Transparency is essential to accountability and organizational trust. Transparency in governance includes the disclosure of how monies are spent and from what sources. The people not only have a right to know how the money they are giving is being spent but whether or not it is being spent on things that they value. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has historically been very opaque when it comes to actual line item spending which lead not only to speculation but mistrust. The 2014 General Assembly called for greater transparency and now we know how 2015 dollars were actually spent by the PCUSA.
Monies are accounted for as restricted and unrestricted. When a person drops a dollar in the offering plate it is an unrestricted gift to their local church. Those gifts are stewarded by the session who may or may not choose to send the unrestricted gifts “up” the proverbial ladder to the presbytery, synod and/or General Assembly. Each level of governance receives both restricted and unrestricted gifts from individuals, churches and earnings from endowments established through the legacy giving of former members.
For years, conservatives in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have withheld or redirected unrestricted funds from the PCUSA, in the hope of affecting change in a denomination’s liberal advocacy. Both per-capita funds and shared mission support have been redirected by some sessions to Christian organizations that align more closely with the particular church’s theological and Biblical beliefs.
Per capita and shared mission support are both voluntary gifts from sessions to higher governing bodies and the withholding session is required to document its concerns and remedies that would result in the restoration of giving. Particular programs of the PCUSA tend to be listed frequently in such communications as causes of concern, including the partisan political advocacy of the PCUSA’s Office of Public Witness (formerly the Washington Office) and the often inflammatory theologically divisive recommendations and reports from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
A report distributed Wednesday (4/27/16) at the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s (PMAB) meeting in Louisville, show that, as alleged by conservatives who chose to withhold their funds from such uses, those and other controversial programs are being funded with unrestricted funds.
Unrestricted vs. Restricted
The PCUCSA’s unrestricted funds are monies that the PMAB receives without restrictions made by the donors, and therefore can be spent however the board directs.
Those funds have been on the decline for years — resulting in several staff lay-offs at the denomination’s headquarters, missionaries being brought home from the mission field and ministry programs being either being cut, or staff and resources being drastically reduced.
In 2015, the unrestricted funds accounted for 18 percent of the PMAB’s funding. Four percent of the PMAB’s funding comes from per-capita funds, while the remaining 78 percent is restricted funding — or monies where the donor specifies exactly how they can be spent. (The majority of per capita goes to fund the Office of the General Assembly which is distinct from the PMAB and not reflected in this report.)
When people want to support a specific ministry or effort of the denomination, they give to that ministry directly. The PMAB’s restricted funds, which the PMAB say “celebrate the particular commitments to missions made by members and congregations as God calls them,” are also declining.
How the money was spent in 2015
Once the money is collected, the PMAB allocates spending of both restricted and unrestricted funds.
According to 2015 actual figures,
- 95 percent ($497,546) of the $521,900 budget for the Office of Public Witness came from unrestricted funds, while only five percent or $24,353 came from gifts specifically directed to those efforts.
- 85 percent ( $211,722) of the $221,722 budget for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy came from unrestricted funds, and 15 percent — or $32,331 — was from restricted funds.
- 91 percent ($115,846) of the $127,487 budget for Gender and Racial Justice, which assists the PCUSA in its commitment to become an open, inclusive and racially just church, was funded by unrestricted funds, nine percent — $11,641 — was donor defined or restricted.
- 77 percent ($233,045) of the $301,605 budget for the Presbyterian Ministry of the United Nations, which provides information, advocacy and witness with UN agencies in accordance with GA policies, was unrestricted. Twenty-three percent ($68,559) was restricted.
- 89 percent ($248,245) of the $277,415 budget for Intercultural Ministries, which equips and connects leaders through intercultural events, was unrestricted; and $29,170 was restricted.
- 88 percent ($532,823) of the $607,473 budget for Racial Ethnic and New Immigrant Ministries Congregational Support, which supports new immigrant worshiping communities and encourage racial and cultural diversity in the church, was unrestricted; and 12 percent or $74,650 was unrestricted.
- 79 percent ($156,992) of the $198,442 budget for Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries, which provides leadership development opportunities for women and equips young adult women for service in the PCUSA, came from unrestricted funds; and 21 percent or $41,450 came from restricted.
Ministry areas that receive directed gifts are now funded exclusively with those restricted dollars. Which means that the PMAB is not allocating any unrestricted funds to the ministries that receive the greatest financial support from individuals and congregations. They are instead choosing to continue to fund ministries that are not financially supported by the giving of Presbyterians in the pews. This financial disclosure will likely result in the targeted financial appeals of every ministry area in direct competition for limited and decreasing congregational support.
The entire financial disclosure document distributed to the PMAB can be found here.