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Taxation without representation? Mid council leaders release statement addressing proposed per capita increase

A group of 40 mid council leaders has written a statement urging the 2018 General Assembly to vote down a proposed General Assembly per capita increase– saying the proposed increase of 39 percent from 2018 to 2019 and another 7 percent from 2019 to 2020 feels like “taxation without representation.”

These mid council leaders contend the number of congregations not remitting per capita will “dramatically increase” if per capita goes up, and that presbyteries would bear the financial burden.

J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has said the increase is needed to produce a break-even funding level for the Office of the General Assembly and to do the work the denomination is being called to do – to be faithful to being a “turnaround denomination,” in his words.

The proposal the assembly will consider – approved in February by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board – would increase per capita from $7.73 per member in 2018 to $10.71 in 2019 and to $11.45 per member in 2020.

The statement from the mid council leaders is a signal that per capita is shaping up to be a contentious issue at this assembly. An overture from the Presbytery of Newton asks the assembly to appoint a team to review the sustainability of the per capita system, and to develop “suggestions of potential experiments for change” in funding the PC(USA)’s mid councils.

The All Agency Review Committee is asking the assembly to direct the denomination’s six agencies to conduct a self-study of per capita and its ability to fund the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and “to explore alternative and creative funding resources for both.”

In a presentation earlier this year, the Office of the General Assembly provided information about per capita collection rates, funding patterns over time and a proposed per capita budget.

Here’s the text of the statement from the group of mid council leaders opposing the proposed per capita increase.

A statement from mid council leaders about the proposed per capita increase

The upcoming General Assembly in St. Louis has been asked to approve an increase of at least 43% in national per capita assessments to help fund robust national ministry. Per capita assessments are voluntary for congregations, but mandatory for presbyteries. Whether or not congregations pay their share, presbyteries are obligated to remit their full assessment. This requires presbyteries either to pay uncollected per capita assessments from their general funds, or to fail to comply with their constitutional mandate.

Based on conversations with our constituents and colleagues, we believe that this substantial raise in national per capita will dramatically increase levels of non-payment from congregations. This will require presbyteries either to reduce their mission capacity by cutting staff and programs, or to be non-compliant with our constitution. This proposed increase has fueled grassroot frustration over what feels like taxation without representation.

This proposed major increase in national per capita was developed and rolled out without consultation with presbyteries and synods. It is being promoted with mission narratives wecan affirm. But there is no specific detail on where increases will be allocated, and requests for such detail have not been addressed.

We affirm the need for congregations, regional councils, and the General Assembly to join more fully with each other in bearing witness to the Gospel in our place and time. God has called us to invest our best in joining Jesus’ ministry to “bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18) The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a covenant community of Gospel witness that invests its mission resources according to our Lord’s directive to carry forward his mission locally, regionally, and beyond, “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

But there is surely a better way to do this nationally than through greatly increased per capita assessments that generate resentment from congregations and cripple the capacity of presbyteries to do their work.

We urge GA commissioners to reject the requested per capita increase, and support instead the work and recommendations of the Way Forward Commission, the All-Agency Review Team, and the Newton overture, as we seek better ways to support faithful and fruitful ministry locally, regionally, and nationally. Let us diligently “tend the flock of God that is in [our] charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have [us] do it.” (1 Peter 5:2)

(Signatory affiliations are for identification only, and do not indicate organizations’ endorsement.)

Alan Adams– Presbytery of Beaver-Butler
Deborah Boucher-Payne– Presbytery of Missouri Union
Debby Brincivalli– Presbytery of West Jersey
Daris Bultena– Presbytery of Tropical Florida
Jennifer Burns Lewis– Presbytery of Wabash Valley
Erin Cox-Holmes– Presbytery of Donegal
Greg Coulter – Presbytery of Eastern Oklahoma
Steve Cureton– Presbytery of Northumberland
Harold Delhagen– Synod the Northeast
Sara Dingman– Synod of Lincoln Trails
Leslie Dobbs-Allsopp– Presbytery of Elizabeth
Amy Fowler– Presbytery of Genesee Valley
Wilson Gunn– Presbytery of National Capital
Melanie Hancock– Presbytery of Northern Kansas
Patrice Hatley– Presbytery of Tampa Bay
Ralph Hawkins– Presbytery of Shenango
Joy Kaufmann– Presbytery of Huntingdon
Craig Kephart– Presbytery of Washington
Sheryl Kinder-Pyle– Presbytery of Inland Northwest
Cindy Kohlmann– Presbyteries of Boston and Northern New England
Sue Krummel– Presbytery of Chicago
Joyce Lieberman– Synod of the South Atlantic
Philip Lotspeich– Presbytery of Transylvania
Gavin Meek –Presbytery of Hudson River
Richard Noftzger, Jr.– Presbytery of Redstone
David Oyler– Presbytery of Lake Erie
Jeanne Radak– Presbytery of Newton
Bill Reinhold– Presbytery of Coastal Carolina
John E. Rickard– Presbytery of Blackhawk
Susan Rosenbaum– Presbyteryof John Calvin
Melana Scruggs – Presbytery of John Calvin
Barbara Smith– Presbytery of Newark
Sheldon Sorge– Presbytery of Pittsburgh
Nancy Talbot– Synod of the Northeast
Alan Thames– Presbytery of Whitewater Valley
Sallie Watson– Presbytery of Mission
Jay Wilkins – Presbytery of Sheppards & Lapsley
Don Wilson– Presbytery of Kiskiminetas