By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” — Act 1:8
First of seven parts
This presentation is an attempt to look into what Protestantism in the Philippines had significantly contributed in the shaping of our society for the past one hundred years or so, whether by intention or by mere accident of history. When we talk of Protestantism we are essentially referring to the spirit “of constant renewal in the hands of God” (Brown, pp.40-50). It means openness to the judging and renewing activity of the living God. Historically, Protestantism in the Philippines refers to the kind of Christianity brought into the country by our American colonizers at the turn of the 20th century.
PROTESTANTISM AND AMERICAN COLONIALISM
The “Divine Comedy”
The Philippine revolution against Spain was already two years old when the United States declared war against Spain in 1898, sending Admiral Dewey into Manila Bay. In the guise of helping the revolutionaries get rid of their Spanish colonial masters, the American forces came and stayed put. A three-year Filipino-American War (1899-1902) with casualties estimated at 600,000 in a population of 7 million. The Aguinaldo leadership capitulated, and with brutal repression the United States annexed the Philippines as a colony.
Historical analysts view the Battle of Manila Bay as a “mock battle”, with the occupation of the Philippines as its main goal. For not too long, the imperialist designs of the U.S. began to unfold. In 1932, a distinguished American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, remarked in his book, Moral Man in an Immoral Society, saying: “Though the little junta, of which Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Lodge were leaders, had carefully planned the campaign of war so that the Philippines would become ours, the fiction that the fortunes of war had made us unwilling recipients and custodians of the Philippine islands was quickly fabricated and exists to this day”(Niebuhr, p, 100).
This impression was strengthened by the “divine comedy” which President McKinley put up for a group of Methodist clergymen who visited him at the White House. He said to them, “I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight. And I am not ashamed to tell you, Gentlemen, I went down on my knees and prayed to the Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night it came to me this way – that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ died” (Niebuhr, p. 162).
As shown by subsequent historical events, all these pious words about humanitarianism, civilization, and peace were meant to mask the economic and strategic motives behind the American colonization of the Philippines. Parker Thomas Moon, a historian of colonial policy, wrote about the real guidance McKinley got on that fateful night. He said, “The decision to colonize the Philippines did not come quite so suddenly or so mysteriously, as the President’s words would indicate. Mr. McKinley communed not only with his conscience, but also with his advisers. Divine light and guidance had to be confirmed with detailed reports on the economic and strategic value of the islands before the final decision was made”(Simbulan, p.62).
There were actually three major groups that lobbied for the annexation of the islands to the United States. These groups included the trading companies looking for Asian markets, the advocates of U.S. naval power in the Pacific, and the Protestant mission boards. All these groups embodied the economic, political, and religious interest of the U.S. Their mutual interdependence suggests that the mission boards tacitly acknowledged their role in the total colonization effort, even if they appeared to have come to teach the Filipinos the meaning of “true Christianity”.
In his study about Providence and Politics behind Protestant Missionary Beginnings in the Philippines, Gerald Anderson, a renowned American church historian, said that the first American Protestant missionaries in the Philippines arrived in 1898 under the banner of Manifest Destiny, the idea of divine mandate to expand and wield power and to justify the U.S. colonization program (Anderson, p.289).
Anti-Roman Catholic Sentiments
The introduction of Protestantism in the Philippines was accompanied by strong anti-Roman Catholic sentiments. Understandably, this was encouraged by most mission boards not only to discredit Roman Catholicism, but to break Spanish control over religion and to check the growing people’s national awareness. The new Protestant churches preached religious freedom as opposed to the one-religion policy of Spain, the open Bible as opposed to its exclusive use by priests, and the priesthood of all believers as opposed to hierarchical church.
Different Protestant denominations, except the Episcopalian Mission headed by Bishop Charles Brent, considered the Roman Catholics “unsaved” or not yet Christian. This view justified Protestants’ move to convert Roman Catholics to Protestantism. Consequently, such proselytizing thrust generated ill-will between Roman Catholics and the new Protestant converts, which resulted to numerous violent incidents against followers of both denominations.
The Roman Catholics were apprehensive that the American colonial government would use its power to crash Roman Catholicism altogether by fueling the vocally anti-Roman Catholic sentiments of Protestantism. Up to 1949, this rabid anti-Roman Catholicism was evident even among leading Protestants as shown in their attempts to picture Protestantism as a religious and political liberator (Moving Heaven…, p. 17).
The anti-Roman Catholic sentiments, however, did not die down through the years. As a matter of fact, it is still very much strong among the more conservative evangelicals at present, especially those groups who entered the country in recent years. Such divisive sentiments fit so well within the divide-and-rule framework of imperialist domination in the country and even elsewhere. # nordis.net
(Next week: The beginnings and growth of protestantism)