17 September 2009


It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become prey to the active The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which conditionif he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

-John Philpot Curran, Speech before the Privy Council, July 10, 1790

For many years, withholding per capita has been the only means for churches to register their disapproval of actions of the GA or other courts of the church.

In several cases, those higher courts (now referred to as "councils") have sought to coerce payment of per capita through the institution of disciplinary measures or by limiting the right of congregations to participate in presbytery. For nearly the same amount of time, presbyteries and synods have attempted to make payment of per capita mandatory. Several amendments to the Book of Order added ambiguous language that could be read either way. Nonetheless, in every such instance in which such an attempt has been made, the PJC has reversed such decisions. See, e.g., Johnston v. Heartland Presbytery, Rem. Case 217-2 (GAPJC 2004) (“The Heartland policy improperly turns payment of per capita apportionments or the fulfillment of a mission pledge into a mandate”); Minihan and Richards v. Scioto Valley Presbytery, Remedial Case 216-1 (GAPJC 2003) (1992 amendment to G-9.0404d did not grant a presbytery power to compel a session to transmit the per capita apportionment assigned to it.); Session, Central Presbyterian Church v. Presbytery of Long Island (Minutes, 1992, page 179) (governing body may adopt a per capita system for financing its operations, but a church may neither be compelled to pay nor punished for failure to pay any amounts pursuant to such plan); cf., Westminster United Presbyterian Church of Port Huron, Michigan v. The Presbytery of Detroit (UPC, 1976, p. 228)

The basis for the GA PJC decisions has been the clear language of Book of Order §G-10.0102 , (Responsibilities of the Session), which states in pertinent part,

The session is responsible for the mission and government of the particular church. It therefore has the responsibility and power . . . to establish the annual budget, determine the distribution of the church’s benevolences, and order offerings for Christian purposes, providing full information to the congregation of its decisions in such matters . . . §G-10.0102i.

Because the session alone possesses control of the congregation’s purse, the bureaucrats may not unilaterally overrule the conscience of the congregation.

And they have tried! In 2001, Scioto Valley Presbytery overtured the 213th General Assembly to approve an amendment which proposed to add the following sentences to G-9.0404d:

Unless excused by the presbytery, a session shall be responsible for raising and timely transmission of per capita funds to its presbytery. A presbytery may exercise care and oversight over congregations in its bounds that fail to raise or transmit such funds to the presbytery.
The 213th General Assembly (2001) disapproved the Overture.

These decisions are, of course, repugnant to the bureaucracy. When a session of a church that does not agree with the actions of the GA elects to successfully withhold per capita, the lifeblood of the bureaucracy, it encourages other churches to do the same. However, as demonstrated by the example in 2001, an effort to make per capita mandatory would, even today, have a doubtful chance of making it out of the GA.

If, that is, it was presented as a stand-alone amendment. Enter nFOG.2. Hidden in nFOG section 3.02 (THE SESSION) is a new section that provides as follows:

3.0202 Relations with Other Councils

Sessions have a particular responsibility to participate in the life of the whole church through participation in other councils. It is of particular importance that sessions:. . .

f. send to presbytery and General Assembly requested financial contributions, statistics, and other information according to the requirements of those bodies (emphasis added).

Section G-3.0202f makes payment of per capita a “particular responsibility” of the session.

Elsewhere in nFOG, the presbytery is authorized to

assume original jurisdiction in any situation in which it determines that a session cannot exercise its authority. After a thorough investigation, and after full opportunity to be heard has been accorded to the session,the presbytery may conclude that the session of a congregation is unable or unwilling to manage wisely its affairs, and may appoint an administrative commission with the full power of session. This commission shall assume original jurisdiction of the existing session, if any, which shall cease to act until such time as the presbytery shall otherwise direct.” Section G-3.0303e [The Presbytery’s] Relations with Sessions

The standard for such action remains the same as in the current Book of Order, but by changing payment of per capita into a “particular responsibility” of the session, it will be easy for a presbytery to declare that when a session does not perform that “particular responsibility”, it has demonstrated that it “is unable or unwilling to manage wisely its affairs”. An AC can then come in, take over the checkbook, and send the congregation’s money to Louisville.

So, sessions and congregations beware. If §G-3.0202f is adopted, hang onto your wallets. The GA’s bagmen will be coming.

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