BOOK REVIEW: A BROKEN MIRROR—Protestant Fundamentalism in the Philippines

by Rose Churma

In the 1960s, the Philippines decided to celebrate its Independence Day on June 12 instead of July 4. Instead, the fourth of July was called Philippine-American Friendship Day.

The American presence in the Philippines came at the heels of the Filipinos’ revolt against Spanish colonization during the last days of the nineteenth century. If the Spanish colonizers inundated the archipelago with Catholicism, the Americans introduced their brand of Christianity in the form of Protestant Fundamentalism in the early days of American colonial rule.

As the book’s back cover states: “This book explores the social and religious implications of fundamentalism in the Philippines through the use of a case study in Vintar, Ilocos Norte.”

American Protestant fundamentalism has been growing in regions such as Latin America and the Indian subcontinent, as well as in Asia, especially in the Philippines. In the Philippines, a few well-established Baptist churches financially support more than 500 rural churches according to the author.

In the introductory chapter, the author states that many Filipino Baptists believe that “Truth” is exclusive to their denomination which creates dissension in communities where a degree of tolerance transcended differences in beliefs and religions. He believes that Filipino fundamentalists mirror early 20th-century American religious zealots.

Chapter 2 of the book examines American Protestant fundamentalism’s interpretation of “conversion, revival, apologetics, epistemology, and scripture” which is based on 19th-century Western religious movements. This chapter concludes on how Protestant fundamentalism was exported to Vintar, Ilocos Norte, and the establishment of the Vintar Bible Baptist Church.

Chapter 3 introduces Vintar, its history and economic base (subsistence farming), and how the migration of its menfolk to Hawaii in the 1920s (which continues to this day but now includes women and children) has helped its economy through the overseas remittances of these migrants.

Chapter 4 describes its population, 95% of which are Ilocanos who describe themselves as “frugal, clannish and superstitious.” Ilokano notions of guilt, shame, and reciprocity are also discussed—important themes in fundamentalist sermons that furnish motives for conversion.

The monopoly of Catholicism cracked in Vintar in 1902 with the establishment of the Philippine Independent Church founded by the Ilokano Catholic bishop Gregorio Aglipay, who broke from the papacy of Rome due to political reasons. More than half of the Catholic population transferred allegiance to the Aglipayan Church. This paved the way for Protestant sects to get established in the town.

Chapter 5 details the Christian history of Vintar and concludes with how a local pastor established a “true church” for a few “authentic Christians” and how this group blossomed.

Chapter 6 focuses on Vintar’s fundamentalists while Chapter 7 expounds on the subject of fundamentalism and its exportation to the Philippines. In the final chapter, the author suggests ideas for future investigation. He also ruminates on why he wrote this book.

I first met the author, L. Shelton Woods at our wedding (the groom mentored him in basketball). He was then a sixteen-year-old student at Brent School, an international institution based in Baguio catering to expatriates, which included American missionaries.

The son of an American missionary, he was born in Manila but grew up in Baguio and was steeped in Ilokano and Igorot cultures and languages. After graduating from Brent School in 1978, he moved to the US where he earned his Master’s degree in Chinese history from California State University and a Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history from the University of California-Los Angeles.

He is now associated with Boise State University in Idaho, where he serves as Associate Dean of the Honors College and Professor of East/Southeast Asian History.

The author, Dr. Woods, is a world-renowned specialist on Ilokano culture and the Ilokano region, but his academic interests include all of East and Southeast Asia, and his research and writing cover the social, military, cultural, and religious histories of these regions.

One of his more recent works on the Philippines is the biography of Governor John Early who was the governor of the Mountain Province from 1922 to 1932. He has published other books on China and Vietnam.

ROSE CHURMA established a career in architecture 40 years ago, specializing in judicial facilities planning. As a retired architect, she now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books and write about them, as well as encourage others to write.

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