by Emil Jonathan Soriano

Embodying a third way” is both a challenge and a promise. It’s challenging because it’s counter-intuitive and it’s a promise to share in the way of Christ. 

Walking the third way” promises a share of rejection, persecution, and pain. It’s opening ourselves to be vulnerable targets of disdain, malice, and hate from the very people whom we seek to serve and journey with. It’s a challenge to guard our hearts and keep being faithful to that vocation. The third way” can be a messy road. 

Let me share with you my messy experience of trying to live out a third way.” 

During his presidential inauguration address in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte vowed to keep his campaign promises to rid the country of illegal drugs. He made clear the options available to those in the drug trade: surrender, be put behind bars, or be buried under the ground. In just a few weeks after he stepped into office, the death toll each day rose at an alarming rate. We saw daily news reports of dead bodies on the streets. Police were emboldened to be brutal since the president encouraged them to show no mercy. As of today, close to 30,000 people have been killed in the war on drugs.

The scene of dead bodies on the streets caused unprecedented surrender of drug addicts and small-time pushers to authorities. There were thousands who voluntarily gave themselves up to be put in rehabilitation facilities. This campaign was applauded by many people, including influential pastors and church leaders who supported Duterte and voted for him. They sincerely believed that he’s a kind of Cyrus” figure who will liberate the country from drugs, corruption, and the powerful oligarchs. 

At the same time, there were outcries from human rights groups, church leaders, and peace advocates condemning the killings and the budding culture of impunity. As part of the Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Commission of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, we put out public statements condemning the killings. We were out in the streets to protest and persuade the government to put a stop to the war on drugs. 

I was vocal in my denunciation in my public and social media engagements, sharply critiquing the way this war has been conducted that led to senseless killings. I was calling out the president’s war-mongering rhetoric that fuels a culture of hate, death, and violence. 

This got me into a clash with fellow pastors who supported the president. Many of them are dear friends and colleagues in different ministries. In public forums on the issue, they would drop Romans 13 on me and the need for people like me to submit to the God mandated authority. They say the government is a servant of God to wield the sword and inflict terror on those who do evil in society. For them, Duterte was a breath of fresh air, an unconventional leader with strong political will. 

This led to a falling out with some of my pastor friends. My social media feeds were full of accusations that I was an enabler of drug lords, a Marxist/​Communist, and a Yellowtard”(referring to the opposition party demonized by the president).

The fallout was painful and eventually led me into serious self-reflection. I was too combative and militant in my approach. I started toning it down and became more welcoming in my dialogue with people on the other side. I tried to listen more and seek to understand their perspectives. I was having coffee with these people and tried to reconnect with those fellow pastors I had fallen out with to start reconciling with them. 

In my public and social media engagements, I shifted to calling out the growing culture of hate and demonization from the opposite sides. I was pacifying the mudslinging of brothers and sisters from both sides of the divide. I was also denouncing how the progressive” Christians are also using violent rhetoric against people from the other side. They were also dehumanizing and demonizing others and the president. This put me at odds with the progressives” whom I used to march with on the streets.

The moment you start preaching on enemy love and reconciliation, you’re accused of being a compromiser, an enabler of impunity, and an accomplice of a blood thirsty president. I realized then that fundamentalist attitudes are also present on the other side. Progressive fundamentalists cannot tolerate your tolerance” of those in the opposition. 

I found myself being maligned on social media because they saw pictures of me having fellowship with people who are Duterte supporters. I was accused of being a turn-coat, two faced, and a coward. I was not prophetic” enough and bold enough to be like Jesus and the prophets of old in my resistance. Whenever I called them out for their use of hurtful language and violent talk, they would drop me verses from the Bible of Jesus calling Herod a fox” and John the Baptist calling people a brood of vipers” to justify their rhetoric. Whenever you preach showing grace, dignity, respect, and humanizing of discourse against the opposition, they will throw justice” talk at you as if justice is the highest virtue. 

Seeking to transcend the binaries guarantees a share of pain and hurt, especially from people who are dear to you from the opposite side of the pole. It’s important to guard your heart so you don’t get sucked into the cycle of hate and vengeance. 

To be honest, the hurtful words and accusations hurled at me have cost me many sleepless nights. This experience greatly resonates with what Henri Nouwen said about allowing the enemy to have power over us, to have them occupy our thoughts and lose our own sense of peace. If we don’t deal with the pain and hurt, it will grow into bitterness, and that will eventually manifest into many forms of violent behaviour to get back at our enemies.”

Moreover, the challenge to have the courage to confront people who wronged us is also crucial. It’s essential in one’s healing and reconciliation to learn to initiate speaking to people who caused us pain. I guess here is where the paradox of our faith comes: Jesus telling us that he did not come with peace but a sword, that even within our kin will be divided over matters relating to Jesus and the kingdom. But that holds in tension with the call to love them still. 

Loving our enemies is a call to embody Jesus’ way of forgiving those who put him on the cross. It is following the Jesus who taught his disciples to forgive ad infinitum, seventy-times seven. It is dragging in the present the vision of a reconciled world and the putting of all things to rights. 

Yes, these are nice words, but once rubber meets the road it’s going to be messy. So, I pray, Lord have mercy! 

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