On the Other Hand: The Board of Pensions and the Gospel of Grace

March 6, 2012

Wow. Yesterday’s post about the recent BOP decision raised quite a stir. The mail and comments, all sent with honesty and feeling, reveal just what a conundrum we have with the Board’s decision. I urge you to read them here. If my perceptions are accurate, every person who wrote identified him- or herself as a theological conservative. And yet, even so, there were differences of opinion about how to respond. In follow up, then, let us consider other ways of looking at the issue.

There are at least three possible reasons why participants in the Benefits Plan should let this one go, and let it be:

The Grace and Truth of the Gospel

1. Christ embodied both the truth and the grace of the gospel. The truth of the gospel includes a pointed indictment of sin, and it is God’s wisdom to acknowledge we all suffer from a fallen nature. The grace of the gospel proclaims the availability of forgiveness, transformation, and restoration to all people. It is the Lord’s desire that all people receive what he has to offer, and their rejection of his grace does not stop him from offering it.

2. God extends blessing of a basic kind indiscriminately: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:43-45). Christians desiring to be godly should be willing to show kindness even to those they might consider “unrighteous.” After all, every single one of us has received a great kindness from God, have we not? That is what grace is: undeserved favor, described splendidly in Ephesians 1. True kindness itself can never hurt, and may in fact help: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). Securing pension benefits or medical coverage for a homosexual partner may be one such kindness. We all remember that God’s kindness toward us is a pure gift of grace freely given, not a right we have demanded and won.

3.  I think Jesus would say it is possible (even necessary) to show kindness towards individuals without endorsing their sin. This is the real concern of theological conservatives, I think, that by providing medical care or pension benefits to a same-sex spouse they are endorsing and supporting sexual immorality. What makes this hard to swallow is that some LGBT people trumpet the BOP decision as a symbolic victory, but they claim too much if they consider a simple kindness as an endorsement of a lifestyle.

Legal Considerations

I have asked some questions of an official at the Board of Pension, along the following lines. My inquiry came after office hours Monday and I won’t get an answer before this post is uploaded. When I hear back, I will post here.

1. What is the actual relationship between the BOP and the PCUSA?  

2. What is the actual relationship between the BOP and civil regulators? Is the BOP “protected” as a religiously based organization or, because of its fiduciary responsibilities, is it a public entity? Perhaps both, in which case, which authority presides in which domain?

3. Those vested in the Plan will receive their pensions under rules of retirement, whether they remain in the PCUSA or not. Is this guarantee required by federal regulation or is it defined solely by the BOP’s own rule and commitment? If the latter, is it possible that such a rule could be rescinded at some future time?

4. What exposure does the BOP have to civil lawsuit if it does not extend benefits to same-sex partnerships?

It’s Only Money, and Not That Much

Sometimes we give money just plain too much power and symbolism for our own good. There is an aspect of this situation that is only about money and where it goes, but if we were truly honest, a lot of our (other) money goes to companies we may have issues with for other reasons. Perhaps liberals can appreciate the difficulty conservatives have on this particular issue, by recalling a parallel case of their own passion for divestment initiatives based on political views.

On the other hand, think about it: less than 1% of pension funds are probably needed for the expanded coverage. Every person who is part of the plan has had funds deposited in the Pension Plan by his or her congregation, so presumably the church that has installed a partnered homosexual person is not troubled by making such contributions. GLBT individuals would have a very fair objection if their church were required to pay into the system without the commensurate assurance of their own benefit.

Now before my readers go off on “compromise” or “sell-out” as a result of my post, give me credit for trying to see diverse points of view. I am committed to bringing the Word to life, and this is real life now for thousands of Presbyterians. Evangelicals have to take the gospel seriously or we have no credibility at all. If one can see the extension of kindness in the form of basic provision as part of the grace of the gospel, this decision (which is now out of our hands) may sit a little better. If, on the other hand, another suffers a scruple (namely, anxiety that the rule is more lax than one can follow with a good conscience), there are few options besides leaving the Plan (with all that implies).

