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Board of Pensions appoints special committee to consider same-gender benefits

Nine-member panel to carefully deliberate on GA’s recommendation

October 22, 2010

FT. MYERS, Fla.

Thomas C. Paisley, chair of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Board of Pensions (BOP) today announced the appointment of a special committee of the board to consider same-gender benefits under the BOP's healthcare and pension plans.

The nine-member special committee will be charged with developing the BOP's response to this summer's action by the 219th General Assembly "to urge the Board of Pensions to extend benefits to same-gender domestic partners of plan members and to the children of those same-gender domestic partners."

The BOP originally referred the Assembly's recommendation to its Pension Committee but then decided to create the special committee "because this issue cuts across many of our duties," said BOP executive vice-president and chief operating officer Frank Maloney.

Special committee members, drawn from several of the BOP's committees, are Frank S. James III, Vestavia Hills, Ala., chair; Anne S. Drennan, Newtown, Pa.; the Rev. John A. Huffman, Newport Beach Calif.; Claude C. Lilly III, Clemson, S.C.; Christopher M. Mason, New York City; Carol Sheffey Parham, Annapolis, Md.; Nancy M. Rhodes, McLeansville, N.C.; the Rev. Laird J. Stuart, San Anselmo, Calif.; and Dr. Paul B. Volker, Boone, Iowa.

"We are clearly in a period of discernment and listening," Paisley told the board at its Oct. 21-23 meeting here. He said the proposal will be discussed at the BOP's annual regional benefits consultations and will be the subject of an upcoming education forum for board members.

Paisley also reminded board members that "individual directors are not responsible for responding to correspondence" and asked them to forward any mail they might receive to the BOP staff. "Thousands of servants of the church depend on the Board of Pensions for their livelihood … and we cannot be distracted from our overarching purpose," Paisley said.

According to the BOP's 2010-2011 business plan, "We must undertake this work in a manner that both maintains the confidence of our constituencies and does not materially impair our current excellent church relations position."

Its charge to the special committee is to:

  • study in depth the Assembly's request to provide benefits to same gender domestic partners and their children;
  • determine the effects of any whole or partial implementation of the equest on each basic and optional component of the Benefits Plan (including financial effects, operational effects and effects on the "community nature" of the Plan.)
  • consider the consequences of any proposed actions on plan members and employing organizations;
  • determine the implications, limitations or restrictions of the polity and Constitution of the PC(USA) in effect at the time of any recommendation on same-gender partner benefits;
  • consider the advantages and disadvantages of creating more inclusive benefit levels for Plan members who are not ordained;
  • determine the effects of any proposed actions on the reputational integrity of the Board of Pensions;
  • report the status of its deliberations to the full Board from time to time; and
  • in due course recommend for consideration to the full Board of Directors an appropriate response to the request of the General Assembly.

The special committee was also authorized to "consider such other matters as it, in the exercise of its judgment, deems to be closely related or incidental to the responsible exercise of its inquiry."

  1. The PC (USA) has supported non-discrimination against homosexuals in public sector actions since the 1970s. The issue before the Board of Pensions has nothing to do with redefining marriage. This is only an issue of social justice.

    by Jim Ragan

    December 8, 2010

  2. What we in the PC(USA) are witnessing is the move of the Board of Pensions into a de facto position of redefining marriage. Though G.A. after G.A. has sent the issue of sexuality to its presbyteries for input, the issue has until now been resolved with a vote obedient to Biblical norms -- heterosexual marriage as the site for all sexual intercourse or chastity outside of that covenantal union for all believers ... much more so for those who seek the privilege of ordination into church offices. Since the Barrier Act by the Church of Scotland in 1697 (“a fundamental act which was introduced to require the General Assembly to consult the Church widely when innovating core areas” )* Presbyterian polity worldwide has mirrored its view as an inviolable convention. Now, all that is changing. The 219th G.A. has, for all intents and purposes, altered our denominational definition of marriage without the redress of a national presbytery vote under the guise of a fiduciary alteration about insurance. Is this not touching on the most central component of Christian living when one devolves the Bible’s picture of God’s relationship to the Church to this standard of extramarital desire? Does the Lord God have the right to define the boundaries of marriage or does God not? Is the Bible totally lacking of perspicuity in this matter as to God’s borders for sexuality or is it not? Of course, we can delude ourselves that this is an issue of social justice. Perhaps if we delete the thunderous demands of the Old Testament prophets for righteousness among God’s people, that’s an option. If we hide our ears to the warnings of false doctrines within the Church far after the delivery of apostolic Truth … yes, with a capital “T” … we could consider it. When will we learn that there is no justice without righteousness! I watched the hypocritical bigotry of my childhood’s churches in the South try to have righteousness without justice, and God had to overrule her sinful folly. Now I am being asked to watch the entire denomination try to claim that societal norms trump God’s clear teaching on sexuality as if there can be social justice outside of a life purely lived before a Holy God. So much of the World’s water has flooded into the life and ministry of one of God’s designated rescue vessels -- the PC(USA) -- that I fear her ability to carry out God’s mission faithfully any longer. I wonder if we have lost our compass; if so, I wonder if we are even going to make the distant shore or founder in this fomentation of postmodern apostasy. Whatever one may construe this urging of the 219th GA of the PC(USA) to the Board of Pensions to be, it is NOT business as usual. It is NOT orthodox Christianity. It is NOT confessional Presbyterianism. It is NOT to be tolerated. *http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/extranet/xchurchlaw/xchurchlawbarrieract.htm (accessed December 2, 2010).

