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January 30, 2008

Let's Talk About Money

Money can be an uncomfortable topic to address. My impression of Presbyterian preachers is they dread the "stewardship" sermon. More on that another time.

Money is apparently an uncomfortable topic for the new Form of Government committee, too. In the previous draft, I expressed great objection to the taxation authority granted to synods and the General Assembly in G-3.0107,

Presbyteries shall be responsible for raising their own funds and for raising and timely transmission of requested funds to their respective synods and the General Assembly. (emphasis mine)

In the proposal coming to the 218th General Assembly (2008), the objectional language has been amended. It now reads:

Presbyteries are responsible for raising their own funds and for raising and timely transmission of requested funds to their respective synods and the General Assembly. (again, emphasis mine)

I will wait a moment while you shake your head. ...

Remember the catchwords of the new Form of Government: trust, flexibility, missional-not-regulatory. This fails on all three.

First, trust: does "are" mean "shall" or does it mean "may"? Certainly it has the ring of meaning "shall," which means that the committee was trying to say the same thing -- without saying the same thing. Double-speak is not trust enhancing. The picture I get is a polyester-suited-used-car-salesman trying to convince me that gray primer-paint is the "new moonlight black." Umm...no, I don't think so.

Second, flexibility: Assume that "are" actually means "shall." It would actually decrease flexibility. Why? Sessions currently have authority to determine the disposition of the gifts of the people. Under this new provision, if presbyteries are responsible for raising the requested funds, presbyteries unwittingly become the collection agency for the synods and General Assembly. Really? Yep. The next sentence in G-3.0107 says, "Presbyteries may apportion requested funds to sessions within their bounds." They ARE responsible, they MAY apportion among the sessions. So, a presbytery is "requested" (read: assessed) to remit $75,000 to the synod and GA. The presbytery "apportions" (read: must collect) that from the session and failure of the congregations to ante up means that they could be subject to an administrative commission (creditor phone calls, liens, or litigation in remedial case). The upshot is that sessions would now control only that portion of the gifts of the people left after paying their "church" taxes. How is flexibility enhanced by that result?

Third, missional-not-regulatory: Ok, the language sounds missional, but the practical outworking will be COMPLETELY regulatory. What happens if San Diego Presbytery decides against raising and timely transmission of "requested funds" to the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, and remits nothing requested by the General Assembly? Think about it: the distinction between per capita and mission giving has been eliminated; thus, what does "are" mean in that context? How quickly will that be litigated (via a remedial case in which the regulatory authority of the higher "councils" is re-established?)

The issue of money, by itself, it sufficient reason to put an end to this new Form of Government. Clarifying these provisions is not a simple "amendment" fix, and the relationship of governing bodies to each other needs to be highly regulatory (read: clearly delineated). It has to be spelled out or it will paralyze an effort to go forward. The proposal will not yield trust, flexibility or a missional character for the denomination. It will throw things from confusion into anarchy.