Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Calling Thrivent

Years ago, Lutherans in the United States created two fine fraternal benefits organizations, called Lutheran Brotherhood and the Aid Association for Lutherans.  Both sold insurance and other financial products, and, rather than turning the profit over to shareholders, channeled it back to congregations.  It was, and remains, a neat system, and many congregations have benefited from it over the years.

Things being what they are, when LB and AAL merged, they chose one of those trendy names that says nothing: Thrivent.  Still a good organization, and one with which we are pleased to be associated.

But things being what they are, this company, which no longer has "Lutheran" in its name, now no longer wants to serve Lutherans.  Or at least not exclusively; Thrivent is contemplating changes to its charter which would open it up to other Christian communities.

There are no doubt good reasons for this idea, and they are no doubt financial.  But we still think it is a very bad idea.  This is part of a decades-long trend toward the de-Lutheranizing of Lutheran institutions.  From old folks' homes to colleges, our institutions try to soft-pedal their Lutheranism in order to attract a broader constituency.  The danger is that, in the end, they wind up just like anybody else's institutions.

How far do we want to go with this?  Right now, the contemplated change is to serve "Lutheran and other Christian congregations," which is a dramatic expansion of Thrivent's mission.  But how long until we decide to sell insurance to our Jewish and Muslim cousins, and serve "Lutheran, Christian and other communities of faith"?  And how long after that until Thrivent serves individuals with no faith community, or who are part of communities with no faith?  And how long after that until it merges with Met Life, and converts our annuity (or whatever) into shares of stock?

Lutheran identity is a tired old rallying cry, but it is still a real thing with real value in organizing our life together, and we are interested in strategies to increase it, rather than to eliminate it.

Mother A.  was chatting with a Thrivent staffer this this afternoon, and the proposed changes came up.  She asked a few basic questions, including whether the fraternal benefits would now become available to other Christian congregations.  The nice young man seemed to have no idea what she was talking about.  It wasn't his department, but he really seemed a little vague on what these "fraternal benefits" actually were.  This is the wrong direction for the firm to be heading.

She thanked him for her time, logged on to Thrivent's website and voted against the change.  Then she voted again, as Father A.'s proxy.  We encourage our Lutheran readers to do likewise.


Mark C. Christianson said...

I'm planning on voting no as well. I am glad to hear of others as well. Maybe our post will spur me to actually do it this evening.

MissPinkKate said...

If Thrivent's looking for cash, maybe they could beef up selling products online. Nobody from my generation wants to make an appointment and sit with an agent to open a money market account.

Matt P. said...

I think changing the identity from "Lutheran" to "Christian" actually makes them look LESS inclusive. If I see, say, "Methodist" or "Brethren" on a business (ok, it's usually a retirement home), I'm like, ah, people of faith who know what they're doing. If I see "Christian" on a business, my initial reaction is, ah, charlatans who are trying to play on my faith to get my money.