Emerging critical social awareness in evangelical theological pilgrimages in the Philippines
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In the Philippines, as in the US and UK and elsewhere, evangelical conversion is normally regarded as a ‘turning’ from a life ‘without Christ’ towards a life of ‘faith in Christ’. Traditionally, the potential convert is invited to ‘accept’ or ‘receive’ Christ as personal lord and saviour. Once a decision to ‘accept’ is indicated, the individual is considered ‘born again’ or ‘saved’, whereupon he or she is expected to manifest behavioural signs, such as participating actively in a ‘Bible-believing’ church, while adapting to its distinct ethos. This conversion, however, has not generally led to a commitment to issues of economic or social justice. In the years 1946-1986, Filipino evangelicals have tended to neglect the social question. This is consistently shown in their general silence during the 1972-81 martial law, the 1983 murder of Aquino and the 1986 people power revolution. Historically and theologically, this particularly conservative social disposition may have been influenced by a lopsided emphasis on aggressive evangelism and a general evasion of social questions, especially by US evangelical missionaries who carried the ‘baggage’ of the fundamentalist-modernist debate of the 1920s and 1930s. This theological orientation seems to have been perpetuated, one way or other, by their Filipino converts. That there are in the Philippines examples of previously socially-disengaged evangelical converts who eventually moved towards a socially-engaged path, however, seems to indicate the possibility of a theological re-orientation within this Christian tradition. This study tackles this particular ‘conversion’ or re-orientation within, not away from, the evangelical tradition, with the goal of shedding some light on the nature and possibility of a ‘second conversion’ towards a socially engaged posture. To explore this phenomenon of interest, the study identifies four different trajectories of change exemplified by particular theological pilgrimages travelled by Filipino evangelicals during their adult years. The first trajectory is about the development of a social conscience which benefited from an active involvement in an international evangelical student movement. The second represents a largely noncritical exposure made possible by a protracted career in medical missions that led to a similar awakening to social injustice. The third involves an evangelical who ended up accommodating Marxist social analysis. And the fourth concerns how an underprivileged evangelical managed to attain a second, more critical, perspective on poverty, leading to a commitment to combat economic injustice. These trajectories are explored through extensive interviews with each of the four subjects. Though necessarily limited in scope, the value of this study lies in its potential to gain some insights into factors that have the potential to ‘convert’ or ‘transform’ minds and ideological postures. It thus suggests that, at least in contexts of social and economic polarisation, the evangelical Protestant tradition may not be so inescapably tied to social and political conservatism as is often assumed. The study ends by drawing some wider conclusions about the possibility of a second conversion within the evangelical Protestant tradition.