Photo by Jansen Romero/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), a religious sect often praised for its unity and solidarity, faced a major crisis in 2015.
Its more-than-a-century existence has been tainted with allegations of corruption and family battles. (READ: Revolt in the Iglesia ni Cristo)
INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo expelled his brother Felix Nathaniel “Angel” Manalo and his mother Cristina from the powerful church after they claimed their lives were in danger. (READ: Iglesia ni Cristo head expels mother, brother).
Aside from the Manalo family, several ministers have also been expelled after accusing the Iglesia leadership of corruption.
There have been claims that expulsion – also called "tiwalag" – is the worst thing to happen to an INC member. It could mean that the expelled member can no longer be "saved" or even lose benefits that come with membership in the church.
But what does the process of expulsion entail? Rappler answers some important questions:
1. What are the grounds for expulsion from the INC?
Just like other organizations and religious groups, the INC has a set of doctrines and responsibilities which members are expected to follow. These responsibilities include regularly attending worship services and obeying 27 doctrines, among others.
Members are also prohibited from marrying a non-member and joining labor unions. (INFOGRAPHIC: What you should know about the Iglesia ni Cristo)
If they do not abide by the set of rules, they can be expelled from the church through its council, the Sanggunian. However, they would have to go through a rigorous process that mirrors the government-like structure of the Iglesia. (READ: The lure of Iglesia: Recruitment and the perks)
2. What does the expulsion process entail?
When an INC member is deemed to have not followed the doctrines, it is expected that the leaders will exhaust all means to resolve the issue. A "katiwala" or overseer will visit the member in question to advise and guide him through the ordeal. He will also be given a chance to defend himself and reflect on his actions.
However, if changes in the member are not seen, the katiwala will have to issue a formal report which includes all the details of the doctrine violations. The report is deliberated upon by the local INC leaders.
Photo by Mark Saludes/Rappler
Church leaders and the concerned member have to talk in person about the issue. Once all details are proven to be factual and not just based on hearsay, the report is sent to the Central office where another round of investigation happens.
According to an INC source, it could sometimes take years before a final decision is reached since the office has to carefully decide and determine whether there is still another option other than expulsion.
While the process in ongoing, however, a member can still attend church services and participate in other activities.
3. What happens when a member is expelled from the INC?
When the expulsion decision is finalized, the member's name is removed from the official INC roster. An INC source also told Rappler the names of those recently expelled are immediately announced during the following church service.
Expelled members likewise cannot attend Iglesia-related activities. In some cases, they are barred from speaking with other INC members.
4. Can expelled members still return to the INC?
Yes, expelled INC members can, provided they undergo a process called “balik loob”.
This process requires them to go to worship services regularly and to prove they can accept and follow the Iglesia doctrines and repent for their sins.
As in expulsion, the final decision lies in the hands of the INC Central once the expelled members have fulfilled all the requirements – some cases include, according to an INC source, writing an essay to prove worthiness of being accepted again.
Deviation from the past?
What the INC Sanggunian did to some members of the Manalo family, however, was different from the “meticulous and sacred” process of expulsion, according to former INC minister Lowell Menorca II, who was himself expelled.
“The expulsion process of the Iglesia Ni Cristo used to be a sacred and meticulous process,” he told Rappler. “In short, the Church is supposed to exhaust all options to save a brother or a sister from expulsion; it is always the last resort.”
He claims that the “long established process” of the INC has been neglected as the church leaders now “expel at will” without prior investigation as required.
He likened the “express expulsion” to a summary expulsion. There was “no love, no compassion, not an ounce of consideration” for those who have been expelled.
Besides himself, some siblings and the mother of Eduardo Manalo, the former Pasugo editor in chief Isaias Samson Jr was also expelled.
“Some of those whom the elders took the time to talk to were threatened, not counseled,” Menorca said. “Any act devoid of due process as dictated by the Bible is not in keeping with the doctrine and therefore, not acceptable to God," he added.
Meanwhile, “Antonio Ebangelista”, a pseudonym of an Iglesia member critical of Sanggunian leaders, said in a blog post that the sole reason they were removed from the INC was their criticism of the alleged corruption within the powerful church. – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.