October 1, 1997
The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly has money worries. For good reason. The Presbyterian Layman is receiving notices from church sessions across the country that they are cutting off per capita contributions to Louisville.
The General Assembly portion of per capita contributions, $4.77 per church member on the active roll, represents gifts from Presbyterians that help the denomination pay its national administrative costs. Objecting to the fact that many PCUSA personnel, whose positions are funded by the per capita budget, tried (unsuccessfully) to keep Amendment B out of the Constitution and are now lobbying for an amendment that would overturn it, local church sessions have begun to cut off the money that pays their salaries. The procedure is simple. They multiply their congregation’s membership by $4.77 and deduct that amount from their budgeted contribution to the denomination’s higher governing bodies along with a note to their presbytery treasurer explaining that they choose not to make a General Assembly per capita contribution.
Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick’s protests to the contrary, the PCUSA Constitution gives sessions full authority to allocate all gifts given by their congregations. That authority cannot be abridged by any higher governing body. Sessions have every right, expressly recognized in the Book of Order, to escrow or redirect per capita contributions, and many good and loyal Presbyterians feel that they have a moral obligation to do so.
Since 1978, the PCUSA has been clear in its stated commitment to biblical sexual standards for ordained church leaders. But the denomination’s national staff, and numerous executives at synod and presbytery levels, have been working hard to move the denomination in the opposite direction. Aligning themselves with groups like Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns that by any reasonable definition must be called radical (see story, p. 6), church leaders have sponsored rallies and strategy sessions at official conference centers, produced pro-gay curriculum materials funded by denominational mission money, orchestrated politicized “worship” services at General Assembly meetings, and pursued a sexually inclusive hiring policy at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville that has resulted in a concentration of activists for homosexual causes in denominational offices. All of this activity has violated the explicitly stated will of the PCUSA since 1978. And it has been accomplished largely with per capita contributions from our congregations.
Recently a group of renewal leaders gathered to discuss the proposed “Amendment A,” which seeks to overturn our Constitution’s standards of sexual behavior for ordained leaders. Several voices lamented the fact that per capita funds are being used by General Assembly officials to promote the new amendment. Evangelical leaders objected to the fact that they must go out and raise money from Presbyterians in order to print and distribute materials that will counter Louisville’s spin.
Some have decided to redirect their per capita contributions to missions via independent agencies that will guarantee the proper disposition of their gifts. Others have chosen not to adopt this form of protest. But all object to the dilemma that church officials have created for Presbyterians who insist on upholding scriptural standards. “We’re paying twice!” exclaimed a member of the group.
The complaint has merit. Consider, for example, the recent message sent to all our churches over the signatures of the moderator and the stated clerk. The letter said that actions of the Syracuse Assembly “reflected the commitment to … unity on divisive issues.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Syracuse Assembly rebuked Presbyterians who had just expressed their will in a year-long debate by imposing on them an amendment that declares null and void what they have just approved.
The two officials said the new amendment would “maintain … a focus on high standards for church officers.” That statement is patently false. Far from maintaining high standards, the new language removes all standards. Under the proposed language, Presbyterian leaders can practice any sexual behavior they choose with whomever they choose, so long as it is done in “fidelity and integrity” as they and their partner(s) define it.
No Presbyterian who is committed to the truth can allow these statements to go unchallenged. Yet the moderator is stumping throughout the denomination – expressing her opinion at per capita budget expense – and the stated clerk sends out “common ground” letters at per capita expense. Their words can be easily refuted with documentation and logic, but reaching all those whom these two officials have influenced is expensive, and the unfairness of that situation has troubled many Presbyterians.
We understand the stated clerk’s money concerns. With severely depleted reserves, his office can ill afford a pocketbook protest. But perhaps he should step outside his Louisville quarters and view the issue through the eyes of Presbyterians who pay his salary. There he might learn that when he writes to the Hawaii legislature to support laws that would permit homosexual marriages, when he writes to the United States Congress opposing any legislative constraint on infanticide (partial birth abortion), and when he promotes passage of an amendment that would overthrow constitutional ordination standards that have just been adopted by the people in their presbyteries, he should anticipate that his actions will have consequences.
Contrary to reports in the official Presbyterian press, the Presbyterian Lay Committee has not yet issued a call for redirecting per capita funds. But we support those church sessions that are exercising that constitutional option as an expression of conscience.
Mr. Kirkpatrick and his associates are forcing those whose votes they have ignored to use the only ballot they have left. It is a ballot that loyal Presbyterians are expressly authorized by the church Constitution to cast, and that increasing numbers are viewing as a moral obligation. The result will be impossible to ignore.