GA News: Committee maintains per capita status quo

SAN JOSE -- All attempts to mandate changes in the ways per capita is spent at the General Assembly level were turned aside by a General Assembly committee meeting Tuesday (June 24).

            The General Assembly Procedures Committee also rejected two proposals to create non-geographic presbyteries or synod that could be organized on a basis other than geography or language. It voted overwhelmingly to reject overtures from four presbyteries that would have restricted how the GA Stated Clerk allocated the nearly $6 per capita, which results in a $14-million per capita budget at the national level.

            The proposal that gained the most discussion was one to shift funding for grants to ecumenical agencies from the per capita budget to the mission budget. Four proposals to alter the way per capita is utilized failed on similar 37 or 38 in favor of disapproval and four to six opposed to disapproval.

            The issue comes from various presbyteries reflecting a common feeling among conservative churches that funding organizations like the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and even the World Alliance of Reformed Churches represents sending money to organizations whose agendas they opposed. Several commissioners said they had gone to the WCC Web site only to find various denunciations of U.S. policies around the world.

            For example, Allen Wisdom of Georgetown Church in Washington, D.C., said, “It bothers my conscience that I am forced to pay per capita to support activities I would not otherwise support. The WCC and NCC are pacifist in their politics and quasi-socialist in their economics. Don’t keep forcing us to pay per capita for stands we oppose,” he said.

            The argument on the other side is that the $1.5 million paid to ecumenical groups is not so much “dues,” as it is money for overhead. Michael Livingston, immediate past president of the National Council of Churches and a minister in New Brunswick Presbytery, said, “Continuing support belongs in the per capita budget. We have been doing it since 1730, but because it’s the right thing to do. (This proposal) singles out NCC. It is not a mission organization. It is a religious organization. It is being the church together.”

The committee voted to disapprove a proposal to allow creation of non-geographic presbyteries based on theological, missional affinity.

            “It will allow new forms of presbyteries. It provides a middle way,” said its overture advocate, Jeff Arnold of Beaver-Butler Presbytery in western Pennsylvania. “ ‘E-link’ simply relaxes the [PC{USA)] in a time when we need flexibility. Geography is not going to cease to be a factor. Some conservatives say the liberals will want to form a bunch of smaller presbyteries to influence actions at General Assembly.

            “The possibilities are endless. Evangelical church. Missional church. Emergent church. Most presbyteries will remain as they are. Not all new presbyteries will succeed.”

            Catherine MacDonald, a member of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution and the stated clerk of Boston Presbytery, said: “The (ACC) found that there were a number of very profound areas where compatibility (of the proposal) does not exist (with current Book of Order). The ACC has found a number of areas of problem with this. It would reverse the authority for creation, dissolution of churches with presbyteries. Our structures are not affinity-based.”

             In other action, the committee:

·         Elected the Rev. Jill Hudson and the Rev. Marcia Myers as associate stated clerks. Jill Hudson is coordinator of Governing Body Relations. Marcia Myers as director of the Joint Office on Vocations.

·         Approved a change in the by-laws of the Presbyterian Historical Society that would expand the PHS board from a maximum of 12 to a maximum of 24. This will take five years to accomplish. 

·         Voted to confirm the following members to the PHS board: Diane D’Agostino, Margaret Ellis, Joyce Schaefer, John Kuykendall, Margaret Tobin, Donald Allerton, Eugene Bay, Douglas Callantine, Louis Weeks, Elizabeth Ervin, Paul Watermulder.

·         Approved an overture proposed by the Advisory committee on the Constitution to establish a 120-day advance deadline for submission of proposals for authoritative interpretations, which is the same as the deadline for overtures that would amend the book of Order.

·         Approved a resolution naming the Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, outgoing stated clerk of General Assembly, “stated clerk-emeritus.”

·         Approved Detroit as the site of the 221st General Assembly (2014).

·         Approved a minor change in the General Assembly open meeting policy.