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Iglesia ni Kristo

In the 1990s, all over Luzon, the Visayan Islands, and even northern Mindanao, unmistakable Iglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ) places of worship, all similar in design and architecture, were being constructed for a rapidly growing membership. Founded by Felix Manalo Ysagun in 1914, the Iglesia ni Kristo did not attract much notice until after World War II, when its highly authoritarian organization and evangelical style began to fill a need for urban and rural families displaced by rapid changes in Philippine society. The church, led by clergy with little formal education, requires attendance at twice-weekly services conducted in local Philippine languages, where guards take attendance and forbid entrance to nonmembers. Membership dues, based on ability to pay, are mandatory. Members are expected to be "disciplined, clean, and God-fearing." Gamblers and drunks face the possibility of being expelled. The church forbids (on penalty of expulsion) marriage to someone of another faith and membership in a labor union. The Iglesia ni Kristo also tells its members how to vote and is even respected for its ability to get out the vote for candidates of its choice.

There are a number of reasons why so many Filipinos have joined such an authoritarian church, not the least of which is the institution's ability to stay the decline of traditional Philippine vertical patron-client relationships, especially in urban areas. The church also has been successful in attracting potential converts through its use of mass rallies similar to Protestant revival meetings. The message is always simple and straightforward--listeners are told that the Iglesia ni Kristo is the mystical body of Christ, outside of which there can be no salvation. Roman Catholicism and Protestant churches are denounced--only through membership in the Iglesia ni Kristo can there be hope for redemption.

Although the original appeal of the Iglesia ni Kristo was to members of the lower socioeconomic class, its puritanical precepts encouraged social mobility; and many of its members were climbing the economic ladder. Whether the church would be able to maintain its puritanical, authoritarian stance when more of its members reached middle-class status was difficult to predict. The church gave neither a count nor an estimate of its membership, but the rapid construction of elaborate buildings, including a campus for an Iglesia ni Kristo college adjacent to the University of the Philippines, would indicate that it was expanding.

Data as of June 1991