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.



25 Responses to “Board of Pensions Introduces Plague of Termites”

  1. Viola Larson Says:

    Mary, this is a hard question and probably you will not want to answer it here, but if your were participating in the plan what would you do?

  2. John E Says:

    Part of the Board of pensions explanation also insults our intelligence, IMO … they state this change does not mean they are taking a position on the theological aspects of same-sex relations. Give me a break. What a pathetic attempt at a fig leaf!!!

  3. David L Horner Says:


    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I have a few more concerns. The dues have already been increased for this and other concerns. We are paying a new dues increase of 3% in two 1.5% increments. So for the board of pensions to state that the plan can afford this extra “service” under current finances is a bit of an untruth and a way to keep folks from assessing the real impact

    AND, If I am correct, the “abortion relief of conscience” program was to provide money for members of the plan to adopt children. Could this new move allow same gender couples to use the funds accrued from anti-abortion congregations to adopt children? If so, isn’t that just perfect?
    That chaotic sound you hear must be Satan laughing with delight! (apologies to Don Mclane)

    Dave Horner

  4. sinaiticus Says:

    I, too, was grieved by the news. The BOP has taken sides in a contentious debate, setting itself against (arguably) the majority of our denomination (and definitely against the majority of Christendom). Sad.

  5. Robert T. Reich, CLP Says:

    I find these actions by the Board of Pensions to be another sad day for the PCUSA. A Lutheran friend said to me some years ago, that the mainline denominations would find a way to force down from the top, unbiblical mandates that would be difficult to refute, because they would be attached to clergy pension plans. At the time I thought his comment absurd. As the writer of this blog, I can 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, who have given their lives to ministries within our denomination, I agree, this action is a serious affront and further cause for soul searching.

    Robert T. Reich

  6. Linda Lee Says:

    Dear Mary and saints,
    Do you think it is time to encourage INDIVIDUAL
    members to express their oppostion by with- drawing their membership from the PC(USA).
    I would be sad to do this as a long time member,
    but I have to admit that considering leaving gets easier every day I read what comes next in the PC(USA). The Board of Pensions decision is just another wedge that is making me more ready to leave, though I am just one.
    I am not sure I can wait until I have the answer to this question: Where should I go if I decide to leave.Everyday I read the news from the PC(USA) my heart is troubled. The church I am a member of is fortunately submissive to Scripture and truth,and I love being a part of this fellowship; but I am beginning to wonder if I can continue to minister and make disciples (through Women’s Ministry) which includes inviting people to join/covenant with the PC(USA) This is not the same “denomination” I joined years ago.
    What will the next General Assembly bring? No doubt more bad news as you suggest.
    Do members need to take a stand by walking away from the PC(USA) and thereby standing with their pastors and leaders who are not for this change in the Bd of Pensions. Should we wait for our home church to walk away (which may not happen)?
    Or is it time to rise up, and speak with our feet by leaving – I am ponder and praying about it more lately. I think their hearts are too hard to hear. And the developments in the Mission Presbytery against three churches leave a further bad taste of disgust – what a bad witness. Where is the justice there?
    Grieving the loss, LL

  7. Craig Devenport Says:

    As just a lay member of a congregation, I cannot help but wonder at what point we say this is just wrong and stop attempting to be politically correct. The more I learn about PCUSA the more I am willing to leave it. Admittedly there is no ideal church, but for the first time in my life I am actually wondering why I should bother being a member. If there is a way to fight this sign me up. Seems like there are a lot of similarities to our national political problems. I agree with others is time to awaken the majority. Point me in the right direction!

  8. Rob Bullock Says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said. And yet…

    It seems to me that if the Board were to deny benefits to all of us who sin and fall short of God’s plan, I’d be in trouble – as would most of the other plan members I know.

    It seems to me that hearts and minds are changed not by the bylaws of the BOP or even by the Book of Order, but by the love of God delivered persistently and consistently through people like you and me.

    It seems to me that we evangelicals have a lot of logs still to clear from our own eyes.

    It seems to me that – as the good folks at Young Life teach – we have to earn the right to be heard. And that we’ll do that best when we lead from a place of love. When we start at condemnation, we fail to earn that right.

    It seems to me that we need to take a longer view – and begin anew the hard work of winning hearts and minds back to the Word of God. We have spent much time, money, and energy battling the sin of homosexual behavior – 40 years or more now? – while our church has grown so disconnected from its theological moorings that few could even express what we as Reformed Christians believe. That’s two full generations of Presbyterians who don’t know the Bible, don’t know the confessions, and don’t know why they should believe them relevant to life today.

    It seems to me that if we want our church to lead change in the culture, instead of trying hard to reflect the culture, we must demonstrate in word and deed the better life to which Christ calls us.

