Imagine if a candidate for office were to propose fixing the national gender pay gap (female employees make on average 82¢ for every $1 an American male earns) by demanding the Social Security Administration flatten retiree benefits. The suggestion would be ridiculed not least because it would only be treating a symptom of a more pervasive problem. Nevertheless, in resolution A061 the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church recommends addressing income disparities across gender and racial or ethnic lines by developing “new models for the pension system that are not necessarily focused purely on income replacement and to present those models to the next General Convention.” Simply put, this charge puts the cart before the horse, and it is a poor substitute for a solution for those working clergy and lay-employees that are victims of inequitable pay. It sends a message that TEC is only willing to confront the pay gap after a lifetime of unjust compensation.

Pension disparity is real and while CPG does not currently collect data on pension or pay by race (though commendable resolutions like C029 seek to ameliorate this), it is evident that pension disparity does exist at least between male and female clergy. The Church Pension Group [CPG] notes the average annual pension for male clergy is approximately $34,000 and for female clergy is $18,000. Several factors influence this disparity, especially female clergy having on average fewer years of credited service in the clergy pension plan, with females averaging 15 years as compared to males averaging 25.5 years. Even so, pensions are proportionate to income and CPG notes there are real income disparities between the genders,

“There is an overall compensation gap between male and female clergy in full-time positions of $11,200, with female clergy earning on average 14 percent less than male clergy. This is driven in part by the under-representation of women in senior positions, with women constituting 37 percent of full-time clergy but only 22.5 percent of those clergy in senior positions. However, even when the positions are equivalent, male clergy with similar levels of credited service earn more than female clergy. For instance, in the case of those with 20 to 29 years of credited service, the difference is about 10 percent. This compensation gap, of course, is one factor in female clergy generally having lower pensions than male clergy.”

One might argue that all of the contributing factors are injustices. A woman’s call may not be recognized as early or supported to the same level as a man’s; a woman is less likely to be called to a senior position within the church; and a woman usually earns less than a man would in the same position. These problems are not that of CPG, but fall at the feet of parish discernment committees, commissions on ministry, search committees, bishops, and vestries. Addressing pension disparity necessitates addressing the pay-gap, and this requires a movement beyond the scope of CPG or, for that matter, General Convention. Just compensation begins at a grassroots level.

There are practical solutions and improvements to some of these issues. For instance, the Diocese of Georgia sets appropriate minimum compensation proportionate to years of service and average Sunday attendance; circulates an annual compensation survey; addresses outlier parishes on behalf of their priests; and ensures that qualified female candidates are always considered in rector searches. Within four years, the median pay for male priests rose 8% while the median pay for female priests rose 20% (adjusted for inflation).

Clergy income disparity is not the responsibility of the Church Pension Fund. CPF is one of the healthiest institutions under the umbrella of TEC, but it is not an instrument (or ministry) for correcting the Church’s injustices. It is the responsibility of the Church, its bishops, clergy, and lay-leaders, to give its laborers wages worthy of their hire—a just retirement will follow.

Posted by Eileen O'Brien