I can’t help it.  I just can’t help myself.  Give me a juicy topic like this, and I just can’t resist writing about it.  It’s a weakness of mine, I suppose.  And even as I write this I know there are a lot of you already reading this with trepidation, cringing about where I’m going with this touchy subject.  There are those of you reading this who are probably horrified that I would even dare to broach this subject in a slightly more neutral way than most articles I’ve read.  The subject, of course, is Thrivent.

Now, if you don’t know automatically know the story behind this when I say “Thrivent,” do yourself a favor.  Read one of my other articles instead.  Seriously.  This is huge news in Lutheran circles, but if you’re not Lutheran or don’t follow stuff like this, read “Just You Wait” or “One Thing Needful” or even my article about the recent creation debate.  Trust me, it will be time better spent.  If, however, you know what I mean when I say Thrivent, read on.

Back in December, Thrivent took front and center on the Lutheran stage because it came to light that a local chapter had voted in Planned Parenthood as a choice dollar organization.  No money had yet gone to them, but it made the list (by members, not by Thrivent themselves, due to the way the Choice Dollar program is set up).  Because it made the list, it instantly also made the news, and in true social media fashion, that news splashed all over within hours, maybe even minutes.  People were talking about pulling policies before they even knew the entire story.  There was such a fierce backlash that within a day, Thrivent removed PP from the list.  This is a good thing.  But then something else happened.  They also put pro-life organizations on a temporary hold.  Some of you may recall that I wrote an article at that time urging everyone to be patient and let them sort it out.  (Check out the article, “A Christmas Request, Thrivent Style,” if you’re truly interested.  It does provide some useful background info.)  Well, now they’ve made their decision, and again, in true social media fashion, the news has spread like wildfire.  They have decided not to fund pro-life or pro-choice organizations with their Choice Dollar program. And people are not happy.  (For the record, it wasn’t strictly pro-life and pro-choice organizations that were affected.  Thrivent also decided not to allow other organizations with a primary purpose of providing services for or advocating positions that support or oppose certain social, politically partisan, or health and human service causes, and issues such as sexual orientation, health, and guns.)

First of all, let me be perfectly clear.  I am staunchly pro-life.  I am against abortion, euthanasia, and any other attempts to devalue life.  Life is a gift from God beginning at conception and carrying on until God chooses to grant an individual’s last breath.  I believe abortion is a huge cause of the undoing of this country, and America certainly deserves God’s fierce judgment for allowing this great evil to take place.  It grieves me and sickens me that pro-life organizations are even necessary.  But that’s the world in which we live, and I am grateful for those pro-life organizations who reach out to women in troubled pregnancies.  Thrivent’s decision does bother me.  It does.  But so does the hateful and at times hypocritical opinions being posted against Thrivent by many faithful Lutherans.  It’s one thing to disagree with a decision, and you certainly are entitled to your opinion.  But let that opinion be heard respectfully.  Sign the petition by Michael Scheurmann at change.org asking Thrivent to reconsider their decision.  And before posting something that’s emotionally charged and demeaning, take a deep breath and consider the wisdom in that.  And please, read on for a perspective you probably haven’t heard yet- one of a Thrivent employee.

In response to Thrivent’s recent decision, many other statements have been issued.  Many of you have probably read the official statement from the LCMS (Thrivent Funding of Pro-Abortion Organizations: LCMS Concerns), and many of you have probably also read this article by The Daring Lutheran about The Real Cost of Thrivent’s Decision.  It is to this article I wish to respond.  The author, also Michael Scheurmann, states the following:

Thrivent has defunded pro-life organizations, who have been doing the mercy work that is indisputably good and expected of every Christian, to the tune of $878,569.
Yes, $878,569. Almost 900 grand. Well on the way to one million dollars. Per year.
That is for one year. Thrivent has robbed pro-life organizations – and the mothers, fathers, and children they support – of $878,569 per year.

