DALLAS, TX (BP) – O.S. Hawkins declared 2016 as the "Year of Influence," for GuideStone Financial Resources. He noted 2 Corinthians 10:13, which says, "But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you." Each year, the entity's president chooses a passage and theme to guide the ministry's work.
GuideStone seeks to use its influence, Hawkins said, as an advocate for pastors and other ministry workers and investors it serves. Noting that people and organizations of influence possess vision, integrity and purpose, the GuideStone team sought to live those three characteristics throughout the year.
Church retirement plan clarification law
GuideStone began making available updates to church plans thanks to church retirement plan clarification language passed in 2015. Provisions of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act -- the PATH Act -- were meant to help clarify the purpose of church retirement plans, like those offered by GuideStone. It allowed church plans to include automatic enrollment features in their retirement programs regardless of state wage withholding laws, as well as allow for certain kinds of transfers and mergers between accounts of the same employers. Additionally, provisions addressing counting employees for benefit purposes among certain church-related employers help distinguish between different kinds of church and denominational governance structures.
The legislation -- long sought by a broad coalition of large and historic denominational retirement plan providers -- took three Congresses to consider before being tacked onto the PATH Act in December 2015. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on December 18. "This bill was a long-awaited and hard-fought bill to pass," said O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources. "We appreciate all who made this bill a reality."
Additionally, GuideStone has been at the forefront of litigation concerning the rights of religiously affiliated groups to use church health plans, filing amicus briefs as part of an established alliance of large and historic denominational pension plans. Earlier this month, litigation in which GuideStone has supported the plaintiff's' position made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Though the cases will not impact GuideStone or its participants, the cases are important as GuideStone seeks to limit government interference in religious matters.
Training and education for church, ministry leaders
In March, GuideStone played host to the Southern Baptist Business Officers Conference (SBBOC), where more than 100 business officers from Southern Baptist churches, organizations, conventions, foundations and educational institutions came to learn the latest in tax, human resources, retirement plan and insurance rules, regulations and legislation from GuideStone and industry experts. The SBBOC meeting will be combined with another GuideStone meeting, the Benefits Forum, and will take on a new form in 2017. The Employee Benefits Summit presented by GuideStone, March 27–29, 2017, will provide an expanded menu of networking and training opportunities. More information can be found by visiting EmployeeBenefitsSummit.com.
Contraceptive mandate before U.S. Supreme Court
On March 23, lawyers for GuideStone and other plaintiffs argued its litigation against the contraceptive mandate issued under the Affordable Care Act before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court issued a unanimous opinion May 16 ordering the government to work out a solution in the contraceptive mandate cases that would protect the religious beliefs of objecting religious organizations. This decision included GuideStone and the ministries it serves.
The Court vacated the lower court decision that had gone against the religious organizations and ruled that the government cannot fine the ministries as the cases proceed. No new proposed regulations have been issued out of the ruling. The mandate would have required certain ministries served by GuideStone to provide abortion-causing drugs or devices as part of their health plan or face crippling penalties. Churches and integrated auxiliaries of churches are exempt from the mandate and its penalties.
Expectancy for 2017
The new year will have new changes -- a new president inaugurated January 20 will mean changes in the regulatory environment in Washington. Regardless of health care reform legislation, the high cost of healthcare will continue to be a struggle for insurers and providers alike. "Whatever changes come down in 2017, we will continue foremost to keep our focus on the Lord and honoring Him as Asaph said of King David, 'with the integrity of our heart and the skillfulness of our hands," Hawkins said. "Our commitment to serve our participants, whether they are the dear soldiers of the cross and their widows through Mission:Dignity, our retirement and insurance plan participants, our churches and ministries in property and casualty and our investors, is unwavering."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.