Lawsuits Among Believers and the LCC Worker Benefit Plan – Part 1

One common theme I’ve observed about church politics over the years is how when things run off the rails and someone’s been wronged – if the offended party is an individual they’re supposed to “let it go” because “Christians don’t sue Christians” and “why not rather be wronged”, but if the offended party is a church organization seeking to enforce a contract against a believer the response is more along the lines of “meh”.

This was the reaction of the Hosanna-Tabor school when it was sued for disability discrimination. Instead of appealing to the LCMS dispute resolution process or “rather be wronged” and paying the fine the school – supported by the LCMS Synod  – fought the suit tooth and nail all the way to the Supreme Court.

Rules for thee but not for me?

In Canada a potential example of this can be found with the LCC Worker Benefit Services (WBS). WBS was “spun-off” from LCC Synod so it could focus exclusively on managing the complexities of retirement investments for current and retired LCC church workers and was announced in the Canadian Lutheran article “LCC benefits and pension services building for the future“.

Some challenges WBS was dealing with included a funding shortfall due to –

  • a combination of insufficient past contributions, weak investment returns, people living longer than expected, and the like.
  • a Defined Benefit (DB) plan which contractually mandated the provision of a defined set of retirement benefits for various church worker beneficiaries.

One way WBS moved to fix the DB funding issue was to issue a special levy to congregations that had previously employed a church worker with a DB plan. This levy was reported to include placing liens of church properties and charging congregations an increased fee even though they were vacant. In the comments section (Comment #15) Pastor Clifford asked some pointed questions  about WBS’s special assessment to protect church worker retirement income as compared to how the church responded to the plight of the CEF depositors (Underlines are mine):

Why is a special collection being made for Pastors – special assessments on congregations & asking for liens on congregation’s real estate? I look forward to the upcoming Information Sessions to get clarification, but an actual scenario as I understand it is as follows: A BC congregation – presently vacant – average attendance less than 20 – receives an assessment from WBS for $28,000 – WBS commences automatic withdrawals from the congregation’s bank account at $400+/month without receiving pre-approval from the congregation – the congregation has $130,000 in ABC-CEF deposits but has only received 22 cents on the dollar in cash repayment – similarly, individual congregation members have hundreds of thousands of dollars of their personal retirement life savings lost in ABC-CEF, & these are the retired senior citizen, faithful, life-long members who are now being asked to make further sacrificial offerings, from money they do not have access to. Is it true that WBS has accepted SAGE shares as payment from congregations? and/or alternatively, WBS is asking for liens on congregations’ real estate? …

Are the retirement life savings of ABC-CEF depositors (most of whom are lay people) less important that the retirement pension of Pastors?

The lost CEF retirement deposits is actually a greater fiasco than would be a loss of pension income. Only a portion of the DB Pension Plan monies are the Pastor’s own deposit; the DB Pension Fund is made up of Pastor’s contributions, congregation contributions, & investment returns. Conversely, all of the CEF dollars are the depositors’ own money; the CEF deposits were actual monies that the depositors had earned & saved & deposited in “God’s bank.” A Defined Benefit Pension Plan, on the other hand, is a promise to pay a pension (of course, based on service rendered by the church worker), but if the promised commitment is too rich, the church workers could be told, as the ABC-CEF depositors were told when their retirement savings were lost, “we erred on the side of the Gospel” & “it’s all God’s money anyway.”

The ABC-CEF “cash flow shortage” has resulted in a greater loss of money than the total deposits in the East District CEF & Central District CEF combined.

The “funding shortfall” in the ABC-CEF has devastated the retirement income of more people & has lost an amount of money almost equal to the total assets held in trust in the Defined Benefit Pension Plan for church workers of LCC.

Rather than topping up the Pastors’ DB Pension with special levies & liens, the church could also give attention to “widows & orphans” whose retirement life savings have been devastated by the church.

Rather than post a public response Dwayne Cleave – the Executive Director of LCC Worker Benefit Services Inc. – sent Pastor Clifford an email which Pastor Clifford then posted to the CEF Investors Forum.

In the next article I’ll talk about Dwayne’s email and it’s implications.

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