GA 2010: Neither poverty nor riches (nor ratios)

One of two General Assembly committees focusing on social justice issues considered three economic-related issues on July 5, its first full day of deliberations.[caption id="attachment_21939" align="alignright" width="315"]Dr. Tom Gillespie speaks to Committee 10 regarding the report “Neither Poverty Nor Riches.”[/caption]

Those resolutions involved a measure regarding caps on interest rates charged for credit-card lending; a report from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) called “Living Through Economic Crisis: The Church’s Witness in Troubled Times;” and another from ACSWP on pay equity, called “Neither Poverty Nor Riches: Compensation, Equity and the Unity of the Church.” The pay equity report generated the majority of the committee’s discussion.

Deborah Fortell of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy urged commissioners to consider issues of compensation within a theological context, and as an issue of justice and community. She acknowledged that though people cannot separate themselves from their cultural context, Christians are called to a consistent mindfulness and to focus on building community rather than individual gratification. “We must consider how policy in our church can honor our commitment to be in community with one another,” Fortell said.

John Fife, a minister and former General Assembly moderator, also spoke in favor of the report and its recommendations, urging commissioners to center the pay equity conversation on the grounds of both the Bible and theology.

Michael Kruse, chair of the General Assembly Mission Council’s Personnel Committee, spoke against the resolution, pointing out the complexities involved in determining compensation. “The recommendation before you elevates equal pay above all other concerns, but ratios alone don’t address all areas of justice,” Kruse contended.

The “Neither Poverty Nor Riches” report included, in its initial form, the recommendation for a 5-to-1 ratio between the highest-paid and the lowest-paid church employees, beginning with any new General Assembly Mission Council positions. It was this proposed ratio that became the focus of many of the remarks from speakers against its passage, as well as the committee’s discussion.

“The recommendation proposes a 5-to-1 ratio. Why not 2-to-1? Why not 15- to-1?” Kruse asked.

Tom Gillespie, the former president of Princeton Theological Seminary and chair of the General Assembly Mission Council’s Discipleship committee, echoed Kruse’s concern. “ACSWP says 5-to-1. Why 5-to-1? That is not found in the New Testament or the Old Testament,” said Gillespie. Though he did note that he had “no quarrel” with the recommendation’s Biblical and theological sections, Gillespie contended that the suggested 5-to-1 ratio was an arbitrary measure of what constitutes equity.

After much discussion, the committee voted to strike the ratio from the recommendation that will go on to the General Assembly. Though much of the discussion centered on compensation for the denomination’s national staff, the recommendation also contains a provision for local congregations.

That section urges presbyteries to establish maximum and minimum terms of call, with the provision that congregations providing calls which exceed the maximum would contribute to a presbytery fund to be used to support pastors in congregations unable to afford the minimum terms of call.

Though the committee discussed a proposal to strike this language from the report as well, this amendment was defeated. The language, which only urges (rather than mandates) that presbyteries comply, will remain in the recommendation that will be put forward for the consideration of the entire assembly later in the week.