Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Church's Finances (I): Not as Rosy as Claimed

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church (USA) has commended the staff at Church headquarters (815 Second Avenue in New York) for producing an operating "surplus" of some $2.4 million for calendar 2014.  A resolution adopted at the Council's latest meeting last week took note of the “consistent, visionary leadership” of Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy F. Sauls and Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer N. Kurt Barnes.

The commendation would appear to be premature. The "surplus" claimed exists only if one ignores the full operating statements of the Church, which include in particular the numbers for its Episcopal Migration Ministries ("EMM") -- the arm of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (the incorporated part of the Church handling all money and finances) which provides government-subsidized services to international refugees admitted for resettlement in the United States.

Working through 30 partner organizations in some 22 states, EMM helps the United States government relocate approximately 5,000 new refugees in the United States each year. In exchange for its services provided to the new immigrants -- helping them blend in and become productive members of American society -- the government reimburses EMM for what it spends on relocation services. The reimbursement includes staff and overhead costs, as well as all out-of-pocket expenditures.

Because EMM income is unrelated to regular income of the Church, it is reported in its own section at the end of the monthly operating statements, after the accounting for the usual Church revenues and expenses. And for budgeting purposes, the Church projects EMM reimbursements to be equal to EMM expenditures -- so the numbers should be a wash.

But they are not -- this is the government, remember? Its reimbursements can lag greatly behind expenditures, so that the Church is actually in the position of having to front money for EMM operations which it expects (eventually) to receive back. It's almost like having to invest "working capital" into a business before it can become profitable.

With this background, anyone can now evaluate the strength of 815's "surplus" claim by examining its preliminary 2014 year-end profit-and-loss statement here. According to that statement:

(A) Total ordinary income for the year (line 15) was $ 40,685,373;

(B) Total ordinary expenses for the year (3d page) were $ 38,278,771; producing a nominal

(C) "Budgetary surplus" for the year (A - B) of $ 2,396,602.

But now add in the EMM figures (bottom of the third page):

(D) 2014 EMM reimbursements received were $ 13,322,419; while

(E) 2014 EMM expenditures amounted to $ 16,811,183; for a net

(F) Annual EMM operating deficit of $ 3,488,763, which more than wipes out (C) above, and leaves

(G) A net operating loss for 2014 of $ 1,092,161 !!

In other words, the Episcopal Church is in the hole to the tune of over a million dollars for calendar 2014.

Notice how the budgeted 2014 numbers for EMM were to equal each other: $15,931,732 of reimbursements was supposed to equal $15,931,732 of expenses. That, however, is not how things actually worked out. 

The Church spent the money for EMM in 2014; any money spent in excess of actual reimbursements had to come from the Church's other pockets. And by the time the government reimburses the EMM deficit of $3,488,763 later this year, the Church will already be spending money on EMM in 2015. It will most likely never catch up -- because, as I say, of the long time it takes the government to process claims for reimbursement.

Because of that reality, it looks as though the Church, in order to avoid having to draw down its trust funds excessively to finance EMM operations, pretty much has to find the necessary funds from elsewhere in its operations. So had it not been able in 2014 to increase its rental incomes, and save money on refinancing its loans and in other ways, the operating loss would have been far higher.

And that is my point in this first post on the Church's Finances -- there is no "surplus" for which the Episcopal Church may pat itself on the back. But there is still a lot more to say about EMM, and the Church's 2014 figures, as well. They will be the subject of my next posts in this series looking at the Church's Finances leading up to General Convention 2015.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tyranny in Vestments

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things:
Of shoes, and ships, and sealing -wax; of cabbages, and kings.
Yes, indeed -- "of cabbages and kings." The thing you need to know about the former is to "[p]lant [the] recommended variety", and that, as with churches and many other things under the sun,  "[e]xcess water taken up ... causes head to burst." 

As for the latter, let us speak of kings in black robes, and of ministers in bright vestments. We are ruled by five of the former, and from time to time there are more of them -- up to nine, in all. They wield a prodigious power over our society, in both manners and morals. The power they have is a tyrannical one, because once exercised, it cannot easily be thwarted or reversed. And yet, in this democracy of ours, they are not elected, and once in their robes, they serve for life.

