by Dr. Noriel Capulong
Retired Faculty member of the Silliman University Divinity School
Dumaguete City, Philippines
A Former member of the Faith and Order Commission
United Church of Christ in the Philippines
It seems what has been plaguing our church is an emerging blindness to basic boundaries. Boundary setting, boundary respect and boundary protection are basic prerequisites for the attainment of order and harmony, peace and even growth in any organization. This should have been a primary concern of the everyone in our church especially by the those who are taking the lead so as to serve as the models and exemplars of boundary observance.
Just as the UCCP Constitution and By Laws is supposed to set the boundaries of the authority and limitations of functions and duties of every entity and officer in the church, so is the Ten Commandments setting the primary examples of an authoritative boundary setting that demands utmost respect and compliance by those who would choose to become members of the covenant community of Israel. The boundary between the worship of the one true God that has truly liberated his people Israel and the allegiance to false gods that offer false security in life is laid out clearly. It describes the boundary between the realm of the holy and the realm of the worldly.
There is a day that is considered set apart from all other days, that is the Sabbath. It is a day that is to be considered as holy to the Lord and to be dedicated for the things and endeavors that will result in an experience of renewed communion with the Creator God. All the other days are to be used by people for their own sustenance and advancement of life. There is a boundary set between the way we need to treat our parents and the manner we may treat others. Parents are to be given due honor by the children as a prerequisite for their living or staying long in the land.
There is a boundary that is set on how you may treat or regard a neighbor. A neighbor’s life is sacred. Each human life is sacred and no one has the right to just take it simply because of anger or a grudge or the need to take revenge. To intentionally take the life of a person deeply hated is to cross a boundary towards a realm which is strictly within the divine prerogative already. There is a way to settle dispute without anyone having to engage in a scheme for the murder of a perceived protagonist.
Thou shall not steal is addressed to an act of crossing the boundary towards what does not clearly belong to someone. This is related to the commandment Thou shall not covet. To covet is to have an active, growing and intensifying desire to possess what clearly does not belong to the one coveting. It could cover a wide range of objects of desire. It could involve people or properties. It could mean coveting somebody’s spouse, or somebody’s ancestral land. It could involve any movable or immovable property of somebody. To covet is the prelude to stealing. But coveting is also accompanied and driven by a growing attitude of greed, the desire to continue to possess and accumulate possessions that enables one to ignore and blatantly disregard and violate all moral, legal, institutional and spiritual boundaries just to be able to satisfy such desire to possess.
It is an affliction that becomes deeply ingrained in the soul and being of a person. It is an affliction that dehumanizes a person and destroys whatever seed of goodwill may still be left in his soul. For covetousness driven by greed leads to even worse and broader violations of boundaries. The person then becomes easily disposed to violating all other kinds of boundaries. The moral boundaries that protect the dignity of relationships and decent behavior within the community and within the family become easily and flagrantly violated. Boundaries in marital vows and relationships are taken lightly and are easily set aside. The ethical boundaries that are supposed to be manifested in voluntary acts of delicadeza, or simple inhibitions to prevent any possibility of conflict of interest within the institution are all but forgotten.
The institutional boundaries that should have guaranteed order and harmony and most of all transparency, accountability and check and balance are now lost somewhere in transition. Things desired and coveted may now be achieved and acquired thru plain and simple “diskarte” or palusot or plain manipulation if not coercion of gullible and innocent subjects regardless of whether or not they have followed proper procedures or regardless of whether their acts will really reflect the truth that can set us free. In effect we have a leadership that is attempting to extract lies even under oath from vulnerable subjects and will try to present them as truth before the court of law. This is leadership that has lost completely its sense of moral boundary, the basic boundary between right and wrong, moral and immoral, between the realm of the spirit and the realm of the demonic. Everything now is being resorted to with all kinds of diskarte or palusot just for the sake of expediency and secure one’s safety from being persecuted. This is how low we have now become. We can only cry in disgust and lament our present predicament.
Nothing less than a plain and honest recognition of this loss of boundaries in our church can redeem us as a church. Nothing less than an honest admission of the fact that there has indeed been violations of such boundaries one after the other will provide for our redemption. Only in an honest to goodness act of repentance and openness to being corrected and restored to what we as a church are supposed to be can there be reconciliation and a road towards renewed unity and harmony can once more be achieved.
Nothing less than a restoration of the traditional boundaries as observed in our church and in our society will solve the predicament the UCCP is now in. It is in the re establishment of such boundaries on much firmer and more stable spiritual and moral foundations of unity and common trust and love for the church and faith and obedience in the only God in Jesus Christ that will redeem the UCCP.