    by C. Brown Caldwell

    December 3, 2010

  3. Things get very complicated when a person or organization tries to circumvent scripture. Look at the charge to the Board of Pensions: ~determine the effects.... ~consider the consequences.... ~determine the implications, limitations or restrictions.... ~consider the advantages and disadvantages.... ~determine the effects I wish the leadership in our denomination would "urge" us to follow scripture.

    by Laverne Meekhof

    November 23, 2010

  4. The BOP serves the church and its member-ministers. Caving-in to this political ploy will fully and finally sever the trust the church has placed in it. Any fool knows that the pronouncements of one General Assembly do no necessarily represent the will of the whole Church, as is evidenced by repeated refusals of the presbyteries to ratify actions of single G.A.s. This is a transparent political manuever and should play no part in the BoP responsibilities to its members. We cannot boycott our health care provider in protest -- we are not allowed to choose other health care coverage. We (as minister/members) continue to disagree with one another regarding the policies (politics) that "urged" this consideration. It would be completely inappropriate for the BoP to foist the requirements of this expanded coverage on all -- and penalize with added pension dues all those who by faith and conscience are in opposition to it. That is coersion and is NOT what we expect from the BoP! It is also widely known that comparable and CHEAPER health care coverage than what the BoP can provide is available to those churches with staff with "domestic partners" . So this is not only a needless action but an irresponsible one as well. I can tell you now that we will not pay it, and taxing us with it will only provide more impetus for division in the Church. How does this serve Christ's church? Why would our BoP CHOOSE to facilitate division and dissention? Refuse this request and return to serving the members rather than church politicians.

    by David Freehling

    November 23, 2010

  5. Art Seaman is correct. According to the Board of Pensions, the number of potential plan members under this proposed benefit is very small.

    by Jerry Van Marter

    November 10, 2010

  6. How many people is this really covering? Most participants in the plan are clergy. So none of them are involved. Are we talking about maybe 20 people, or 50. This is such a small number. I suspect there are some church musicians or secretaries who have served for years and this is a benefit that by justice accrues to them.

    by Art Seaman

    November 9, 2010

  7. Our denomination is going to spend a lot of money for a group of people that will come together to determine if the BoP should extend benefits to same-gender domestic partners? Since God does not create homosexuals why in the world are we discussing giving benefits to heterosexual people who have same-sex attractions? Our money would be much better served if we would spend it on developing ministry that will reach out with compassi0n to those who identify themselves as homosexual. I trust the special committee will be sensitive to the fact that the majority of General Assembly commissioners who voted to give same-sex partners benefits do not reflect the typical Presbyterian who says no to homosexuality. If the BoP affirms the vote of the General Assembly there will be an incredible negative backlash in the PCUSA. Conservative churches will not support a medical and pension plan that affirms homosexuality even if there is a "relief of conscience."

    by Jeff Winter

    October 28, 2010

  8. Years ago (no one seems to know how many), the Board of Pensions decided to cover the killing of children prior to birth, as long as the procedure was submitted as are other medical claims for which they do not require precertification. This action has seared the consciences of many members of our denomination, and many more are still unaware of it. After many years of requests, the Board of Pensions devised a “Relief of Conscience” (ROC) plan that separated the medical plan dues of installed pastors whose churches applied for ROC from other members of the plan, and used the dues of non-ROC members to pay for abortions, taking an equivalent amount from ROC members for adoption expenses, then recombining the rest of the dues into one pot to pay for all other claims. However per capita and mission funds from ROC churches are still used to finance the medical plans of higher governing body officials and staff and mission personnel – plans which do pay for abortion. This year the GA asked the BOP to find a way to ensure that this no longer occurs. Why is this being ignored? Why is the BOP planning to add another type of coverage which binds the conscience of many (if not most) of the members of the PC(USA) when they have been unable to solve the conscience issue related to abortion? The issue of coverage of abortion is still not known by many, if not most, members of the PC(USA), though pastors may be aware of it, though many are not. But the laity is far more aware of the issue of promoting/condoning/subsidizing sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman, and their refusal to pay the medical and pension dues if such coverage is included may destroy the pension/medical plan of the BOP. Ultimately, the BOP is accountable to God, both for their fiduciary responsibility, and for their actions in encouraging sinful behavior and condoning it.

    by Patty June

    October 26, 2010

  9. As a commissioner to the 219th GA, I am STILL amazed that the majority voted "to urge...." Trying to find an underhanded, backdoor way to further something which our Constitution calls sin, and which has already been turned down four times, is TRULY a mistake. The BOP should wait until AFTER the presbytery votes are in to even consider this matter.

    by Barry Garrison

    October 26, 2010

  10. This is a joke. . . . right ? if not. . . who is going to pay for the benefits ? Not my church. . . if so I'm gone. . . about 99% . . is gone.

    by Mark Crary

    October 24, 2010

  11. This issue is profoundly different because same gender unions (call it marriage or civil partnership or whatever) are not equal to the marriage between one man and one woman. To use the funds of those who believe that same-sex behavior is contrary to the Word is oppressive, and furthermore a binding of the conscience in a way that utterly violates the confessions of the Presbyterian Church. Many congregations will simply refuse to pay for it. If the BOP is hell-bent on implimenting this plan, then they should alter the "community nature" of the plan, and turn it into a system like any insrance company.

    by Walter L. Taylor

    October 23, 2010

  12. How is this any different than current policy covering any married person and his/her spouse and family, or any single person with children? I cannot understand why this issue requires special study. I live in a state where same-gender marriage is legal, and municipalities and institutions have been offering benefits to same-gender couples for years.

    by Rebecca Strader

    October 22, 2010

  13. Laird: I'm glad you're on THIS special committee. Jose'

    by Laird Stuart

    October 22, 2010

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