This coming April 28, for instance, the nine will take up the knotty question of just what a "marriage" is. Now, it is not as though this will be the first time they have done so. Consider this recitation by the U.S. Supreme Court, from rather long ago, in a case in which an inheritance depended on whether the claimants' mother had been legally married:
The residue of the instructions contained in this exception all involve the question as to what constituted marriage, at the time of this cohabitation, by the laws of Georgia and South Carolina. The question has, of course, no concern with the nature and character of the union of man and wife in a religious point of view. But regarding it (as a court of justice must do) merely as a civil contract, and deciding in what form it ought to have been celebrated in order to give the parties the legal rights of property which belong to the husband or the wife, and to render the issue legitimate, the Circuit Court held, and so instructed the jury, that if they believed that, before any sexual connexion between the parties, they, in the presence of her family and friends, agreed to marry, and did afterwards live together as man and wife, the tie was indissoluble even by mutual consent. (Jewell's Lessee v. Jewell, 42 U.S. 219, 233-34, 11 L. Ed. 108 (1843).)
So regardless of what a church may view as a marriage, a civil court in 1843 regarded it as a species of civil contract, which if expressed and witnessed in proper form would be regarded as indissoluble even by mutual consent.

O tempora! O mores! How have we fallen!

For now, on April 28, the wearers of the nine black robes of the Supreme Court will hear argument on these questions, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges (linked with three other cases):
1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? 2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed Congress in the years immediately following the Civil War. It requires all States to grant to their citizens the "equal protection of the law." What it historically meant is that there could not be one law for blacks and a different one for whites, for example. Since both were persons in the eyes of the law, the same voter eligibility requirements, the same transportation and travel accommodations, and (eventually) the same schools, had to be made available to both races alike.

The advocates for same-sex marriage have portrayed themselves as in the same situation as blacks trying to travel on a train, or get service in a hotel or restaurant. They ask: Why should marriage be between just two people of the opposite sex? And in doing so, they have convinced many of the secular courts to take up their cause.

The premise for their argument is that marriage is defined more as a (lifelong, but not always) relationship between two loving humans than it is a relationship between two who are one of each sex. Introducing the gender dimension into the equation makes the relationship exclusive and discriminatory, they say. Accordingly, laws and even constitutional amendments which limit marriage to two persons of the opposite sex must be struck down by using the "equal protection" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

These "equal protection" advocates are not bothered in the slightest by the circularity of their reasoning. If one defines "marriage" at the outset as "any committed relationship between any two human beings," then the definition includes the conclusion one wants to reach: that any two humans are entitled to marry.

Seeing marriage in the traditional way of the courts, as a civil contract, does not resolve the circularity either. The question is: a civil contract between whom? Two human beings, or two humans of the opposite sex? The courts do not allow humans below the age of eighteen to enter into binding contracts, so traditionally minors could not marry. But there are many "committed, loving relationships" today between teenagers. So why should they not be allowed to marry, too, regardless of their age?

I submit that if one's age has something to do with the essence of marriage, then so does one's sex. And in so saying, I am doing nothing more than upholding tradition. Throw away tradition -- throw out sex as a qualifier, and you have no rational basis for retaining age, either. And pretty soon the duality of marriage has to go overboard, too: why stop at a contract between just two people? Can't we have contracts between three or more?

But the U.S. Supreme Court will not address such questions until they are squarely presented in a case before it. It is not in the business of ruling on future cases. It changes the law one brick at a time, but what a change it makes! It is change for the country as a whole. And that is why the same-sex advocates rely on the courts to achieve their goal, rather than upon the popularly elected legislatures. If they can convince the Supreme Court to take away that brick, it is gone for once and for all, in all fifty States, at a single swipe. Legislatures can deal with only the bricks in their own State's walls, and winning State-by-State is an awfully cumbersome (and uncertain) process.

Otto von Bismarck once famously remarked that there were two things which no man should witness being made: one is sausages, and the other is legislation. Well, when it comes to the Supreme Court defining "marriage" for all fifty States, what we are witnessing is massive legislation on a nation-wide scale.

And it is not a pretty sight. Look at this link again. From that one page you can see listed, and have links to, every single brief filed with the Court since the case reached it last November. The bulk of the briefs from non-parties -- called "amicus curiae ['friend of the court'] briefs" -- have been filed just this month. There are nearly eighty of them!

Now look at the "amici" who actually filed the briefs. The ones that argue against redefining marriage can be counted on the fingers of one hand. More than ninety percent of the "friendly" briefs are from people and groups who want the laws against same-sex marriages struck down.

