Thursday, September 25, 2003

GAC Committee Tables Administrative Fee Proposal

The General Assembly Council Mission Support Services Committee has tabled a proposal to add a 5% administrative costs fee on to restricted funds.

The action to table, taken today in a unanimous vote following presentations by Dr Louis Weeks, president of Union-PSCE, Rev. Dan Force of Medical Benevolence Foundation, and this writer offered extended comments to the MSS committee.

The action gives John Detterick, chair of the GAC, time to convene various consultative meetings with various constituent groups - including middle governing body leaders, validated mission support group leaders and boards, seminary officials, and other interested parties.
The hope is that a creative solution will emerge which addresses the multiple factors in this issue.

My personal thanks to the GAC MSS Committee for its helpful vote and thanks, also, to the many who were praying over this decision.

-- Dave Hackett

Monday, September 22, 2003

GAC Considers Charging Fee to Designated Giving

The PCUSA General Assembly Council, in session Sept 24 - 27, 2003 at Montreat, NC, will consider a controversial proposal to add an administrative fee to some of the most popular designated accounts in it mission program. Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (PFF) strongly urges the General Assembly Council to reject this proposal as premature, likely to hurt one of the most trusted giving avenues available to the church, and given its insufficient consultation and study.

Mission Support Services (MSS) has presented a recommendation asking the GAC to approve and implement an "up to 5%" administrative fee on all restricted gifts - which would include gifts to a wide variety of funds such as the Presbyterian Hunger Program funds, One Great Hour of Sharing, the Mission Initiative, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Frontier Mission Extra Commitment Opportunities - in fact, any Extra Commitment Opportunity listed in the books.

If added, this administrative fee would deduct up to $2.50 on a $50 donation, $25 on a $500 gift, $250 on a $5,000 gift, and a sizeable $2,500 on a $50,000 grant - even though it takes the same amount of staff time to handle any size donation check. Currently there are no fees of this sort assessed on restricted gifts, which are the only way donors can direct donations in the current PCUSA financial system to specific ministries without concerns that the funds might be equalized or shifted.

Within the GAC documents on this proposal are statements that say research has "indicated that there would be little impact if 5% of designated gifts went to administrative costs" and "The Research Office has conducted surveys and concluded that an administrative charge of 5% would be acceptable to donors." There is no mention of concerns or dissent that came to light during the research.

The proposal also states, "The GAC postponed action on this proposal so that research could be done to evaluate the proposal's impact on giving. Immediately thereafter, Keith Wulff, Coordinator of Research Services of the GAC, conducted focus groups in six cities from California to Florida and had telephone conversations with the heads of the Medical Benevolence Foundation, Frontier Fellowship, and the Outreach Foundation. Three Presbytery executives were interviewed over the phone and one sent written comments." Again, there is no mention of the concerns or dissent expressed by those few consulted.

Through its own channels, Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship makes quite a contrary assessment to the GAC and the GAC Executive Director's office on this proposal. It believes this proposal, if enacted, would likely have a very significant negative impact on the frontier mission funds due to the concerns of its donors, thus harming our church's dynamic mission among unreached people groups. The board has expressed its concerns in writing to the GAC through the GAC executive director John Detterick. PFF's board considers itself woefully non-consulted on this proposal; this lack of consultation comes despite the fact that PFF is a Validated Mission Support Group in a covenant relationship with the GAC.

PFF has heard reports that many relevant offices in the Louisville PCUSA Center are distressed with this proposal - or worse, unconsulted. Conversations PFF has had with congregations and individuals who actually donate to the PCUSA using restricted accounts have found widespread rejection of this proposal - followed by responses that these donors, in our communication-rich world, would quickly find channels to circumvent this 5% administrative fee. Such diversions could quickly climb into the millions of dollars.

We hear from the GAC Executive Director's office that individual restricted fund advocates and offices may be able to lobby to have this fee reduced or not assessed to certain funds at all, creating a highly politicized and subjective situation in which favors might be bestowed or personal relationships or deals rewarded. This is not the transparency our PCUSA mission funding system needs.

We believe that this proposal would have a severe impact on the Frontier Mission Program, not to mention how this will impact many other vital ministries within the PCUSA that work hard and well to recruit specific designated donations to their programs or mission emphases. For instance, the current $40 million Mission Initiative, "Joining Hearts and Hands," would be imperiled, since major contributors have donated with the express expectation that no overhead would be drawn from their gifts. Indeed, that is part of the campaign's attractiveness. This proposal appears to be an accountant's cold solution to a more complex and sensitive pastoral issue in a strained financial environment. It taxes successful ministries with an unfair assessment in order to fund Louisville operations.

PFF is sympathetic to the need to fix the denomination's broken mission funding system, and even to the argument that a modest administrative cost recovery plan is needed. But this proposal is not the answer. A much more comprehensive analysis and reconstruction of a mission funding system fitted to our era's new fund-raising and donor-relational realities are definitely called for prior to deciding whether this is an adequate approach to pursue to cover costs.

PFF urges the General Assembly Council to reject this proposal and asks for prayers for the GAC and for those of us who will attempt to speak clearly to the GAC about this unfortunate proposal.

--David Hackett

Africa's Religious Faultline for Religious Conflict

The Evangelical Alliance Web site introduces a fascinating map concept it calls "Africa's Religious Faultline."

The EA Website notes that "If you take a map of Africa and draw a line from the west coast at the Sierra Leone / Liberia border, east through the centre of Ivory Coast, the centre of Nigeria, the centre of Sudan and on to the Red Sea, then you have very approximately marked Africa's religious 'faultline', where the Muslim (predominantly Arab) north meets the African Christian/non-Muslim south."

PFF has been aware of the Muslim North/non-Muslim South phenomena in several African nations with which we are involved in frontier mission. This African Religious Faultline may be a helpful way to describe a curious and conflictual challenge that our African brothers and sisters have to deal with. Focused prayers on this religious faultline are urgently needed - and for wisdom for our Christian friends who must find ways to proclaim Christ as Savior even across this faultline.

-- Dave Hackett