Thrivent for ???

June 9th, 2012 Post by

The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota reported (here), in an article on June 5, 2012, that Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is considering moving their enterprise to a wider audience by dropping the Lutheran requirement for membership.

Is this a big deal for Thrivent? For Lutherans? Is it a theological issue? Is this merely an excellent opportunity for this financial organization? Let’s take a look at some facts.

History (for more on the history, look here)

In the early 20th century, two grassroots groups – German Lutherans in Appleton, WI, and Norwegian Lutherans in Minneapolis, MN – were concerned about the security and well-being of their fellow Lutherans. Each group started a fraternal benefit society that would help Lutherans protect their families with life insurance.

The German Lutherans formmed the Aid Association for Lutherans (AAL) in Appleton, Wisconsin in A.D. 1902. The Lutherann Brotherhood (LB) organization was formed in A.D. 1917 in Minnessota as a result of the merger convention of the Norweigen Lutheran Lutheran Church in America.

Note: The AAL was LCMS and LB was ELCA.

Merger (for more on the merger, look here)

From the beginning, AAL and LB  offered similar products and services. In June 2001, after close consideration  of how combining the two organizations would benefit members, AAL and LB agreed  to merge. Following the merger, a new operating name was approved by members:  Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

Note: Does this merger of these two financial orgizations violate the fellowship rule the LCMS confesses? Is this the same thing as the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch in North Dakota (DBGR)  which exists because of a joint venture between the LCMS and the ELCA? The AAL was an RSO of the LCMS as the DBGR is an RSO of the LCMS. I give this to you for consideration. We’ll discuss the fellowship of externals later. I digress.


Now, the large financial orginization wants to open up its membership so it isn’t restricted to the Lutheran base of potential investors. From a business perspective, this is a good move for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Should the Lutherans who currently belong to this orginization be upset? Absolutely not.

Remember the history, this is important, the founding members “were concerned about the security and well-being of their fellow Lutherans.” Their investments are intact. Their futures are secured.

There is one thing I struggle with when it comes to business in America and possibly business in the world, why are we so hung up on labeling everything? I have to have my group with my name on it. Is the name make the product any better? No. The name is only an identifier.

If we are so concerned about names, then this issue should be more about theology and not business or politics. After all, What is a Lutheran? Are Missouri Synod Lutherans the same as Lutherans in the ELCA? What makes one a Lutheran?

If this is strictly about business, then I say that it isn’t about the name Lutheran but rather, how much money you have. Do the Lutherans of the LCMS and the ELCA have as much money as other Christians around the Nation or around the world? I bet they don’t. So, why shouldn’t Thrivent exercise its freedom of entrepreneurship in this free country and get a bigger piece of the pie?

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  1. June 9th, 2012 at 14:19 | #1

    If I may offer a correction to your first “note”: AAL was *Synodical Conference* (and only Synodical Conference); LB served pretty much all the other Lutherans.

    After the break-up of the Synodical Conference, AAL re-wrote its charter and such to identify itself more in business terms and less in theological terms so that WELS fellowship concerns would not force WELS churches and members to abandon — this eventually meant that AAL was able to serve Lutherans of any “variety”, which also meant that LB then remade itself enough to be able to offer their services to Lutherans of the former Synodical Conference. By the time the two organizations merged, neither organization had such a distinct theological/confessional identity anymore, and with the choice of the new name, many confessional Lutherans suspected that eventually Thrivent would quit trying to be Lutheran at all … exactly what this news item says is being considered.

    As to the impact this change would have, one needs to keep in mind that Thrivent (as was the case with its predecessor bodies) escapes taxation because it is a fraternal benefit society. This means, basically, that the money it would be making as “profit” or paying in taxes legally has to be spent on benefits to Lutherans. This is why they give grants to synods, districts, schools, RSOs, congregations, etc. — they have to; it’s what they’re set up to do. If Thrivent would change its charter so that it served “Christians” more generally, then it’s not much of a stretch to think that the funds currently designated to serve Lutheran purposes would be … diffused … among increasingly less-Lutheran organizations and projects. At that point I would imagine there would be lot of Lutherans who would see less reason to become or remain Thrivent members. They would make a business decision to put their money elsewhere, just as Thrivent would have made a business decision to shed its Lutheran identity.

  2. Pastor John Wurst
    June 9th, 2012 at 15:08 | #2

    @Pastor Jeff Samelson #1

    Pr. Samuelson, thank you for your points of clarification and input.