The latter include this particular amicus brief, filed by the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of ECUSA's House of Deputies, and joined by Bishops White and Hahn of Kentucky; Bishops Gibbs,  Houghland, Ray and Ousley from Michigan; Bishops Hollingsworth, Bowman, Persell, Williams, Breidenthal, Price and Rivera from Ohio; and Bishops Johnson and Young of Tennessee, along with other denominations, groups and committees. Moreover, there is a list in Appendix A to the brief of nearly 2,000 priests, many of them Episcopal, who have joined in filing the brief as well. All say that they "support equal treatment for same-sex couples with respect to civil marriage" (Brief, p. 1; emphasis added.)

Now these I have mentioned are all bishops and clergy in the Episcopal Church. What business do they have touting their religious affiliation in endorsing the redefinition of civil marriage? Moreover, look at how -- from they very first page -- they disavow and undermine the very authority of any church to define what marriage is (emphasis again added):
While Amici come from faiths that have approached issues affecting lesbian and gay people and their families in different ways over the years, they are united in the belief that, in our vastly diverse and pluralistic society, particular religious views or definitions of marriage should not be permitted to influence which couples’ marriages the state recognizes or permits.
It is not enough for ECUSA's bishops and clergy to say that the Church's traditional definition of marriage is inadequate for "our vastly diverse and pluralistic society." Not only is that definition no longer serviceable to society at large, but also it should not even be "permitted to influence" what society thinks marriage is!

But if they truly believe what they write, then why do the bishops and clergy join the brief as bishops and clergy of ECUSA, instead of just as private civilians? Bishops and clergy should not seek to impose their religion-based views on secular society, right? Why then tout their titles, if not to pat themselves on the back for being so "broad-minded" as to endorse views at odds with their religion?

Moreover, who gave them permission to speak using the Church's name and offices, anyway?? It was just last year that the Presiding Bishop and several other bishops brought Title IV charges against the Communion Partner bishops and clergy -- the Quincy three and the Fort Worth ten -- for filing affidavits in the Quincy case and an amicus brief with the Texas Supreme Court. The charges were that they misrepresented the polity of the Church, and consisted only of a "minority view" (words which they were forced to acknowledge under duress of more severe punishment).

The official Book of Common Prayer used throughout the Episcopal Church solemnly declares that marriage is "between a man and a woman." Who are these righteous prelates who betray their ordination vows to profess publicly and without shame or apology a marriage doctrine that is contrary to, and that positively undermines, the only one authorized by Holy Scripture and currently recognized by the whole Church? General Convention supposedly offered experimental rites for same-sex blessings (which it had no authority to offer until the Prayer Book was officially changed). But when did General Convention authorize the Rev. Jennings and her episcopal colleagues to appear with all their trappings and titles to offer their experimental views to aid the secular courts?

I do not ever remember, when I was growing up, any bishops in ECUSA trying to influence courts or legislatures in favor of no-fault divorce. The Church addressed the issue only gradually (including through resolutions adopted over the years at Lambeth Conferences), and no small coterie of clergy organized to promote doctrine contrary to its then teaching. Yes, the Church changed the doctrine with time, but it did so at first very reluctantly -- and some (myself included) mark that apostasy as the beginning of the decline of the authority of church in Western society. By relinquishing control of the dissolution of marriage to the State, the Church next will relinquish control of marriage itself to the State. We will reap what earlier generations sowed for us.

Indeed, given the Supreme Court's simple observation in 1843 (quoted above) that a civil marriage contract was indissoluble, even with the parties' mutual consent, one has to say the Church is currently hastening the day when the concept of "marriage" will have been so expanded as to be meaningless: It will mean a relationship between any number of people of any age or gender who want to have a relationship for as long as they want to have one -- with maybe some pets thrown in for good measure. "Marriage" will thus follow "divorce" into meaninglessness, and will be so easy to enter into and to dissolve that churches will be superfluous.

When it happens, it will happen with the Church's active collaboration, as we are witnessing now before the Supreme Court. The brazenness of those Episcopal bishops and clergy in clothing themselves with the Church's ostensible authority is unfortunately of a piece with their self-defeating support for same-sex marriage. And it is also, in miniature, the problem we as a country have with nine (actually, just five) people in black robes who take it upon themselves to tell the rest of us how to define marriage.

The Court will issue its opinion in the Obergefell cases by the end of June. It will be another 5-4 Constitutional wreck of a decision, held together intellectually with band-aids and baling-wire, logically proceeding in an endless circle, and totally unworthy of the august institution from which it proceeds. It will be celebrated totally out of proportion to the number of people it directly affects, and hailed as another "milestone" of our "vastly diverse and pluralistic society."

