Disciplinary Assessments

One of the very first items of business before the 2010 General Synod will be to lift from the table R-52 from the 2009 Synod. This motion called for assessments to be increased for classes that are not in compliance with the “Covenant of Care” provisions of BCO Formulary #5.

Now, I agree with the principles of the Covenant of Care: the care of ministers is an issue for the whole Church, and so the whole of the RCA should make sure this is covered. Assessments are the way we have the whole Church pay for things in our polity, and I believe that our mistake eight years ago was in not creating an assessment for the whole Church to cover at least the basic cost of the insurance program. The problem with “Covenant of Care” payments is that they are being levied by an agent of the General Synod directly upon particular congregations: our polity is not set up for that; the Synod assesses classes, and it would seem that a proclamation cannot effectively change that.

I also agree that we are a covenant community, and the only way that works is for all of us to do things that we don’t like from time to time. I do not seek, here, to defend the actions of those congregations not in compliance with Formulary #5, although we do need to remember that covenants are a two-way street, and I would argue that the General Synod has been woefully negligent in its efforts to maintain the covenant beyond calling on congregations to kick in more. The Synod, in its answers and sometimes failure to answer questions from its classes, and in the GSC’s failure to follow through on the creation of a task force to discuss issues with the covenant raised by its own Commission on Church Order in 2007, has created a perception that it is only concerned with the covenant when its income stream is imperiled.

No, my issue with R-52 is that, as I read it, it will change the nature of discipline in the RCA. Now, discipline only happens in judicatories—specific bodies meeting in judicial session. It is something that must be taken very seriously. Now, since discipline, broadly defined, is the means by which a group corrects the behavior of someone who is not in compliance with the agreed-upon behavior of the group, this new assessment is discipline, is it not?

The new assessment surcharge would become an act of discipline exercised not by a judicatory, not even by an assembly, but by an agent of the assembly (the Board of Benefit Services, which would determine which congregations are and are not in compliance and, therefore, which classes would be assessed). And since, as a matter of practicality, the entire BoBS would not be convened to deal with each specific instance, this would be discipline carried out by the staff. It also adds a category—fines—to the forms of discipline outlined in BCO 2.I.1., sec. 2, and it also creates a conduit by which the General Synod directly disciplines classes, up until now under the superintendence of regional synods.

The very first thing the BCO reminds us about discipline is that it “is the exercise of the authority which the Lord Jesus Christ has given to the church to promote its purity, to benefit the offender, and to vindicate the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This high principle, I believe, is the reason why our order, ever since Dort, has made discipline difficult. My concern here is that this will be discipline done much more easily, and that very little will benefit the offender or honor Jesus.

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7 thoughts on “Disciplinary Assessments

  1. I thought it might help to post here 2009’s R-52.

    To increase the per-member assessment for classes in which consistories that, as of June 30, 2009, are in arrears in the payment of benefits required in Formulary 5 (Call to a Minister of Word and Sacrament), including the Covenant of Care premium, for all of its ministers serving full-time in congregations under call or contract, unless the minister is covered through the Canadian portion of the RCA plan or the plan of the communion where the minister’s membership is held (BCO I.II.12, Sec. 3, and 1.I.2, Sec.
    7), with one-third of the total arrears due by the May date for regular assessments in the
    subsequent three years; and further,

    To require that for all years subsequent to 2009, all benefit premiums required in Formulary 5, including the Covenant of Care premium if applicable, that are unpaid as of June 30 will increase the per-member assessment for the classes in which consistories are over ninety days in arrears and that the amount in arrears must be paid by the May due date for regular assessments in each of the subsequent years.

    Reasons:

    1. Consistories are required to fulfill the provisions of Formulary 5 for all full-time pastors under call or contract.

    2. Formulary 5 requires payment to the Board of Benefits Services (BOBS) for medical insurance or the Covenant of Care premium, life insurance, and long-term disability premiums for all full-time called or contracted pastors. BOBS implemented the Covenant of Care contribution policy as of January 1, 2006.

    3. Classes shall assure provisions of the call form (Formulary 5) for retirement and insurance (medical, life, and long-term disability) are fulfilled.

    4. Therefore, implementation of this recommendation provides means by which classes can fulfill the obligations of the call form (Formulary 5) (MGS 2009, p. 228-229).

  2. Oh, while I am thinking about it. Part of the argument requires us to believe that the “Covenant of Care” was retroactively inserted into calls made before 2006. The GS held congregations and classes responsible for promises they never made. What’s more, they changed the terms of the calls of all those pastors called prior to 2006. Back in the Dark Ages, when I was learning polity, only a classis could change the terms of a call; I guess I missed the amendment that changed it.

    This brings us back to some of the trouble we are having with covenant, I think. When the GS treats the BCO as a mere guideline, how can the rest of us be expected to do differently?

    Again, I agree with what the Covenant of Care seeks to accomplish. I am just concerned over the tools we are reshaping to do it.

  3. James, I think you’re playing fast and loose with the term “discipline” in order to advance your point. “Discipline” in the BCO has a specific meaning and a delineated scope, both with regard to offenses and to offenders. In my opinion, you stretch that meaning in order to give support for your argument that the scope is being stretched. Following the logic of this stretch of meaning, one could just as well say that any time the phone company places a late fee on a congregation’s telephone bill, they have “disciplined” that congregation.

  4. Dan, I disagree, partly because we are not in covenant with the phone company in a theological sense, and partly because the phone company actually provides a service to the local congregation in exchange for that money. The covenant of care contributions (and, speaking of stretching scope, how is something a mandatory contribution?) are a charge on local congregations in exchange for providing nothing at all.

  5. Come now, James. The covenant of care contribution is made in return for the “privilege” of obtaining a different plan — often more cheaply. It is an inexpensive “buyout.”

    I’m not sure I like the way the synod proposes to do this. This does feel like we are degenerating. The relevant church order reference might be found in the preamble where we agree to abide by the decisions of the broader assemblies. And I really don’t like the notion of individuals (or even classes) deciding that they simply won’t abide by decisions because they disagree — even in principle.

  6. I agree with you about the problem of individuals or classes not abiding by the decisions of larger assemblies. I think there is a related problem of larger assemblies not thinking through the implications of what they do nor always having respect for the smaller assemblies.

    My issue with this, I guess, is that it is a solution to the immediate problem–treating a symptom–in a way that exacerbates the larger problem, the degeneration of the covenant. I’m not sure exactly how we deal with this, but it is a conversation that the church needs to have while we can still turn things around. The enforcement assessment will not solve the problem.

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