CINCINNATI – The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is considering asking the 2018 General Assembly to take the next two years to vet both the details and the vision of recommendations from the Way Forward Commission and the All Agency Review Committee, so that “a more comprehensive and sustainable recommendation can be brought to the 2020 General Assembly.”
That language is contained in a proposed set of comments (P.002 Governance Task Force WFC AARC comment) to the assembly that the board will take up during its April 25-27 meeting in Cincinnati. And it’s a sign of how deep the rifts remain in the competing visions of what’s best for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The proposed comment argues that vision should come before structure — and that a study of financial sustainability of the PC(USA), including of the per capita system, should be completed and submitted to the assembly in 2020 before any changes to the denomination’s national structure are implemented.
This eight-page response, crafted by the board’s Governance Task Force, states that the 2016 General Assembly created the Way Forward Commission and gave it a clear mandate: to “study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly agencies of the PC(USA).”
But the board’s proposed response states: “the work and recommendations of the commission fall short of this mandate,” focusing not on vision from which a structure might flow, but on “specific technical changes.”
The board’s proposed response says that Way Forward’s recommendations:
- “Move us towards a more corporate model of church governance that is less inclusive.”
- Add complexity to a system that needs simplifying.
- Lack a “church-wide perspective.”
- Fail to address the critical question of how the national church structure and programs can meet the changing needs of congregations.
The board’s proposed comment raises “significant concerns about the overall viability of the proposal” from Way Forward and All Agency Review regarding the PC(USA), A Corporation — which is the corporate expression of the General Assembly. The current A Corporation board consists of the voting members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, leading the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) to contend that it lacks representation. For background on the ongoing A Corporation conversation, read this.
The proposed comment questions the wisdom of creating an A Corporation board that is responsible for administration and corporate functions, and is separate from the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, which is responsible for mission.
The Governance Task Force argues that the denomination tried that kind of structure previously — before 1993, when the PC(USA) had a General Assembly Council and a Central Treasury Corporation. “This approach has been tried before and it did not work,” creating conflicts over funding and control, adding bureaucracy and additional expense, the board’s proposed response states.
The proposed comment takes no position on another recommendation from Way Forward: the role of the PC(USA)’s stated clerk.
As part of the process, certain denominational entities typically have a chance to weigh in and comment on recommendations that other PC(USA) entities have sent to the 2018 General Assembly, as a way of informing the assembly commissioners.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board has made its own recommendation, asking the 2018 General Assembly for a deliverance to split the A Corporationin two, forming one corporation for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and another for the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). Way Forward will meet April 30 to consider its comments on the board’s recommendations.
Representatives of Way Forward and All Agency Review also are scheduled to speak to the board during this meeting — for about an hour on the evening of April 25.
The board’s proposed response also raises concerns about some of the details of the Way Forward-All Agency Review recommendation regarding the A Corporation. Among them:
Oversight: The proposed comment expresses concern that the A Corporation might have significant oversight over PMA and OGA – that it would be “more than a utility” providing shared services (such as accounting or information technology), and that “the level of control appears to be extensive.”
In part, that’s because the A Corporation board (which under the recommendation would include representatives form other denominational agencies) would delegate certain powers to PMA and OGA, but that delegation is not permanent and could be withdrawn, the proposed comment states.
“This is a radical change in church governance structures,” the proposed comment states, with the authority of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly coming through the A Corporation board, and not directly from the General Assembly.
“Rather than solving conflict between church agencies, this proposal exacerbates it,” the proposed comment states. “Four General Assembly agencies have boards that serves both their mission-related purposes and their corporate needs. The other two, PMA and OGA will have to work through a corporate board controlled by others. This hasn’t worked for the Office of the General Assembly over the past thirty years, leading to many of today’s issues. Members of COGA have described this period as one of ‘tyranny.’ The proposed new corporation board looks no more viable. Minimally, it will at least be a different form of tyranny, but collectively, we should aim higher.”
Budget: The proposed comment raises concerns about budgeting for the A Corporation – including the idea that the General Assembly would approve the A Corporation budget.
At the end of 2015, the A Corporation had more than $523 million on its balance sheet, according to a report to the 2016 General Assembly.
The proposed comment states, “There has been no conversation on how this will impact PMA or churchwide giving.”
Also: “If this new entity is indeed a utility, why does their budget need to be approved by General Assembly? Shouldn’t they be funded by fees received from services provided? And shouldn’t the budgets of PMA and OGA continue to reflect the true cost of mission inclusive of the cost of delivering mission? Even though the Corporation ‘holds’ funds for PMA and OGA, that doesn’t mean that the Corporation has the authority to use the funds for its own purposes apart from the donor’s intent in giving those funds.”
The proposed comment also raises concerns about the financial implications of potentially using unrestricted funds currently used by PMA to cover expenses of the A Corporation.
Roles: The proposed comment states that the structure that Way Forward and All Agency Review are recommending doesn’t make clear the role of PMA or its board, or what exactly will remain in PMA’s scope.
Board composition: The proposed comment raises concerns about the recommended composition of the A Corporation board – including the idea of giving other denominational agencies seats on the board, and whether the nomination process will ensure diversity.
The idea of a “super board” with representatives from other agencies and committees is “unprecedented in our Presbyterian organization,” the proposed comment states.
Due diligence: The proposed comment criticizes a lack of due diligence in providing cost implications for the Way Forward-All Agency Review recommendation. Among the questions:
- What might outsourcing cost, and what would the cost implications be for severance packages if some current employees were let go?
- What costs would be associated with having a new A Corporation president? Where would the money come from?
- How would a new Office of Translation be funded, and what would it cost?
Other recommendations: The proposed comment also includes responses to other recommendations from Way Forward. Among them, the board would:
- Express support for the idea of a Diverse Voices Table to consider matters of inclusion and equity. But the proposed comment says, “it would be helpful to know how this table will be implemented and the scope of its authority.”
- Support a proposal from the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns for how best to create an Office for Translation and Interpretation in the PC(USA).
- Questions why a new Moving Forward Implementation Commission, which the assembly is being asked to create and which would serve for the next two years, would need to have the powers of a commission – “especially if it might be punitive or be understood to include exercising original jurisdiction.”
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is expected to consider these proposed comments during a plenary session April 26.