With five Supreme Court justices and fifteen Episcopal bishops to light the way for us in their respective vestments, how could we ever go wrong? O brave new world, that has such people in it!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Obama and "Affordable Plumbing": a Parable

Only weeks after leaving office on Jan. 20, 2017, former President Barack Obama discovers a leak under his sink, so he calls Troy the Plumber to come out and fix it.

Troy drives to Obama’s new house, which is located in a very exclusive, gated community near Chicago where all the residents have a net income of way more than $250,000 per year.

Troy arrives and takes his tools into the house. He is led to the guest bathroom that contains the leaky pipe under the sink. Troy assesses the problem and tells Obama that it’s an easy repair that will take less than 10 minutes. Obama asks Troy how much it will cost. Troy checks his rate chart and says, “$9,500.”

 “What?! $9,500?!” Obama asks, stunned, “But you said it’s an easy repair. Michelle will whip me if I pay a plumber that much!”

Troy says, “Yes, but what I do is charge those who make more than $250,000 per year a much higher amount so I can fix the plumbing of poorer people for free. This has always been my philosophy. As a matter of fact, I lobbied the Democrat Congress, who passed this philosophy into law. Now all plumbers must do business this way. It’s known as the ‘Affordable Plumbing Act of 2014′. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it.”

In spite of that, Obama tells Troy there’s no way he’s paying that much for a small plumbing repair, so Troy leaves. Obama spends the next hour flipping through the phone book calling for another plumber, but he finds that all other plumbing businesses in the area have gone out of business.

Not wanting to pay Troy’s price, Obama does nothing and the leak goes unrepaired for several more days. A week later the leak is so bad Obama has had to put a bucket under the sink. Michelle is not happy as she has Oprah and guests arriving the next morning.

The bucket fills up quickly and has to be emptied every hour, and there’s a risk the room will flood, so Obama calls Troy and pleads with him to return. Troy goes back to Obama’s house, looks at the leaky pipe, checks his new rate chart and says, “Let’s see, this will now cost you $21,000.” Obama quickly fires back, “What? A few days ago you told me it would cost $9,500!”

Troy explains, “Well, because of the ‘Affordable Plumbing Act,’ a lot of wealthier people are learning how to maintain and take care of their own plumbing, so there are fewer payers in the plumbing exchanges. As a result, the price I have to charge wealthy people like you keeps rising.

“Not only that, but for some reason the demand for plumbing work by those who get it for free has skyrocketed! There’s a long waiting list of those who need repairs, but the amount we get doesn’t cover our costs, especially paperwork and record-keeping. This unfortunately has put a lot of my fellow plumbers out of business, they’re not being replaced, and nobody is going into the plumbing business because they know they can’t make any money at it. I’m hurting too, all thanks to greedy rich people like you who won’t pay their ‘fair share’.

“On the other hand, why didn’t you buy plumbing insurance last December? If you had bought plumbing insurance available under the ‘Affordable Plumbing Act,’ all this would have been covered by your policy.”

“You mean I wouldn’t have to pay anything to have you fix my plumbing problem?” asks Obama.

“Well, not exactly,” replies Troy. “You would have had to buy the insurance before the deadline, which has passed now. And, because you’re rich, you would have had to pay $34,000 in premiums, which would have given you a ‘silver’ plan, and then, since this would have been your first repair, you would have to pay up to the $21,000 deductible, and anything over that would have a $7,500 co-pay, and then there’s the mandatory maintenance program, which is covered up to 17.5%, so there are some costs involved. Nothing is for free.”

“WHAT?!” exclaims Obama. “Why so much for a puny sink leak?!”

With a bland look, Troy replies, “Well, paperwork, mostly, as I said. And the internal cost of the program itself. You don’t think a program of this complexity and scope can run itself, do you? Besides, there are millions of folks with lower incomes than you, even many in the ‘middle class’, who qualify for subsidies that people like you must support. That’s why they call it the ‘Affordable Plumbing Act’! Only people who don’t make much money can afford it.

“If you want affordable plumbing, you’ll have to give away most of what you have accumulated and cut your and Michelle’s income by about 90%. Then you can qualify to get your ‘Fair Share’ instead of giving it.”

“But who would pass a crazy law like the ‘Affordable Plumbing Act’?!” exclaims the exasperated Obama.

After a sigh, Troy replies, “Congress… because they never bother to read what they vote on. They just vote for the idea, such as ‘affordable plumbing.’ ”