I was taking pictures of one of the Kadayawan dance groups in Davao City. The face of a woman dancer caught my attention. I felt in her facial expression what I’ve been hearing from certain leaders of the Lumad or Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao with whom I interact: “Listen! Hear my voice! Listen to my angry heart. Stop lecturing on us! You’ve been killing our people. Stop killing us! You’ve been pitting us against each other. Stop dividing us! You’ve been destroying our mountains and rivers. Stop stealing our lands!”
A few weeks ago, I shared my reflections regarding the armed violence, ecological destruction, and social injustices connected with the mining industry in the Philippines. There, I presented the fact that —
“…the Philippines is Asia’s deadliest and third deadliest in the world for environmental defenders, according to 2017 Global Witness Report on Killings of Environmental and Land Defenders. This is happening in the context of the armed-conflicts between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) that has been going on since 1971. Right now, there’s impasse in the peace negotiations between the AFP and the NPA.”
Last week, a group of Lumad leaders belonging to the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Council of Elders and Leaders (MIPCEL) condemned the presence of the NPA in their ancestral lands. This was applauded by the pro-government and pro-military segments of the Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao.
The immediate reason for the MIPCEL’s statement was the alleged kidnapping of Lumad children from Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) by a group of activists. The 18 activists included national political figures like Bayan Muna president Saturnino Ocampo, Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list representative France Castro, some teachers and pastors. They denied the kidnapping accusation and explained their side along with this video:
This situation caused some division between certain government leaders and academic leaders.
Many church leaders are also demonstrating passionate positions and divisive statements on this issue.
More than ever, we need to enhance our listening skills to be effective in our dialogical processes. “We are in the business of reconciling everyone to God and to one another,” said Ka Boyet Ongkiko, one of our senior consultants at PeaceBuilders Community. He challenges the followers of Jesus whenever we post something in social media: “Do we add to the animosity around us, or contribute towards the end of reconciliation?”
Sharpening Our Listening Skills As Disciple-Makers
This is the context where, we, the peacebuilding and bridge-building disciples of Jesus Christ, have to sharpen our discernment. As of this writing, various church leaders are asking PeaceBuilders Community for a statement. “No statement,” I reluctantly said. “We will listen and will continue to listen, seeking to discern through the ears of the Prince of Peace.”
Many missionaries like me said they have been listening. They listen through their Westernized Christian missionary hearing aids: “Both the non-Christian Lumad and the communist activists are going to hell if they’re not evangelized. They need to accept Christ. They need to be baptized. They need to be assembled as a local church. They need to repent from their old ways.”
In his book, Revolutionary Spirituality: A Study of the Protestant Role in the American Colonial Rule of the Philippines, 1898-1928, Dr. Mariano Casuga Apilado expressed the “disquieting… serious questions being raised about the integrity, validity, relevance and viability of the Christian faith, with the baggage and burdens of colonial abuses and exploitation bearing down on it” (p.ix). The religion of the colonizing empire seldom listens. The religion of the empire imposes its will in the name of God.
The American-influenced evangelical Christian mission is largely based on, and fueled by, the Great Commission passage (Matthew 28:16-20): Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The main command here is to “make disciples” — that is, to equip faithful followers of all nations. The going, baptizing, and teaching are participles and not the main verbs. If we are to multiply faithful followers or disciples, what will they faithfully follow or obey? The passage says, “everything I have commanded you.” Many of my fellow evangelical missionaries focus on the Great Commission — “to make disciples” by going, baptizing, and teaching. Because of this, the emphasis in discipleship is more of exponential growth, of quantitative objectives, of numbers game.
We have to clarify our understanding of all the commands of Jesus to sharpen our understanding of disciple-making. This process will also enhance our listening skills as disciple-makers.
Disciple-Making Hangs On Love — the Greatest Commandment
I believe that the content of the phrase “everything I have commanded you” is well-expounded by Jesus in the Greatest Commandment passage.
Allow me to refresh our memories:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 28-34 NIV; see also Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18)
Imagine yourself to be a Jewish person during the time of Jesus. Your rabbis or teachers counted 613 individual statutes in the whole body of Jewish religious-legal system. Some of them were tagged as great or heavy; some of them were little or light. So, the question here was about the heaviest among the whole system of law. Like any respectable Jewish rabbi, Jesus considered Deut. 6:4-5, called the Shema, as “the most important one.” But unique from the rabbis before him, Jesus connected a verse from social justice laws from Lev.19: “…love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 18). The motivation for justice, according to this Hebrew Bible passage, is love.
I read and interpret the Great Commission passage through the lenses of the the Greatest Commandment passage. My task as a missionary is to make disciples or equip faithful followers who will obey the Greatest Commandment of loving God and loving our neighbors — and neighbors include the enemies.
A disciple’s primary obedience is to love the Creator — the Ultimate Other.