  3. Mrs. Hume
    June 9th, 2012 at 15:13 | #3

    I would be happier if the ELCA were dropping Lutheran from their name.

    I have Thrivent Insurance. I am going to have to look into what they are doing.

  4. June 9th, 2012 at 16:10 | #4

    @Pastor Jeff Samelson #1

    Thank you Pastor Samelson and Pastor Wurst. The organizational history indeed helps us younger Lutherans a bit with what has and is happening with Thrivent. I have found it increasingly more questionable as to dealing with Thrivent as a past policy holder and from our WELS church point of view with community and church grants.

  5. June 9th, 2012 at 18:16 | #5

    My concern is that Thrivent is giving benefit money to ELCA institutions which are promoting and teaching their their doctrines. LCMS Thrivent member premiums are contributing to this. I am also concerned with the fact that the Lutheran Witness has a full page inside front cover Thrivent ad every month. That is probably not an appropriate message to be sending out knowing what some of the Thrivent funds are being used for.

  6. Rev Thomas Winter
    June 9th, 2012 at 18:54 | #6

    I find Pr Samuelson’s comments to match my experience:

    I was an AAL policy-holder and a member of the LB Fraternal organization when the merger was taking place. At that time, there was an effort to focus the members of both organizations on “choosing” a name. I qualify choosing, because the name “Thrivent” was already the choice of the boards. It was emphasized that the word “Lutheran” in the name would pose legal problems. I continually questioned this claim and some vague “legal counsel” was cited. The pensioners that made up a majority of the people who actually participate and vote seemed to buy the story, and were happy that the “for Lutherans” was appended.

    Then, a few years later, I was watching a Cardinals game on TV and saw the “Thrivent Financial” logo and ad behind home plate. I thought this was a bit strange for a fraternal organization with such a parochial market. But I went online and looked up the URL advertised. Sure enough, there was a site for a “Thrivent” with the same logo, but no “for Lutherans” anywhere on the page. (I don’t think the same URL still exists as such, but you can see something similar at: ). I wasn’t surprised, but I was annoyed.

    When the two fraternal societies began, they were “from the ground up” organizations. People invested together to help each other in times of need by pooling their resources beforehand. (In fact, there was concern by some that “buying insurance” as showing a lack of trust in God…hence the mutual aid society). These people hired the necessary experts to handle the accounting, investments and legal requirements. These experts were the employees, and the the owners/employers were the very active members. The merged organization acts much more like a “top down” corporation. Whatever is voted on is in the narrow channel of what the bankers and lawyers have already designed. As you can see from the bank website, information is parceled out by the corporate chiefs in order to keep a semblance of a Lutheran fraternal organization. (Yes, anyone can see this information on the corporate website, but it is somewhat “hidden in plain sight”). Needless to say, my interest in all things Thrivent has waned, even though I maintain some policies.

    I am mostly surprised that the generic “Thrivent for anyone” hasn’t already become the official policy. Really…with these changes over the years, how is Thrivent any more a fraternal organization than State Farm?

  7. “LC-MS Quotes”
    June 9th, 2012 at 19:57 | #7

    Dr. Robert Preus (1924-95)…

    “You’ll see very few students. We ran into some competition. The Lutheran Brotherhood wanted to give a supper for our students and they did it. But they wanted the president of the Synod, who is a relative of mine, to give a talk on the progress of missions in the Missouri Synod and what we should do about missions. And I’m not sure whether the students would rather hear him or me. But when the Lutheran Brotherhood gives you a dinner, you know which direction they go. So there are just a few students here tonight.”

    “What the Bible Says About the Bible”
    Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN
    December 1979

  8. Pastor Ted Crandall
    June 9th, 2012 at 20:30 | #8

    @Pastor Jeff Samelson #1
    “At that point I would imagine there would be lot of Lutherans who would see less reason to become or remain Thrivent members. They would make a business decision to put their money elsewhere, just as Thrivent would have made a business decision to shed its Lutheran identity.”

    That point already arrived when Thriven’t chose to embrace abortion and sodomy along with the (apostate?) ELCA. They are now just another business to be considered among all the other insurance companies available. Except that the other companies don’t give part of my premiums to support abortion and sodomy…

  9. Pastor Roger Gallup
    June 10th, 2012 at 06:39 | #9

    When my family was young we decided to take out AAL life insurance. I later began to invest my retirement money with them. I did not do that because it was the best financial deal. I did it because AAL did a lot of things in my congregation and other LCMS congregations. They took their profits and returned them to congregations and the broader synod for the Lord’s work.

