How many local church treasurers can there be?

This should be a simple question: how many treasurers can a local church have? The 2012 Discipline should have a simple answer to this question. It does not.

The short answer: it depends on which part of the 2012 Discipline is consulted.

¶ 258 is one long paragraph: it covers administrative committees of a local church and spans pages 190 through 199 (inclusive). ¶ 258.4 discusses the committee on finance. As far as I can tell, page 198 is the only section in the entire Discipline that explicitly describes the responsibility of the local church treasurer(s):

2012 Discipline, page 198 (¶ 258.4)

2012 Discipline, page 198 (¶ 258.4)

Page 198 clearly suggests that the local church can have more than one treasurer. All of them must be adequately bonded.

How are all the treasurers selected? ¶ 249 provides that each treasurer who is not a paid employee must be elected by the charge conference. Page 175 describes this requirement:

2012 Discipline, page 175 (¶ 249)

2012 Discipline, page 175 (¶ 249)

¶ 249.4 clearly allows for the election of “church treasurer(s)”. Yet ¶ 249.8 prohibits two persons from sharing the local church office of treasurer. When it comes to the office of treasurer, it seems like it should not be shared between persons. Sharing oversight of financial assets effectively undercuts financial controls. Accountability matters when it comes to disbursing money.

I’d like to say that this contradiction in the Discipline is a recent change. It isn’t. The 1992 General Conference first added the language at ¶ 249.8 (Calendar Item 730, DCA page 303). This contradiction has existed in the 1992 Discipline, the 1996 Discipline, the 2000 Discipline, the 2004 Discipline, the 2008 Discipline, and the 2012 Discipline.

The long answer: a local church can (probably) only have one treasurer.

When confronted with a law book that contradicts itself and was written across many different committees and decades, some of the first impulses to resolve these contradictions involve consulting case law and legislative history.

Judicial Council Decision 1026 bluntly states, “When provisions of the Discipline are in conflict, the later enacted provision takes precedence.” (Decision 424 includes a similar principle in its Analysis.) This certainly provides a focus for our research into legislative history.

Much of the language in the current ¶ 258.4 was first adopted by the 1976 General Conference. The text of this legislative enactment can be found on page 1669 of the 1976 General Conference Journal [despite the “(1972)” on the linked page, the linked page is in fact to the 1976 Journal, volume 2]. The 1984 General Conference added the sentence, “The treasurer(s) shall be adequately bonded.” The text of this legislative enactment can be found in the 1984 General Conference Journal on page 1420.

The language currently at ¶ 249.8 (prohibiting two people from sharing the local church office of treasurer) was adopted by the 1992 General Conference, Calendar Item 730 (page 303 of the DCA; Consent Calendar 3 appears on page 264). The full text of Calendar Item 730 (petition 10138) appears on page 837 of the ADCA. The 1996 General Conference provided further clarification by stating that the Administrative Council / Administrative Board of a local church shall include among its membership “the church treasurer” (emphasis added). This text appears in Calendar Item 1779 on page 456 of the DCA. The current version of this language is at ¶ 252.5f within the 2012 Discipline.

Based on the fact that the prohibition on sharing the church office of treasurer passed in 1992, I would guess that a local church cannot have more than one church treasurer. This enactment is more recent than 1984. I’m reluctant to state this definitively. After all, we are talking about the Discipline.

There are other related questions that demonstrate how confused the Discipline is when it comes to managing local church assets: for example, what does the financial secretary do? How does the financial secretary differ from the church treasurer (¶¶ 249.4, 258.4)? If there is a need for a local church Board of Trustees treasurer (¶ 2530.2), how does a local church Board of Trustees treasurer differ from the church treasurer? Apparently the local church Board of Trustees is primarily responsible for real property of the local church (¶ 2533.1), except where the local church Board of Trustees is handling investments (¶ 2533.5). I assume that, in this situation, the church treasurer and the Board of Trustees treasurer would each ultimately and separately be amenable to the charge conference.

The bottom line here has to be that designing financial controls is difficult enough. The Discipline does not help. Even if the General Conference gets around to clarifying how many local church treasurers a local church can have — I used to think only having one treasurer is a basic principle of accountability! — the Discipline does not serve as a model regarding managing finances. Sure, with regards to General Conference, “Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.” Past performance is certainly suggestive regarding the investment of time and money.

In case anyone suspects the above is not being fair to the Discipline — personally, I think the General Conference is big enough to defend itself — below are all the relevant references to “treasurer” in the Discipline‘s index (I’m ignoring obvious references to a conference treasurer).

The first place I’d look in the Index is under “local church” — which probably indicates I’ve been spending way too much reading General Conference Journals — and here is what I find on page 850:

2012 Discipline Index, "local church", page 850

2012 Discipline Index, “local church”, page 850

¶ 619.1 covers how each annual conference teacher is supposed to receive disbursements from all local church treasurers in the annual conference.

Page 817 has the Index entry for “church”:

2012 Discipline Index, "church", page 817

2012 Discipline Index, “church”, page 817

I honestly don’t see the relevance of ¶ 23 (this paragraph in the Constitution covers Jurisdictional Conferences). ¶ 258 is discussed above. ¶ 263 discusses denomination-wide offerings that local church treasurers have to remit as provided. ¶ 1208 covers the Youth Service Fund. (Note that the Index does not mention ¶ 249, which governs the election of the local church treasurer(s).)

And, finally, page 872:

2012 Discipline Index, page 872

2012 Discipline Index, page 872

¶¶ 703.7e and 715.5 each apply to general agencies, not local churches.

Although I can’t rule out that there’s a hidden part of the 2012 Discipline that renders the above discussion irrelevant, if there is such a section it’s well hidden.