Tuesday, August 17, 2010

3 Some questions RE the proposed "Poll Tax" in the PCA

Poll taxes in federal elections were outlawed in the US with the passage by the states of the 24th Amendment to the constitution. Poll taxes in history, as was the case in the south in the 1950's and into the 1960's, been used to keep particular voices (in the case of the south at this time, the African-American population, mostly) out of the electoral booth. The amendment guaranteed free access to all qualified voters, recognizing an important core principle that carries over the political/ecclesiastical divide.

I'm not saying that proponents of the "voting access fee" proposed to support financing denominational activities of the Administrative Committee of the PCA are guilty of exactly the same thing as the southern states who instituted poll taxes were, nor am I imputing any nefarious motives to them. However, the effect may very well be the same, and the priniciple of the tax being proposed is, in my view, indefensible. Wes White has made important contributions to the discussion of this awful proposal at his blog, Johannes Weslianus.

Some questions for those interested in supporting this "fee" (which, again, seems to me little more than a "poll tax", since it is a fee that must be paid if a church's Session is to have a voice at GA):

  1. Do PCA teaching elders who are without a call have the right to vote at GA, currently? If so, what will happen to them if this passes the presbyteries? If they are denied the vote entirely because they are without a call (but are currently able to vote) isnt' this terribly problematic??
  2. Does this change not make GA, rather than an assembly of the denomination's presbyters, into an assembly of the representatives of approved congregations?
  3. Do RE's "ride the TE's coat-tails" under this scheme? That is, are any number of RE's allowed to go to GA from a given church as long as the church pays the bills?
  4. Assuming the answer to the previous question is "yes", will it not be the case that GA will be increasingly driven(if it isn't already) huge, wealthier churches, who clearly can afford the price being levied more so than smaller, poorer congregations (not under the "poverty line", whatever that is set at)? If the RE's of a congregation are allowed to go as long as the church pays the piper, won't the commissioner population at GA become more concentrated among these larger, wealthier congregations than is already the case?
  5. As Wes has asked in his most recent post, how can such a tax be understood as "voluntary contributions" in the sense of BCO 25.8? Certainly this tax is not "mandatory" for churches if they wish to remain in the PCA... but it IS mandatory if they are to be given the God-given voice appropriate to them at the highest church court there is! Hence it cannot possibly within reason be understood as anything but a coerced payment.
It seems to me that, already, small churches are squeezed out of the operations of the General Assembly by the exorbitant cost of GA registration, and the fact that GA is held at very expensive sites annually. Now, with this tax being levied on individual congregations in order for them to have a voice at GA, I fear the situation getting much worse. The notion of a tax on churches (which clearly violates the BCO as anyone who can read it can understand) in order for them to be able to have a voice at GA is despicable.

For those in the PCA, this is a critical transition.... if this tax passes, I cannot see the outcome being good. Thoughts? Discussion? Does anyone care?


Joel Pedlar said...

This is wrong on so many levels!

Wes White said...


1. Yes, they can, and they will continue to be able to dos, if they pay the tax.
2. Yes.
3. There is a qualifier. All REs can go if their church pays AND if all their TEs pay. The same goes with TEs. If their churches don't pay, then they cannot vote, even if they pay. So, if one TE did not pay, then no other TE or RE from the same Church could go. So, if the REs wanted to stop a TE from being able to vote, all they would have to do is not pay the tax.
4. I think that is certainly possible, especially if they miss a year of payment. All previous years' fees have to be paid along with the current years' fee before they can vote. So, for example, if someone hires a TE who has not paid for 10 years, then they will have to pay all his back taxes before their REs can vote.
5. It is certainly a coerced payment. Anyone who says otherwise is playing word games.

In addition, I would note that it is not properly speaking, a poll tax. In a poll tax, you have to pay in order to vote. In this situation, you have to pay, even if you don't vote. Those congregations who don't pay will have their names given to the General Assembly for "appropriate action."

Unknown said...

Regarding point number 1-the three categories of teaching elders defined as voting members in the language of the changes are: TEs who have paid their assessments and are pastors of churches who have paid, BCO 8-4 type calls, and honorably retired. No inclusion of TEs without call. Why do you say they can still vote?


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