A much tougher subject than I anticipated, but one I hope drives all of us to a fuller appreciation of God’s benevolence towards us and the potential for extending that blessing to others.

 

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8 Responses to “On the Other Hand: The Board of Pensions and the Gospel of Grace”


  1. […] Other Hand: The Board of Pensions and the Gospel of Grace … 5 de março de 2012 Origem: https://wordtolife.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/on-the-other-hand-the-board-of-pensions-and-the-gospel-of… Christ embodied both the truth and the grace of the gospel. The truth of the gospel includes a […]


  2. Not a surprise. That the respondents were all conservatives.

  3. John Ward Says:

    I appreciated your “three possible reasons to let this one go,” and read through them with the hope that at least one of the reasons would work for me and relieve my conscience. But the part that most spoke to me was in your concluding statement, “…If, on the other hand, another suffers a scruple (namely, anxiety that the rule is more lax than one can follow with a good conscience), there are few options besides leaving the Plan (with all that implies).”

    Looks like I have until Jan. 2013 to make a decision. I hope by then some more new options will have developed. I really don’t want to deal with what you so correctly wrote parenthetically, “with all that implies.”

    Blessings, and thanks for your blog,

  4. Rob Bullock Says:

    Mary,
    Thank you for this thoughtful and compassionate Part 2. I greatly appreciate the theological work behind it and the reminder that we must follow Christ’s example of upholding both truth and grace. It’s so much easier to pursue just one or the other.
    Blessings,
    Rob

  5. Jodie Says:

    Bravo.

    And I am also reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

    When did withholding health care, on any basis, become our heritage? I wonder if this question isn’t really a good litmus test for how the whole debate on homosexuality has sent the Church off in the wrong direction.

  6. Meg Says:

    In my view, the BoP decision was inevitable following the passage of 10-A. However, I find the lack of relief of conscience very troubling. That determination could be interpreted as the act of a powerful group ramming its conclusions down the throats of a divided denomination, however, I will attribute it to a lack of deftness and imagination on the BoP’s part in concluding that relief of conscience was neither needed nor feasible.

    The decision to provide these benefits is partly in keeping with the BoP’s stated vision: “As guided by scripture to love and care for one another, the vision of the Board of Pensions is to actively seek and find ways to serve our members in ever improving ways that honor the confidence of our community of faith (1 Corinthians 12)”. No doubt, the benefits decision is viewed as serving “members in ever improving ways.” Unfortunately, I do not believe it “honors the confidence of our community of faith.” Perhaps at the General Assembly this year, the delegates will urge the BoP to reconsider the matter of relief of conscience so that there can be options other than leaving the plan.

  7. Whit Brisky Says:

    Mary,

    The problem with the Board of Pensions is the same as the problem with ObamaCare – One-size-fits-all top-down socialized medicine (and retirement).

    When you have third-party payer, and the third party is making the decisions, you always have issues with some who don’t like those decisions. The disagreements can be, as in this case, moral over issues like homosexual conduct or abortion, or scientific/practical such as whether to cover acupuncture or chiropractic treatment, or financial (prepaid healthcare or true insurance for extraordinary expenses).

    We can see this with the flap over the mandate for the Catholic Church to pay for contraception and abortifacients for its employees (we are not talking availability here, only who will pay for it). And we will see more of it when HHS officials start making certain health care options which they deem too expensive more difficult to obtain.

    Instead of a single BOP plan, why not drop it altogether and have our pastors use the money their churches now pay to the BOP to buy an individual policy and open his or her own IRA for retirement? Each person can buy the policy which meets that person’s own needs, financial situation and theological and other preferences. No one need be implicated in a moral decision with which he or she disagrees. No one has to buy more health care than he or she needs or wants. And no one has to accept limitations on coverage one does not want.

    Of course, tax policy, the prohibition of interstate health insurance sales state insurance mandates and other government policies make individual health policies expensive and difficult to obtain. But perhaps after the election we can repeal ObamaCare and replace it with real consumer-driven, free-market reforms and call a truce in this aspect of the culture wars.

  8. Cyndi Says:

    It’s NOT just about same sex relationships…

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