Now, please hear what a Thrivent partner has to say in response.  If, after all, Thrivent is on public trial here, they at least deserve to be heard themselves.  Please, read on:

In 2012 Thrivent Financial paid out $1.8 billion in life insurance, disability, and annuity death benefits.  $1.8 billion paid out to families who lost a loved one prematurely and were able to survive financially despite it.  $1.8 billion to make sure children were able to go to college despite losing (a) parent(s).  $1.8 billion to help create peace of mind for a widow, who is single for the first time in 60 years, so she can stay in her home and survive financially.  $1.8 billion to families who have lost an income due to disability and now have an income despite not being able to work.  An income so houses wouldn’t go into foreclosure, groceries can be bought and medical bills paid.  Thrivent is not in the business of bankrolling other organizations.  We are in the business of helping people be wise with money so THEY can be generous to the communities, congregations and organizations they care about.  We exist to create peace of mind through financial products and services, and in 2012 we had 1.8 billion reasons to do so.  Women who need counseling from Lutherans for Life do not distract us, as the author of [the aforementioned article] says.  No, fire breathers distract us by bringing up these issues and conducting what feels like a witch hunt around what we don’t exist to do…bankroll organizations.  Yes, through our business success we are blessed to have dollars that our members can direct through charitable outreach. We can do this since we’re tax exempt.  I don’t know why it can’t be viewed as icing on the cake.  What other organization was able to allow members to direct over $40 million to Christian churches and schools last year?  Many people either don’t understand what we do or they don’t care.  This type of response is what distracts us, and part of the reason Thrivent changed this policy to stop that from happening in the future.  Our members can and will continue to support organizations they care about and we’ll continue to help them do that.  We’ll also continue to have 1.8 billion reasons to continue our important work.

Intriguing, yes?  Lest we forget, Thrivent is a financial planning organization to help its members make good financial decisions and achieve peace of mind with good insurance policies, investments, and estate planning.  That is primarily why Thrivent exists.  The Choice Dollars program is indeed “icing on the cake.”  If you don’t like the decision, and if your conscience moves you to pull policies as a result of Thrivent’s decision, that is well within your right to do so.  But don’t be a hypocrite if you do.  Don’t pull policies with one hand while applying for matching funds for a school fundraiser with the other.  You can’t have it both ways.  Either stay in or get out completely.

Please consider one other aspect with me, concerning the Daring Lutheran comment above, where the author claims Thrivent “robbed” pro-life organizations of that money.  Again, read a Thrivent employee’s perspective on that:

This author uses the term “robbed”. Pretty strong word to use here. To say someone has “robbed” someone is to suggest they took physical possession of something that was not theirs. Someone owned something and it was taken from them. I’m sorry, but dollars given to any organization by any individual no matter how big or small are not considered “owned” or that the organization is “owed” anything. It is a gift. No one is robbing anyone. Thrivent is not cutting back on charitable outreach with this decision.  Members can still direct the same amount of dollars, just with a few less options.  If you once directed Choice Dollars to Lutherans for Life, you may not be able to anymore, but the money isn’t gone.  Consider instead directing those dollars to your church and work with your church to pass some such dollars along to Lutherans for Life.  Churches can use Choice Dollars however they’d like: for a utility bill, to update playground equipment, or to support other causes.
The only way less money would be available is if people cancel policies.  Then there really is less money to give back.  It all goes back to what Thrivent is and what it is not.  If people would look for solutions instead of problems, we’d be amazed at what we can accomplish together.

Did you catch that?  It’s actually an incredibly simple but brilliant solution to all this.  Direct your Choice Dollars to your church and have your church donate the money to a pro-life organization.  Problem solved.

Allow me to leave you with a line first quoted in the Lutheran Satire “Thrivent Christmas Comparison” video, which encouraged us to “Please pray for everyone at Thrivent. For the faithful. For the fallen. For all.” I would take it a step further.  Please pray for the church on earth.  For the faithful.  For the fallen.  For all.  Amen.

cover Photo is 100 Dollar Bills by 401(K) 2013