We are invited to a loving relationship between us and the Holy Other. The Shema recitation is the beginning of Jesus’ confession of faith: “Shema Israel! Adonai Elohainu. Adonai Echad.” (“Hear O Israel. The LORD is our God. The LORD is One.”) This is a profound declaration that there is only One Creator who is distinct from all the rest of the creation. This is a great statement of the Other-ness of God. The other word for a God who is Separate or Distinct from all the rest of the Creation is Holy. YHWH is the Holy Other.
We are invited to a personal, intimate, loving relationship with the Transcendent Other. “Love YHWH your God…” In the Jewish tradition, the proper name of God must not be uttered; instead, they substitute the term The LORD (Adonai) to refer to YHWH. This is important because it emphasizes the reality that the Creator-God is eternally present but cannot be grasped totally by any human being, as a person or as a community. God is with us, immanent; but God is also beyond us, transcendent and cannot be manipulated based on human wants and needs. To worship YHWH means acknowledging God to be at the highest position in our value system — thus, worth-ship. A community who worships YHWH recognizes that no persons or objects can be acknowledged to be at the highest position in the community’s value system and the community’s understanding of reality. Such elevation of persons or objects to the highest position in our value system is an act of idolatry! For YHWH-worshippers, God is the Transcendent Other.
A disciple’s corollary act of obedience is to love the outsiders, and even the enemies, as neighbors
We are invited to a loving relationship with the outsiders as neighbors. The outsiders are those who are considered not part of our community. In the story of the Great Samaritan (Lk.10:25-37), Jesus teaches us that the neighbor is actually the person who is the object of our prejudice — not trustworthy, not pure, not clean, not lawful, not our people. Loving the outsiders includes accepting help and protection from them — being vulnerable, humble, and transparent; and also, extending help and protection for them in their time and condition of need.
From the modern Christians’ context, these outsiders are the groups we refer to with negative prefixes: non-Christians, unchurched, unreached, unsaved. Let’s re-think the social-ethical implication of our negative labeling, which we subconsciously believe is “correct.”
We are invited to a loving relationship with the enemies as neighbors (Mt. 5:43-48). The enemy is the person who does not love us, and whom we do not love, but whom we are invited to love. The enemy may be a party or another community who persecutes and oppresses our community. As soon as we identify these enemies, we feel the need to label them: “terrorists,” “bandits,” “thieves,” “murderers,” “rebels,” “insurgents.” They become statistical data. They become mere pieces of information. The tendency is to thingify them. It becomes easy to harm and kill the enemies when they are seen as things.
In the context of the Church today, we tend to listen and follow the state or the political party as to whom we will regard as friends or enemies. On one hand, many Christians, instead of following the command of Jesus to love our enemies, have regarded the New People’s Army (NPA), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other non-state armed groups as enemies. On the other hand, some Christians have regarded the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) as enemies because of their ideological views.
We need to see our land and our people from the eyes of Jesus! This means that we are called to love the people belonging to the New People’s Army (NPA), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other non-state armed groups! We need to love our land and our people through the heart of Jesus! This means that we should love and regard the people belonging to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) as friends even when their ideological views are different from ours!
A disciple’s act of love and obedience is listening to the cries of the oppressed
That Jesus converged the love of God with the love of neighbor to form the Greatest Commandment mandates us, his followers, to practice justice. “Never forget that justice,” says Dr. Cornel West, “is what love looks like in public.”
There were times when the nation of Israel felt so entitled and have intentionally forgotten social justice. Harold V. Bennett, in his book Injustice Made Legal: Deuteronomic Law and the Plight of the Widows, Strangers, and Orphans in Ancient Israel, makes a case that certain key sanctions we read in Deuteronomy “were actually drafted by a powerful elite to enhance their own material condition and keep the peasantry down.” In the midst of this unjust reality, Isaiah of Jerusalem (10:1-4) uttered a prophetic message:
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.
In another setting, Israel tried to hide their unjust practices behind their temple rituals. While showing off their religiosity, the prophet Amos (5:21-25) was given a message to deliver to this self-righteous people:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Our peacebuilding missionary context calls us to listen to the oppressed.
We, as disciples of Christ’s love, must always be empty of our own interests, even our colonizing religious missionary interests, so we can be clean channels of life-giving love of Christ to flow in, and through, us.
In the next following weeks and months, we hope to record and articulate the statements of various Lumad leaders. We hope to be a listening bridge to all the factions and we pray that we will be given permission to share with each other what we have heard, with a peacebuilding and bridge-building framework in handling information management and in serving through conflict-transformative communications processes.
Finally, I wish I can personally talk to that shouting young woman in my photo and ask her what was actually in her heart and mind when I took that shot. Perhaps I and my team would be given a chance to tell her: “Whatever it is you’re shouting about, I and my community will seek to listen. Really listen.”