April 05, 2012
(Submitted by Council on Finance & Administration)
Theological Foundations and Discussion
The notion of a forgiveness of debts and restoration of property every 50 years comes from Leviticus 25 and 27. The notion is that what we have is actually God’s, and we hold it according to God’s will. Land cannot be sold away forever, because God has allocated enough for each family, so that while the land holder may sell off his land for a time, it must be returned to his family on the Jubilee Year, in order that the next generations might prosper with this gift from God.
We can readily see how this notion of stewardship runs contrary to systems that concentrate wealth in a few, and leave many forever poor. We can see how it would make mortgages difficult, especially in the last years before the Jubilee. Human economic principles seem far too frustrated for the Jubilee system to be long accepted, and the evidence is that it was ignored for much of history.
During Jesus’ earthly time, the poverty and suffering of the people under the oppression of the wealthy was a serious and wide-spread problem. Many men were day laborers with no land of their own and no hope of ever obtaining any. The Levitical prohibitions against oppressing the poor were honored in the breach.
But Jesus, the Son of God, came to restore all right relationships, including those among persons and with respect to land and wealth, because these relationships are intended by God to reflect the reconciled order of Creation.
The Gospels, especially those of Matthew and Luke, reveal Jesus’ keen interest in economic relationships and holy living. Jesus advises debtors to settle up with creditors, rather than go to court. He speaks boldly against land holders who fail to honor God’s justice and right order. He addresses the problem of excess wealth which corrupts the soul, and poverty that crushes the children of God. His “mission statement,” according to St. Luke, from Isaiah 61 includes a declaration of the year of the Lord’s favor or Jubilee. He teaches the poor how to respond non-violently to oppressive creditors—when sued for your outer garment (a collateral for a debt), give the creditor your undergarment as well (revealing the sinfulness of the creditor).
The early church practiced a sharing of resources to care for the poor and needy, collections for brothers and sisters in faith in Jerusalem, and freeing of slaves. Forgiving debts even finds its way into the heart of the prayer form taught by Jesus: “forgive us our sins/trespasses/debts as we forgive those who sin/trespass/owe us.”
But all this does not suppose that among the faithful, laziness, greed and gluttony should be encouraged. St. Paul makes clear that each should work as she/he is able and support the work of the church as he/she is able. Idleness and resting on one’s salvation are not part of the program here. All of the faithful are expected to respond to the abundance of God’s forgiveness and grace, with an abundance of forgiveness and grace toward others—and this is to be incarnational forgiveness and grace.
Today, we have a system for funding the work of the church that seeks proportional giving from the local churches toward the mission of the whole church. The methodology is good, but it produces some situations that under-assess and others that over-assess the capacity of local churches to pay their fair share of our common mission. These tend to occur in cases where a local church has changed the level of pastoral costs significantly, such as when a church moves from a full-time to part-time (3/4 or 1/2) pastoral appointment, or vice versa.
These cases usually occur precisely because of significant changes in the financial capacity of the local church with peaks and valleys reflecting a longer term improvement or decline in financial stability. In some cases, the local church is left with a relatively huge level of debt to our common Mission Share funds, because efforts to turn a financial situation around have not been successful, or because pastoral changes were not effected as quickly as might have been financially helpful.
Current practice requires arrearages in Mission Shares to be paid before pastoral appointments move from part-time to full time. In some circumstances, this is a reasonable requirement, where the extra effort of the local church to pay arrearages strengthens the ability of the church to provide for more full time pastoral staffing. In other situations, we miss out on missional opportunities because of this practice.
The last mission share jubilee in this conference was about 10 years ago. It provided for forgiveness in particular circumstances as determined by a District Superintendent. The following resolution offers a new jubilee under specific circumstances that reflect our desire to strengthen our mission and wisely use our resources for making disciples for the transformation of the world.
RESOLUTION: Forgiveness of Mission Shares in Arrears
WHEREAS, there are occasions when the forgiveness of mission shares that are in arrears will further the mission of the Conference, and others where this is not the case; and
WHEREAS, the Conference desires to encourage the full and timely payment by all local churches of all Mission Shares to support our common work; and
WHEREAS, the burden of unpaid Mission Shares falls upon those local churches that do timely pay Mission Shares; and
WHEREAS, Jesus Christ calls us to practice jubilee justice as we serve the mission of the church,
BE IT RESOLVED That:
A. Any District Superintendent may recommend to the Conference Council on Finance and Administration the forgiveness of Mission Shares in arrears, provided the District Superintendent finds:
1. The forgiveness is consistent with the requirements of the Book of Discipline.
2. The local church to be forgiven has experienced a financial circumstance that makes payment of Mission Shares in arrears a sufficient challenge that such payment would significantly jeopardize the mission of the local church.
3. The local church has or is taking part in a systemic and comprehensive assessment and setting of priorities, plans and direction for ministry through the work of the Congregational Development Committee or by other means approved by the District Superintendent.
4. The local church has voted specifically to make payment of current Mission Shares on a monthly basis on the same level of priority as other monthly, unless otherwise exempted from this requirement by the District Superintendent.
5. The local church agrees to make a short annual written report to the District Superintendent and the Conference Council on Finance and Administration of its progress in meeting its obligations under #3-4 above and fiscal plans for the coming year, unless waived by the District Superintendent.
6. The local church participating in this program will have forgiven 20% of its Mission Shares arrearage as of 12/31/12 each year that the local church pays 100% of its assessed current year Mission Shares during the period of time that ends 12/31/2020.