UCCP in crisis
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2019 - 12:00am

(Second of two parts)

Dramatic developments in the pursuance of a return to the original United Church of Christ in the Philippines’ constitution and by-laws have included filing of charges in the prosecutor’s office and the UCCP’s National Commission on Discipline and Conflict Resolution (NCDCR); denial by the national leadership to allow the Opposition to read the documents pertaining to church property transactions; banning of members of the Opposition from attending Sunday worship services at the Holy Redeemer church and holding of rallies or forum within the conference; closing of access to the national leadership’s UCCP Forever website – compelling the Opposition to open its own Pagmata UCCP (UCCP, arise!), a blessing it turns out as it is able to publish its banned article, “The End Does Not Justify the Means,” and other materials, and a comment of former Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals Delilah V. Magtolis, on a gag order preventing the Opposition from discussing issues related to the church’s real estate development issue as suppression of freedom of expression.

Impressed by the actions of the National Leadership (NL), 4,000 UCCP Forever followers reportedly attended the grand 71st anniversary celebration of the founding of the UCCP at the Union Theological Seminary on May 25, this year. I am certain they are very grateful for national treasurer Lauro Millan’s solution to filling up the miserly coffers of the local churches by raising billions of pesos through the corporatization process. In contrast, only 150 members attended the Opposition’s celebration.

The national leadership has a majority of followers appreciative of the national leadership’s corporatist solution to solve the financial problem of the church. As Millan, perceived as the most powerful man in the NL, said, some bishops and national leaders will be ending their term. “At least they can say, ‘We are leaving the Church in much better shape than when we received it, and tried to find ways to improve the lot of our beloved UCCP and its church workers.’”

More than the land disposal problem that bothers some churchgoers is the alarming report on the UCCP’s interface with the left, now seeking a stranglehold within the UCCP. A number of churches are documented to have formed their own fellowships though intrinsically part of UCCP, on account of “power hungry” left-leaning pastors and lay leaders. Are the 4,000 UTS attendees aware of this?  

It bears repeating the importance of the Faith and Order Commission. According to Mendoza, the UCCP constitution and by-laws is not just a legal document that is supposed to guide and provide limits to what church offices can do and cannot do with their powers and authority. More than a legal document, it is first and foremost a theological statement being an expression of the faith of the church put into responsible, collective, organized and accountable action. This is why the body of the CBL is preceded by the very important theological statements of the church, the Statement of Faith (SOF) and a Covenanting Prayer. After the Bible and the Statement of Faith, the CBL is the third most important document for the UCCP.

“Many amendments made serve to weaken local church autonomy while concentrating power and decision-making in the national office and the bishops . One amendment inserted only in February 2018 ”is standard for corporations but most alarming for a church.” It states that “in the event of dissolution, the assets of the organization shall go to another accredited NGO/Foundation.” Many say that most likely it is the national office representing the “united church” that will dissolve, not the local churches many of which predated the UCCP. Why should the assets not revert to the local churches rather than be awarded to a stranger?

“The primary identity of a church, a body of the faithful doing God’s will through preaching, teaching and healing has been subverted and taken over by the process of corporatization,” says Capulong. “The church asks, ‘How do we heal?’ But the corporation asks, “How do we make money?”

Jurgette Honculada, a respected writer, writes this columnist:

“When the national leadership mismanages church institutions, juggling its real estate and bludgeoning one piece (Bethany Hospital in Tacloban) to save another (VCMC in Cebu), when the healing and teaching ministries (Union Elementary School in Malate) are sacrificed for millions of cash advances purportedly for impoverished church workers while scarce financial statement say otherwise, when lease contracts on prime lots are hidden from public view as if they harbored deep dark secrets, when the power and authority of lay bodies are usurped by a bishop-dominated elite, when a mangled and manipulated constitution and by-laws is trumpeted as legit, when an early alliance with left political forces opens up UCCP to continuing interference and idolatry, when the church has lost its sovereignty and is autonomous mostly in name – many church members say, NO MORE.

“To protest is in our DNA. To acquiesce means moral decay and death.”

Mendoza writes: “How do we grow and sustain? Fellow members are encouraged to return to their roots of preaching, teaching, and healing and not be dazzled by high-rise schemes.

“One sphere of action is the wider mission sharing (WMS) fund through which local churches remit 9 percent of their income to the national office. Or the churches may choose to hold their income.

At the national Pagmata gathering, 150 participants issued a manifesto expressing loss of confidence in the national leadership. Says Mendoza: “Our optimism is getting thinned by the day based on their reaction to our demands. As of now, they are of the belief that a noisy minority doesn’t have a whisper of a chance to change things.

“There’s no way we will leave UCCP or form an alternative UCCP. We are there to stay even beyond the resolution of the controversy on property development because as long as the present set-up devised by the national leaders through the changes in the BL exist, so long will the problem of a run-away leadership disruptive of the unity of the church prevail. It will be like an ever-continuing reformation. Nothing can stop us.

“Our concern has moved from property development to restoring the integrity of UCCP back to the Basis of Union, then a new effort to erect structures and built-in control systems, checks-and-balance and statutory mechanisms to ensure the operation of local church autonomy and prevent the return of authoritarian rule.”

(In a next issue, a bishop airs the NL’s side.)

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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