Governments cannot abide Christians with dirt under their fingernails. They are the ones who go beyond the saving of souls and fight for the systemic changes that will bring peace and justice to impoverished and oppressed peoples of the world, regardless of their religion.
This is why the Vatican squashed the Liberation Theology movement in Central America that made the mistake of takings Christ’s teaching about clothing the naked and feeding the poor seriously through its emphasis on Democratic Socialism.
The Sandinistas of Nicaragua, with their blend of Marxism and Christianity, were anathema to successive American administrations until they were finally crushed by Reagan’s Iran-Contra initiative, which returned “God” to his heaven and made the world safe for democracy.
Now, another Christian with dirty fingernails has appeared, Filipino minister Goel Bagundol who works in the Philippine’s Mindanao province with its concentration of the nation’s Muslims.
He believes that it is a Christian’s mission to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
And he has raised this to an art form.
Recently, three young girls were taken from their families to begin a life of prostitution, with the rapes and beatings that would have been an integral part of their vocational training.
Bagundol took his life into his hands, plunged into the back alleys of Manila, rescued the girls and returned them to their families.
For this, and other activities in behalf of the poor, the government has branded him a Communist, and he has received numerous death threats. Given that there have been 900 extrajudicial killings in the Philippines over the past seven years, the threats are real. There have been 200 disappearances, as well. None of these have been solved.
Bagundol is a member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). Sixteen of his fellow pastors have been murdered.
He responds to the death threats with cheerful good humor. In his church, there is a wall with photographs of the murdered and disappeared. With a laugh, he muses that next year his photograph might join the others.
His courage in the face of death is an integral part of his faith.
The Muslims of Mindanao have never taken kindly to foreign rule. When the Spanish invaded the Philippines in the sixteenth century, they conquered the northern end of the archipelago and converted the unsuspecting natives to Roman Catholicism, but they couldn’t touch the Muslims of Mindanao who outfought them.
When America took over the islands after the Spanish-American War, the Muslims nearly fought the Americans to a draw, as well. Then, in 1911, General John L. Hansen Jr. decided to apply some American ingenuity to the problem.
He knew Muslims believed that if a pig contaminated them, they would go straight to Hell. So, he took eight Muslim prisoners and sentenced seven of them to be shot. The eighth was to be a witness.
First, he had the seven dig their own graves. Then he tied them to stakes without blindfolds. Before their eyes, he slaughtered a pig and smeared their bodies and clothing with its blood. Then he had the pig cut into seven pieces with a piece dropped into each open grave.
According to eye witnesses, the prisoners all went “blue/black with terror, screaming for Allah to save them,” while the handcuffed eighth prisoner looked on.
Leonard left them like that until sundown when had had them shot and buried with their part of the pig.
The eighth prisoner was released. The story of the American’s methodology for executing Muslims spread rapidly, and the war ended.
(There is no doubt that at least one clerk in the War Department bemoaned the loss of a good pig.)
The respite was temporary.
Since the Philippines achieved independence, the Muslims of Mindanao have fought for their independence, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not.
However, since 9/11, this struggle has taken on a new twist with the advent of our Global War on Terror, known to some as the Eternal War of the Empty Policy.
The GWOT has led to the emergence of an unusual natural phenomenon: wherever there is a plot of land that contains a valuable resource beneath its surface, terrorists suddenly sprout.
The hills of Mindanao contain gold and other minerals that have caught they eyes of large mining firms. Nothing mucks up a good mine like an indigenous people occupying the land. So it was that Muslims struggling for independence suddenly became terrorists.
As a part of our War on Terror, which is really a War on Resources, America started providing the Philippine government with military aid and technical assistance to clear the land for the mining companies (or to facilitate economic development, as it is euphemistically known.)
We have a lot of expertise in this area, though George Armstrong Custer did hit a slight bump in the road when he tried to clear the Black Hills of Native Americans to make way for gold and silver mining. But in the end, civilization prevailed.
It is in this hothouse of conflict and oppression Bagundol works. He doesn’t care about people’s religion; he only cares about their needs. He raises money to feed the malnourished and to provide tribal people with water buffalo to help with their farming. He provides books for the area’s elementary schools and arranges for scholarships to send student to high school, an opportunity normally denied them.
And as the war between the Philippine government and the newly-minted Muslim terrorists ravages the land, he is there to provide comfort, assistance and, where needed, sanctuary.
For this, he is called a Communist.
For this, he lives under a constant threat of death.
All for an annual salary of US$1,600.