Massive Mission Creep in Per Capita
I suggested two possible overtures to send to General Assembly. One (attached below) is a suggestion to limit what per capita funds. In the Book of Order, the description of per capita is very brief, and it has been stretched unbelievably in order to make it an enormous $12.6 million "business." Including the NCC as a necessary administrative expense rather than as a mission undertaken is, to me, an egregious mistake.
A second overture has already been approved by Indian Nations Presbytery and will be advocated at General Assembly by Jim Cahalan, a wise veteran of many assemblies. Any other presbytery can pick it up verbatim to concur as a presbytery. Then when the presbytery adds its own version of a rationale, both rationales get printed for commissioners to see. It is a great way to combine efforts and double the opportunity to explain the concept.
The Presbyterian Coalition also suggests a like overture.
About a year ago I wrote an article about a bizarre experience I had at the NCC offices that was almost surreal. Also the Institute on Religion and Demcracy did a groundbreaking study on the funding for the NCC. The report, Strange Yokefellows, found that secular liberal foundations are the primary source of NCC income, and their interest is not religious but rather political. From the IRD site, you can read it chapter by chapter, but it is also available as a booklet.
Such resources provide a lot of material about what has happened with the NCC over the years in its decline from an organization interested in uniting and strengthening churches in Christian ministry into an organization aligned to be the liberal/progressive political voice in opposition to a perceived national bent toward evangelical and traditional Christian voices. The NCC represents mainly left-leaning Christians and is actually busily opposed to the beliefs and work of a great many of the American Christians it claims to represent!
It is sadly necessary to note that it has been the common practice of denominational leadership to spare no cost and effort to defeat any overtures that seek to limit or eliminate funding for the NCC and WCC. Any pretext of fairness or neutrality evaporates when it is the stated clerk's ox being gored, and so committee leadership, staff "experts," and big-name officials are all aligned to thwart any grassroots attempts to unhitch ecumenical funding from the per capita budget.
All the Stated Clerk's weight of authority , position, and persuasion is used to defeat such measures. It becomes "everyman" from Presbytery X aligned in battle against Clifton Kirkpatrick, denominational staff members, committee leadership, flown-in celebrities such as the general secretary of the NCC, and any number of other forces. When I have seen it before, it is the most brutal and unfair display of bias and advantage I've seen at General Assembly.
Elder Jim Cahalan from Indian Nations Presbytery knows this, has seen it in action, and is prepared to go up against it anyway. It would be a wonderful thing for him to have able people at his side with like or concurring overtures to face off against the imported giants on a slanted playing field. Perhaps truth, reason, and simple fair play could win after all!
No congregation's money should be confiscated to fund organizations that may promote beliefs and policies completely in contradiction to the congregation's convictions. Per capita apportionments were intended to jointly fund the expenses of commissioners and simple administrative costs. Mission creep has caused the per capita budget to mushroom like cancer, and it needs to be restrained.
Time is of the essence for new overtures (a February 22 deadline), but concurrences and support of the Indian Nations overture can abound!
On Delineating Per Capita Expenses
The Presbytery of ________________ overtures the 218th General Assembly (2008) to direct the Stated Clerk to send the following proposed amendment to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes:
Shall G-9.0404d be amended as follows: [Text to be inserted is shown as italic.]
Each governing body above the session shall prepare a budget annually for its operating expenses, including administrative personnel, and may fund it with a per capita apportionment among the particular churches within its bounds. Care shall be taken to ordinarily limit this budget to those specific ecclesial expenses related to the government, historical and archival activities, and polity of the governing body. Benevolences, ministries, ecumenical dues, or other elective spending for the work and mission of the governing body shall not be funded by the per capita budget. The presbyteries … [and so on]
According to the Book of Order, per capita may be used to pay the expenses of elders and pastors to attend governing bodies (G-9.0308). It also is meant to cover “operating expenses” for the governing body, “including administrative personnel,” which probably means some clerical and bookkeeping help (G-9.0404d). Those are the only specified per capita expenses.
Yet, from this modest beginning, meant to provide equitably for the governance of the church and to spread the expenses fairly among the churches, per capita has grown to include the costs of a vast number of enterprises, many of which cannot easily be distinguished from ministries or benevolences of the governing body. At every level, large staffs carrying on a number of ministries may be funded by per capita. For instance, over $1 million yearly is given to ecumenical relations with a narrow spectrum of church bodies through the National and World Councils of Churches.
One is hard pressed in many instances to provide a sufficient criterion for why some activities are funded by the per capita budget, while others are covered by the judicatory’s mission budget. And, as mission budget dollars have become scarcer, the temptation is to move expenses into the per capita budget, which can be raised by what amounts to compulsion if need be.
Since congregations are all but required to contribute their share to the per capita budget, the plethora of items currently included in the per capita budget — some of which are highly controversial — causes much of the greatest resistance to giving by congregations. While a congregation might be happy to help supply the basic governmental functions our Constitution requires, they would not be willing to be forced to fund causes and activities not in keeping with their conscience. Thus some churches have decided not to pay per capita at all. If what is included in per capita expense were confined to the purely ecclesial, governmental expenses it was intended to be, the per capita–withholding problem would diminish greatly.
The ministry and mission of the judicatories are important, but such activity needs to be funded through the general giving of congregations and individuals who desire to support the various activities. Work beyond the essential governmental and historical functions of the church should not be funded through assessments bordering on involuntary.