US-based INC members demand answers from church leaders

BURLINGAME, Calif.– Images of a church divided is uncommon for the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) or Church of Christ, known to project a public image of unity and one mind. Public protests such as this are rarely seen since the Philippine-based church was founded in 1914 by Felix Manalo, born out of his dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church.

Manalo is viewed by his followers as God’s last messenger. They believe there is no salvation outside the INC. Within a century the church has grown to three million members worldwide who support the church through generous donations. The largest congregation outside of the Philippines is in the United States. The INC wields much influence. Its endorsement is sought after by Philippine politicians during elections.

But now, a minority of followers in the US is speaking up by protesting against the corruption scandal rocking the church. “What we want is for members not to be threatened to be expelled,” said Ruby Suarez. “We need to be able to express our voice.”

“If they say we’re going against the teaching of the church, we are instructed to bring things to light,” said Humphrey Angeles.

Central to the controversy is the current INC Executive Minister, Eduardo Manalo, grandson of the founder, who in a bizarre move to expelled his very own mother, Tenny, and brother, Angel, from the church — further fueling the scandal.

There are reports that critics within the INC have been abducted and silenced. Some church leaders say mother and son have been speaking up against the misuse of funds by the INC’s church council.

The cost of speaking up against the INC is huge expulsion from the church. For its followers a fate tantamount to death, something one INC minister in Fremont, California learned the hard way.

Bro. Louie Cayabyab disobeyed orders from the Central Office in the Philippines to read before his congregation the expulsion order against Tenny and Angel Manalo on charges of dividing the church. The minister stepped down from office, and now he fears for his life. “My heart breaks,” said Cayabyab. “It is simply unacceptable. I can’t read those circulars. That would just leave an emotional scar on me for the rest of my life that I read something not true.”

His message would have been unthinkable before, now he said if necessary, some members of the church council must be replaced, and ministers must speak up. “Let us face the truth, if we truly love the church let us stand for what is right,” said Cayabyab.

Iglesia ni Cristo is facing its most difficult crisis in 101 years. And while it is run by fallible men, its followers hope that when this crisis is over, the true church of God will remain standing.

You may contact Paul Henson at paul_henson@abs-cbn.com for more information.

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