Board of Pensions Introduces Plague of Termites
March 5, 2012
Word came out on Saturday that the Board of Pensions of the PCUSA has extended spousal benefits to same-sex partners of plan members. After studying the issue at the request of the last General Assembly, the Board added a definition of “qualified domestic partner” to its benefits plan.
People who believe the Scriptures prohibit homosexual activity, including that occurring in a committed relationship, should be outraged at this decision. There are at least four reasons to object:
1. The change becomes effective January 1, 2013, without further action of the General Assembly and without a “relief of conscience” clause that allows dissenters to opt out. Though due increases to cover added costs were authorized, none will be recommended to the GA at this time, partially to make it more difficult for a value to be attached to relief of conscience. If the Plan can prove that adding domestic partners of the same sex actually adds nothing more to current payouts, who can make a specific claim or determine what percentage of their dues should be held back out of conscience?
2. The change assumes that the church has deemed same-sex partnerships to be acceptable. While opponents of a biblically based sexual ethic have claimed victory on the matter, the fact remains that the deletion of “fidelity/chastity” from the Book of Order did not also cancel out the Scriptures and confessional witness it summarized. The Scripture, which according to our foundational documents is still “the only rule of faith and practice,” was not changed by the inclusion of Amendment 10-A. This argument will be presented to the GA Permanent Judicial Commission in late April; if that panel affirms the PCUSA’s historic understanding that sex properly and exclusively belongs in heterosexual marriage, then changes in the Plan by the Board of Pensions will be proven erroneous and premature.
3. The change has been executed in such a manner as to offer no recourse. The decision is final, and presumably the only body that can change it is the Board of Pensions itself. It is theoretically possible for the next General Assembly to issue a new instruction, as it did in 2010 to advocate for same-sex spousal coverage, to “urge” the BOP to rescind its decision. However, it is highly unlikely that GA commissioners can overcome the institutional powers at work or to derail the long process for implementing such a revision.
4. This action makes an institutional commitment to a situation (homosexual practice) in clear violation of the Scriptures, and, frankly, the language in our constitution. It is possible that the upcoming GA will approve a definition of marriage to allow same-sex unions; but short of that debate, the Board of Pensions has embedded in the PCUSA a cloud of termites that will eat away at the very foundation of our denomination. Once introduced, such a provision is hard to undo and creates further impetus to go the full distance and bring all aspects of church life into conformity with a policy of the Board of Pensions.
I can only say, with little solace, that I am glad I am not currently participating in the Plan because my work does not provide benefits. For my brothers and sisters who are in the Plan, this action is a serious affront and further cause for soul searching about their place in the PCUSA.