse-wash-repeat. And if the number of these blind followers who are beginning to question what’s going on continues to grow, then the church – as a whole – is in deep trouble.
The administration needs to stop thinking like Cult Leaders who are desperate to hold on to their cash cow – RE-acting only with intimidation and aggressiveness. The brethren – of all four types – are hungry for leadership that offers the compassion and love that they were used to. And if things don’t get better soon, then the First Group – the blind followers – will become so few in number that the church will not survive.
To EVM and the administration >> You are incrementally breaking the Trust of all of those who you have sworn to serve and lead. Whatever your motivations, if you do not stop what you are doing at 36TS, and if you do not immediately stop acting like cult leaders (evidenced in your depressing and brutish lessons), then YOU will be the instrument of demise for the Church of Christ.
You can’t say that you weren’t warned.
There are many ways in which human beings try to serve and worship God. However, the Bible makes it clear that there are many forms of service and worship that are unacceptable to Him. This does not only apply to members of false religions. Even within God’s chosen nation, those whose service is not in accordance with God’s commandments will be rejected by Him and will be punished. In this post, I would like to explore some of those types of service which God considers unacceptable which are currently seen in the church administration by reviewing the third doctrinal lesson of the Church.
One of my readers, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent me the following essay which I am happy to share here with you. If you feel inspired to write as well, but you are not yet confident in your own OpSec, feel free to get in touch with me (see my FAQ for ways to do that securely). Depending on the feedback I get, I may make “guest posts” a regular part of this blog.
You’ve heard it, right?