Tangled Up in Blue: Stewardship and Public Policy

This is the fifteenth post in a series on resolutions for General Convention 2015. See also the index of resolutions and the list of resources related to #GC78. For this post, see also some thoughts on resolutions dealing with matters political.

money in churchToday we look an unlikely pair of reports (though like peanut butter and jelly, perhaps there’s a treat waiting for discovery), the Standing Commission on Stewardship and Development and the Standing Commission on Social Justice and Public Policy. We’re on the home stretch, friends. If all goes according to plan, we’ll make it to the end of the Blue Book this week.

Anyway, here we go with stewardship.

A088: Set Rates for Diocesan Asking for The Episcopal Church. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution sets the asking rate for diocesan contributions to the Episcopal Church budget at 15%. It also sets “expectations” that dioceses will pay the full amount, but there are no sanctions for failure to do so. The asking percentage of diocesan income (with various exemptions and deductions) has gone from 21% in 1997 to 19% today. In the proposed budget we will look at this General Convention, the rate drops to 15% over the triennium.

Here’s why I don’t like this resolution. First of all, setting the asking and then building the budget is having the tail wag the dog. We should determine what we need our churchwide structures to do and then fund that work. How do we know 15% is the right amount? Maybe it’s too low or too high. And if we are going to make dioceses pay up (which I think we should), then we need to create sanctions for failure to pay. Mostly, I don’t think we need this resolution because the rate is already on the way down, and others (including a group of which I am a member) are proposing resolutions which turn the “asking” into an “assessment” and create sanctions.

A089: Approve Donor Bill of Rights. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Here we find what is possibly the shortest resolution of General Convention, at least if you measure the “resolve” texts alone. If passed, we would resolve “That the 78th General Convention approve the attached Donor Bill of Rights.” Then the Donor Bill of Rights is set in the resolution text. This bill of rights is excellent, and I would hope every organization soliciting funds would have something similar. But I can’t vote for this. For one thing, what exactly does it mean for General Convention to “approve” such a document? We like it? We want people to use it? We order people to use it? Then there’s the document itself. There are some vague lines that would require specificity if this is going to be a thing, especially when it’s called a Bill of Rights. For example, donors should have access to the “most recent financial statements.” Does that mean the draft statements the treasurer ran yesterday for the period ended two days ago? Does it mean the last statements approved by the board? Does it mean most recent audited statements? Donors should receive “appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.” I can tell you from my parish ministry days that appropriate is in the eye of the beholder. One person wants a simple thank you note, another person wants a well-lighted brass plaque with a weekly recognition in the principal Sunday service. Who is correct? If we’re creating a “right” then we have to say more about what that right is. This is a good document which needs a few edits, but I don’t think this resolution is a good idea.

And now onto social justice and public policy.

A091: Affirm Work for Food Ministries and Food Security. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

The first two resolves affirm worthy food ministries, but I do not find it helpful to affirm things at General Convention. Then we move to a series of resolves which “call on dioceses, congregations, and all the baptized” to care about food security issues and to advocate for policy change. OK, but I’m not sure that voting on this is going to make a substantive difference to the people who sit in pews, unless you happen to be on this committee. And we already know that 2/3 of dioceses completely ignore General Convention mandates in resolutions like this. The kicker though, and why this kind of resolution should not be approved, is that the next set of resolves take specific positions on a specific set of US government programs. We are a church of 16+ nations, so we shouldn’t write resolutions which ignore the needs of Episcopalians in other countries, which practice has the unfortunate whiff of colonialism. If we’re going to care about food policy, let’s either wade into specific policy in every nation or let’s avoid specific programs and stick to general principles. I won’t rehash my thoughts on political resolutions here, but I don’t these resolutions have significant efficacy and thus their opportunity cost is greater than the potential gains.

A092: Affirm Support for Government Entitlements. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution affirms “support for full funding of government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), food assistance for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program, and the Affordable Care Act,” I think these programs are terrific and should be expanded. I do not think it is necessary or helpful for General Convention to pass this stuff. See above comments on why I resist voting for resolutions that only speak about American issues when we are an international church.

A093: Evaluate Defense Spending. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Here we “commit The Episcopal Church to work for a reordering of federal budget priorities” and “encourage the federal government to reduce military expenditures wherever possible in favor of poverty alleviation programs.” Both sentiments are lovely, but I’m not even sure what the first one means exactly. How does a whole church work for something? Do they mean the Office of Government Relations in DC? Another no vote on another American policy resolution.

A094: Support Income Tax Parity. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution calls for a “reversal of federal tax cuts” and “reversal of the recent erosion of progressivity in federal tax rates” among other things. I agree with this, but I don’t think this is a good use of General Convention’s time. Another no vote on another American policy resolution.

A095: Deepen Engagement of All People. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Here’s a nice short resolution with just one resolve, to “challenge the baptized throughout all congregations of our Church to deepen the Gospel work of unmasking attitudes and institutions that help maintain the structural injustice of wealth disparity by ongoing formation of engagement among those on both sides of the wealth divide.”

I totally agree that this would be good work, but I don’t see that this resolution would change anything, though it might feel good to vote for it. If substantive, costly action were added, I’d actually vote for this one. But as it is, it’s a lofty sentiment that feels good and neither costs us anything nor changes anything.

A096: Affirm Relationship-Based Social Justice. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution is all about affirmation and encouragement of various ideas and ministries. There are a bunch of resolves, but probably the most significant one is to “encourage all Episcopal congregations to establish relationship-based, social- justice ministries through which relationships are developed between those who serve and those who are served, resulting in shared and transformational experiences and in a greater commitment to work for justice on all sides of the socio-economic divide.” OK, good stuff. But this resolution will take up time in committee and on the floor that could be used for substantive work and costly discipleship, not the expression of an idea. Again, if costly action were added, I’d be all for it.

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