The faith-based vote: A sleeping giant
Something potentially historic happened on March 15. For the first time, about 130 lay leaders of faith-based organizations belonging to Catholic, mainline Protestant and evangelical traditions came together to heed the call to somehow make a difference in this critical election.
The participants in what is now known as the People’s Choice Movement (PCM) chose 10 senatorial candidates to support, based on careful research into the candidates’ stand on critical issues and as collectively discerned from standards set in GabayKristo, an inter-faith guideline drafted some years back.
Comments about the 10 candidates chosen — Gary Alejano, Bam Aquino, Neri Colmenares, Chel Diokno, Samira Gutoc, Florin Hilbay, Romulo Macalintal, Grace Poe, Mar Roxas and Erin Tañada — ranged from “How come it looks merely like the slate of Otso Diretso?” to “Why only 10?” to “This is a violation of the Church and State separation.”
The reply to the first is that the Otso Diretso candidates happened to survive the process of elimination after a three-tier screening. Their selection out of the 17 candidates that remained after the sifting is coincidental and not intentional.
An indication of the independence and diversity that went into the voting is the surprise even among the electors themselves that a left-leaning candidate managed not only to be voted in, but to land among the Top 5. Likewise, a Muslim woman was selected, a sign of the inclusiveness of the Christian leaders who gathered.
As well, there were grumblings about the inclusion of an independent candidate high up in the survey ratings but somewhat opaque and low in her level of express commitment to the issues and values important to the leaders assembled. She barely managed, though, to be in the 10th slot.
To the question of why only 10 candidates were chosen, the PCM leaders said the two remaining slots are to allow voters to make their own choices. Since this is not a command vote, or even an attempt to become a power bloc, the people are given space to remove or add candidates according to their judgment. The 10 candidates being commended are deemed numerically sufficient to form an independent Senate and foil the formation of a supermajority that would be pliant in the hands of those wanting to railroad amendments to the Constitution.
Perhaps the greatest stumbling block to the PCM campaign is the notion that this move violates the oft-repeated separation of the Church and the State. The leaders counter that, in the first place, PCM is a lay movement, although it seeks the blessings of the bishops.
Theologically, the Church and State are separate only as institutions. The visible Church—the people of God scattered about in the world—are meant to be salt and light, an Army under orders to storm the gates of hell, especially in the dark world of politics, so that the will and purpose of God for human society is done on earth as it is in heaven.
As the poet T.S. Eliot once put it, “The Church’s message to the world must be expanded to mean the Church’s business to interfere with the world.”
This conviction animates those behind PCM. As people of faith, they are taking the outside chance that, with God’s help, “something can still be done on the margin of the impossible,” as the poet puts it.
They have no illusions that there is such a thing as a “Catholic vote” or a “Protestant vote,” although by their sheer numbers, even a fraction would do to overturn the survey ratings.
The evangelicals are at least 8 million; add to that the Protestant charismatics and mainline churches, and it would easily be 25 million. Catholics who say they are “renewed Christians” or Charismatics are 40 percent of their population, according to the Pew Global Survey. Unnoticed by the secular media, there has been a fairly large renewal or revival movement among Catholics and Protestants since the early ’80s. It is a sleeping giant. If awakened to a truly biblical public theology, there would be enough critical mass to arrest the descent of this country to hell.
Decent citizens are nearing despair as the surveys show the administration candidates making a clean sweep of this election. It is unfortunate that the surveys, as used in this country, have ceased to be merely descriptive of trends but have become unduly predictive, a tool for swaying the collective bent of the culture toward results desired by those who pay for them.
But the despair is premature. If we all gather our hands and feet together, we may yet turn the tide by the simple exercise of the one right we still have: our vote.
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Melba Padilla Maggay, Ph.D., is president of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.
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