Board of Pensions hears feedback on proposed same-gender benefits

Open hearings in Philadelphia, Los Angeles elicit variety of responses

May 20, 2011


At open hearings on both coasts this month, the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) heard from presbyteries and synods about a proposal that would extend benefits to same-gender spouses and domestic partners.

The 219th General Assembly (2010) approved the resolution, along with an increase in dues of up to 1 percent if needed to fund the cost of additional benefits. The Board formed a committee to study the effects of such a change and will report back to the 220th GA in 2012.

Although both hearings — in Philadelphia and Los Angeles — were attended by dozens, neither took the full three hours designated for the open hearings, which were meant for comments, not questions.

Many of the comments at both meetings centered on the community nature of the benefits plan, the need for fairness from employers and the usefulness of a relief of conscience for congregations opposed to a change in the plan.

The community nature of the plan means that all are included, and to exclude people is to not be the church, said the Rev. Esther Pfeifer, pension liaison for the Presbytery of Central Washington.

Elder Betsy Britton, pension chair for the Presbytery of Long Island, said that given the church’s commitment to justice, she is surprised that same-gender benefits is even a discussion.

But what for some is a justice issue is for others a moral issue, said the Rev. Don Yancey, moderator of the Presbytery of St. Andrew’s committee on preparation for ministry. Many churches are leaving the denomination, and we shouldn’t see them as behind the times but as opposed to taxation without representation, he said.

Paul LaMontagne, stated clerk of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, said that he supports the church’s traditional definition of marriage but also supports same-gender benefits because there’s a difference between our moral judgments and an employer’s responsibility to care for all employees.

The Rev. Paige McRight, executive presbyter of Central Florida Presbytery, said that many people don’t understand the relief of conscience option and how it works. She urged the Board to carefully communicate how that option would work.

The Rev. Glenda Watts, moderator of Heartland Presbytery’s committee on preparation for ministry, said that she doesn’t understand relief of conscience. If a law is passed and she doesn’t like it, she still must obey it, so she wondered why the same would not be true for people who disagree with changing the benefits plan.

The Rev. David Dobler, pastor to the Presbytery of Alaska, said that although the community nature is essential to the fabric of the pension plan, that fabric is tattering and the ties that hold us together are fraying.

“This is far deeper than a simple disagreement,” he said, adding that the issue is how to be two separate and yet united sides. “Relief of conscience is an insufficient remedy for those for whom this is unacceptable.”

The issue of how the church views marriage and relationships won’t be resolved quickly, said the Rev. David Lambertson, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Central Washington.

“We have been an inclusive church and we will remain an inclusive church,” he said. “I’d like the church to be prophetic and find a way to speak to the issue, but I’d like that to be based on the scripture and our understanding of God’s will”

Some participants questioned how the Board would define domestic partnerships if the change is passed, while others wondered if such a change could be legally ensured.

Others encouraged Presbyterians to continue loving each other and work through this issue in a way that won’t detract from the church’s mission to spread the gospel.

“We need to be keeping love in mind as we work through this in a way that not going to fracture this denomination,” said Elder Jerry Schoening, , a member of the Presbytery of Western Colorado’s committee on preparation for ministry.

Jerry L. Van Marter contributed to this story.

  1. I am a Christian and a follower of Christ. I also happen to be gay. I am over 50 now and have been in church most all my life. Whether anyone is aware or not, you (whoever you may be) goes to church and worships with gays. Most gays are not comfortable being open and honest about who they are, most especially in their churches. I always thought the truth would set you free. Instead, it stirs up stife, hateful and hurtful feelings and fear. I realize every christian has differing thoughts on what is acceptable and good biblically. No two people think exactly the same thing on every issue. I don't know if this is helpful to anyone or not, but this is what I believe. I know that Christ died for all sinners and we all sin and fall short. I believe that one must ask Christ into their heart and admit they cannot do it on their own, that we need His Grace and Forgiveness. I believe that if I follow Jesus' teachings and follow his example that I am doing the very best that I can. I cannot find one word that Jesus said against being gay and He did a lot of teaching and had every opportunity to say what is true. There is no mention of it even in the ten commandments or the sermon on the mount. The recurring theme is love. Love God and love your neighbor and love your spouse. I know that many minds are made up and will not change and I get that. I think the big questions are: if it is a sin, don't sinners belong in church? and are my hard feelings and prejudice keeping people that need the Lord away from church? I find it interesting that people, in general, have come to and can tolerate divorce; which Christ spoke most clearly of, but don't want to worship with gays; that He said nothing of. Peace and love to you all.

    by aFollower

    June 6, 2011

  2. @Solaris Rah, you state your agreement with the scholars you mention, and you even refer to scholars with whom you disagree as "rubes." Your opinion of various commentaries is clear. However, I will reiterate my original question and direct it to you. Have you, Solaris Rah, gone to God and asked God if your position is in error and have you actively asked God to change your heart on the issue of homosexuality? This is a simple "yes" or "no" question. Or, do you believe you don't need to go to God because of (insert your reason here)? Do you believe you are excused from a re-examination of your heart? You don't discuss this in your statement, but you do proclaim your agreement with a group of scholars. The only way to remove a log from your eye is to realize it exists in the first place. By not addressing your own heart in this forum, and by adding your voice of consent and agreement to one side of a scholarly debate, you make my point for me as I originally stated it. Thank you.

