Decision Number 547
Constitutionality of General Conference Action Declaring Housing for Pastors is Not to be Considered Part of Compensation or Remuneration.
Housing or housing allowance provided by the local church is not to be considered compensation or remuneration. (Par. 256.3, 1984 Discipline)
Statement of Facts
On May 12, 1984 the General Conference adopted Calendar Item No. 602 which contained the following statement:
Housing shall not be considered as part of compensation or remuneration, but shall be considered as a means provided by the local church, and for the convenience of the local church, to enable its ministry and the itinerant ministry of the annual conference. A motion was made and passed to refer the matter to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision.
An oral hearing was held at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Appearing before the Council were Dr. Donald H. Treese and the Rev. Kathy Nickerson of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the Rev. Albert Rhodes-Wickett of the Pacific and Southwest Annual Conference.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2615 of the 1984 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
Those who would challenge Calendar item No. 602 approved by the General Conference declaring housing and/or housing allowances are not part of compensation or remuneration, point to the fact that for pension and Social Security purposes housing and/or housing allowances are credited as income to the minister. As a second argument for considering it compensation, they call attention to Judicial Council Decision No. 510, in which the housing allowance was granted to the minister. Thirdly, those defining housing or housing allowance as part of the compensation or remuneration contend that where clergy couples are assigned to neighboring parishes and both have housing, that if the couple chooses one parsonage, as would be expected of a married couple, the partner serving the church that does not have to provide a parsonage is entitled to either a housing allowance or the income from rental of the parsonage.
The Constitution does not deal specifically with the question of ministerial housing and housing allowances, nor has the relationship of housing to salary been spelled out in detail in the Discipline. Judicial Council Decision 510 recognized this: "Whether a housing allowance is considered a part of the salary package is dependent on the rules or customs of the conference." (See also Decision No. 432.)
The legislation presently under consideration represents a step by the General Conference in the direction of defining the nature of housing and housing allowances. The question of its constitutionality hinges largely on Par. 15 of the 1980 Discipline, which reads, in part:
The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: … (2) To define and fix the powers and duties of elders, deacons, supply preachers … (3) To define and fix the powers and duties of Annual Conferences …
Since the Constitution does not assign to any other group the authority to define housing or housing allowances, the General Conference has that power under Par. 15. The action taken by the 1984 General Conference, declaring that housing is not to be considered a part of ministerial compensation, is therefore constitutional.
The Judicial Council reaffirms the statement in its Decision No. 317 that clergy cannot be denied benefits on the basis of marital status.
This case can be distinguished from the facts in Judicial Council Decision 510. In that case the minister was not being assigned to a local church, but in fact had an appointment beyond the local church. Further, in that case part of the salary package was the housing allowance. It is clearly stated in that decision that "... under the specific facts …" in that case the member of that clergy couple could not be deprived of a housing allowance.
There is nothing in the Calendar Item 602 to indicate that ministers may not negotiate for more compensation if they are not going to use the housing.
The legislation under consideration is constitutional. Nothing in the legislation prevents a local church or other salary-paying unit from determining the compensation package in such a way as to be fair to all concerned. Questions of constitutionality might arise if it were interpreted and applied in such fashion as to be prejudicial to the rights and privileges of ministers or any other person, based on race or status.
Housing or housing allowance provided by the local church is not to be considered compensation or remuneration.