    So while I grieve the Board’s decision, and I grieve so many other things in the church which raised me – I believe we must do more than grieve. And we must do more than hurl vitriol at those who made this decision. I’m honored that God has given me a place in this denomination and hope that He will shine through me — and through you and so many others – in ways that will win our church and our world back to Him.

    • revmary Says:

      Rob, thank you so much for writing. It is good to hear from you! Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, as I process what you have offered here. I appreciate very much the patience with which you articulated it. I am very sorry that my post came across as vitriol to you; I was not intending to sound bitter as I describe our situation. Outrage is often a bi-product of helplessness, which is my dominant feeling at the moment. Thank you for reading my blog and for stretching me with your response.

      • Rob Bullock Says:

        Thanks, Mary. You’re right – vitriol was too strong a word to describe your heart-felt comments. I greatly appreciate your always gracious presence and perspective. Rob

  9. Mary thanks for your thoughtful response. My concern is that don’t we need to still have compassion for those who do not meet our purity criteria. Even if we believe certain people are not in line with our understanding of being a committed follower should we still not offer to help them when we find them along the road to Jericho. Especially when this involves children or health issues which are at the mercy of a broken health system.

    I agree we should not condone a lifestyle with which we disagree, but Jesus was still there for those who were in serioius need even before they repented, if they ever did.

    Just a thought.

    Randy McGrady-Beach

  10. Steve Says:

    I don’t believe that a homosexual relationship is what God has in mind for Christian living, but why in Christ’s name would we want to withhold medical coverage from anyone? This makes no sense to me. Sad that we evangelicals cannot compartmentalize this aspect of the political debate. We’re talking about basic medical coverage for people here. What difference does it make if they live differently than we do? I’m sure there are spouses and family members covered who are not Christians at all. They deserve medical coverage.

    • hallead Says:

      Except that this is decidedly not a political debate. Scripture is abundantly clear on its condemnation of these relationships. For the Board of Pensions to not just approve of and provide support for but to force congregations to subscribe to and support this as well through mandated participation is an affront to the dignity of the faith. You can’t enter clearly ungodly relationships and expect the church to help you stay healthy to further erode the cause of Christ.

      • Tom Paine Says:

        Hallead, then let the BOP apply that standard to all beneficiaries. Let them go out and determine that our BOP dues aren’t being used by ungodly heterosexuals or their family members. Steve makes and excellent point which you are bypassing. If we want the BOP to use our yardsticks of mortality to determine who to extend health care toward, then lets be uniform about its response rather than picking on such a small portion of the population. Or, maybe, we should be graceful and not start trying to judge one another when offering medical coverage.

  11. Tom Paine Says:

    @ Steve. Preach it brother.

    • hallead Says:

      Tom, we don’t judge. God’s word has already done that. This isn’t about sinners, it’s about denying that sinfulness and expecting everyone to overlook that. My reponse was to Steve’s claim that this was a political issue. It’s not. It’s a theological issue and the BOP failed it members by failing to recognize that.

      • Tom Paine Says:

        Hallead, I agree with you that it is a theological, not just political issue. But the issue at hand still stands that we would be upset at the BOP for not measuring the “sinfulness” of its beneficiaries before determining benefits. If we are going to do it for some, we should do it for all.

  12. Dennis Says:


    I agree with your comments completely. I am not sure the video ad for Kia at the bottom of your blog matches the values you espouse.

  13. gerald hom Says:

    As a Christian, I am close to leaving PCUSA because of the recent decision on 10-A. However, as a physician and a minority, I believe that we should have enough grace, to offer health benefits to sinners.


    • revmary Says:

      Jerry, thank you so much for your comment. I believe you are right, and I think you will see more compassion evident in today’s post. I quoted only two scriptures there, but there are tons more to indicate that repentance was not required before Jesus would heal or protect somebody.

      One of my all-time favorite shows is MASH. Some of the most memorable episodes revolved around the issue of giving quality medical care not just to North Koreans but to active NK combatants. Something about the Geneva Convention? Not to mention your Hippocratic Oath. Christians can do no less!

      There are still issues, which I addressed yesterday; but in the end, we are better off not making medical care an issue. Pensions? Not as certain.

      Thank you so much for reading my blog, and for taking the time to write.

  14. It needs to be said, once again. The BOP health plan ALREADY COVERS children of those presently covered by the plan.

    Any talk of how we evangelicals are not compassionate towards the children of those covered by the BOP but living in unBiblical relationships is a straw man argument that deserves to be refuted.

    • Tom Paine Says:

      The issue is not child vs. adult. The issue is whether we want to BOP to be using our view of the moral behavior, or lack thereof, before determining benefits. If we are going to use it for one set of moral behavior we disagree with, let us be consistent. The real straw argument is to say that the only moral behavior the BOP needs to be focused on is homosexuality.

  15. […] Faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary, where she received her DMin. She blogs (prolifically) at Bringing The Word to Life where this article first appeared; it is used with her […]

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