    by Gay Christian

    June 1, 2011

  3. @Gay Christian, you may do well to consider this. As a gentile Christian, I of course consider all the Old Testament laws not reiterated in the New Testament to be of none effect for me. That's why I don't worry about wearing mixed clothing or eating pork chops. However, there is a reiteration of part (not all!) of the prohibition against homosexuality, the part that specifies that Christians are not to engage in it (but not that they are to physically punish those who do). Lest you think that latching onto this is the pipe dream of some fundamentalist crack-pots, Robert Jewett (who is so "fundamentalist," he calls God "she"), James Dunn and CEB Cranfield wrote what are unquestionably the 3 most important studies of Romans in English written in the later half of the 20th century. All three, without equivocation, state that Paul had in view a blanket rejection of the entire universe of homosexual practice without regard for commitment, consent, or age. In fact, between the three, these critical scholars, none of whom (except maybe Cranfield by today's standards) is particularly conservative, proceed through modern liberal critical scholarship to unwittingly decimate virtually all the arguments proffered against this by rubes in the discipline of New Testament, like Jack Rodgers, or lesser scholars, like Beverly Gaventa. Jewett can be understood as offering readers this choice: reject the bible as outdated (he prefers to do this) with respect to ethics, or reject homosexuality wholesale, but there is no way to keep both and read Paul responsibly. I agree.

    by Solaris Rah

    May 28, 2011

  4. Why do anti-gay "Christians" assume that on the issue of homosexuality and the Bible, they are exempt from a re-examination of their hearts with the Lord? Why do you assume gay Christians and their supporters to be the party in error? Why do you assume you don't need to change YOUR heart? If you studied this issue in depth and sincerity, and asked God to impart wisdom to you, you'd most likely find that your heart would change. I pray that you will be released from your selective literalism, from your judging attitude, and from the log in your eye that prevents you from being fully the Christian God intended you to be.

    by Gay Christian

    May 26, 2011

  5. "...Others encouraged Presbyterians to continue loving each other and work through this issue in a way that won’t detract from the church’s mission to spread the gospel." - My question is: "What Gospel is the denomination left with to "spread?" I am appalled at the PCUSA's definition of "good news" to share, when it is in contradiction with Scripture itself! We are taught to compare Scripture with Scripture, not to extract from, or add to Scripture. The LORD Jesus Christ has left the building!

    by Ken in FL

    May 25, 2011

  6. Faithful churches simply will not pay the increase. The BOP will have no recourse, as the BoO prohibits civil suits to enforce church rules, as well as guaranteeing freedom of conscience. Yes the BoO also compels churches to participate in the pension plan - but I scruple that provision.

    by Michael Neubert

    May 24, 2011

  7. I am amazed that the report on the hearings on request that the Board of Pensions extend benefits to same-gender spouses* and domestic partners included no comments (were there no comments made at the hearing?) on the practical difficulties in complying with the requests that the General Assembly made of the Board of Pensions, specifically related to the Relief of Conscience portion as it applies to both same gender partners and to abortion. Nineteen years ago the PC(USA) passed a new policy on abortion that included a request that mission funds not be spent in violation of conscience on this issue, which is very divisive among Presbyterians. The Board of Pensions came up with two totally ineffective plans and finally a third plan that at least on paper prevents the tithes of Presbyterians in “Relief of Conscience” churches from paying for abortion through their pastor(s)’ Medical Benefits Plan, but offers no relief of conscience regarding per capita funds and other giving, which continue to pay for abortions through the Medical Benefits Plans of staff at Presbytery, Synod, and GA level (possibly including missionaries). This past GA heard those concerns and directed the Board of Pensions to establish a procedure whereby churches could be assured that NONE of their mission funds would fund abortion. It has been nineteen years, and the BOP still has not devised such a plan. Yet a similar plan is supposed to be established regarding same-gender partner benefits, a much more complex issue that also involves Pension as well as Medical Benefit funds. I respectfully request the Board of Pensions to FIRST devise a plan for full Relief of Conscience related to abortion funding. If you are unable to do that, you will not be able to devise a Relief of Conscience plan that is adequate related to same-gender partners. *It is my understanding that the PC(USA) recognizes marriage as between one man and one woman; therefore the term “spouses” is inappropriate. Patty June Moultrie, GA

    by Patty June

    May 23, 2011

  8. My wife and I joined The church last October we are now seriously considering leaving and this back door attempt to liberalize the church is the last straw. Now we just have to decide PCA or EPC being the two other choices. I am sorry that today being Christian in the Presbyterian church USA means being politically correct not bucolically correct.

    by Dean Bartlett

    May 23, 2011

  9. I finally understand the issue after almost 30 is all about the money! This issue is not about God's word, truth, scripture, family values, fidelity, integrity or even Christianity! It is about benefits, money and funding alternative lifestyles. I GET IT! Wall Street has nothing on PCUSA and the General Assembly. I think I have had enough of both.

    by Rosana Hughes

    May 23, 2011

  10. How can you spread the gospel, when what you do is contrary to God's Word. My wife & I will probable leave the presbyterian church U.S.A.

    by Donald Fultz

    May 21, 2011

  11. A giant schism has been created. There could not be a worse time in our history for this to happen.

    by Wyatt Coley

    May 21, 2011

  12. Last one out of PC(USA) please turn off the lights. After the approval of Amendment 10-A, revisit again of redefining marriage, continuing ignoring of Scripture and conforming to the cultural world, what's left to justify the claim that PC(USA) is fulfilling the Gospels and the Epistles? Not much. Interesting the cost is capped at no more than 1% higher. Good luck with that; likely not enough.

    by Dana

    May 20, 2011