    Thrivent has already begun to fund worthy but non Lutheran things like Habitat for Humanity while cutting programs and support to congregations and synod. This recent move by them will only increase that drift towards a non Lutheran status.

    If I had it to do over I would have invested differently. Perhaps it is not too late.

  10. June 10th, 2012 at 08:29 | #10

    As a life long Theivent/AAL member, 60+ yrs. , there are changes to be explained. First Thrivent is two separate organizations. You have Thrivent BANK. the BANK can serve anyone and has a separate charter. The BANK was formed when the Credit Union was desolived. As a member/ owner of that Credit Union I made money when the C. U. was desolived. I received a notice that the “Powers at Thrivent” were going to dissolve the BANK and bring back the C. U.

    I have not heard any more about this change for about a year now and assume the idea was abolished.

    Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is the “Lutherans only” side most Lutherans know. The Agents are and have been always somewhat poorly treated. The Agent is expected to make his own way with a 100% commission sales. This has produced Agents with “problems” when they cannot make ends meet. Agents are expected to do a lot with no support from Thrivent to the point that today your Agent is a “Full service” broker representing many companies.

    I have trouble along with other Lutherans with the way Thrivent is run. But when it comes time to vote the boards nominees ALWAYS win.

    So that is my two cents worth.


  11. Pastor Ted Crandall
    June 10th, 2012 at 14:14 | #11

    @Mark Huntemann #10
    “to the point that today your Agent is a “Full service” broker representing many companies. ”

    My caring agent of many years could not in good conscience stay with Thriven’t any longer. My new agent is Roman Catholic.

  12. June 10th, 2012 at 16:20 | #12

    The story gets even sadder……..

    Thrivent Financial for Lutherans agents depend on Lutheran Church Pastors and elders to let the agent present Thrivent’s insurance programs to its members.

    I was personally involved when a past Bishop of the ELCA who was then the pastor of the largest in town ELCA Church in Atlanta, GA. refused to let Thrivent on the Church Campus when Thrivent/AAL PAID for the Pastors Masters Div. !

    Some Pastors who understand that Thrivent Traditional Whole Life products are the best you can buy because of the tax restrictions/ownership, Will let the Agent present the Insurance programs on the church property in an after church program. But this varies with Pastors and Churches.

    If you study Thrivent Insurance products you will find over a 30 to 40 year span you end up with about 20 to 50% more value because you own the company!

    Thrivent will not give agents much in the way of support even if the Pastors/Churches are open to the agent. Things like an expense account to cater a lunch/dinner, social, or informational party are usually out.

    @Pastor Ted Crandall #11

  13. June 10th, 2012 at 16:24 | #13

    Over the long run the agent “Home Office” practices are slowly killing Thrivent!

    As old members die the new member increase is just not there. As time goes bye if thrivent does not treat its agents much better the Fraternal Life Institution will die as well! This is the why of the proposed changes. But this will not work either because Thrivent is “killing” its agents!

  14. Todd Dvorak
    June 10th, 2012 at 22:14 | #14

    I became quickly frustrated with the beyond-Lutheran activities that Thrivent was sponsoring. Every year, Thrivent here in the Appleton, Wisconsin area sponsors a Salvation Army red kettle match day. This past year, Thrivent matched every dollar placed in the kettles on December 6th in our area up to $125,000. This is highlighted throughout the community.

    For me, this became the point where I felt that Thrivent was no longer Lutheran and that I should analyze them purely for their business results. Unfortunately, their mutual fund products perform quite poorly based on high fees and low returns. For this reason, I took all my IRAs and college savings accounts and left.

  15. mhart456
    June 10th, 2012 at 22:20 | #15

    @Mark Huntemann #12

    “Some Pastors who understand that Thrivent Traditional Whole Life products are the best you can buy because of the tax restrictions/ownership, Will let the Agent present the Insurance programs on the church property in an after church program. But this varies with Pastors and Churches.”

    Dave Ramsey-The Truth About Life Insurance

    Myth: Cash value life insurance, like whole life, will help me retire wealthy .
    Truth: Cash value life insurance is one of the worst financial products available.

  16. June 11th, 2012 at 06:20 | #16

    The truth is term life is the best. Having said that, if you have a new born child you can get a whole life policy with no medical requirement and future increase rights regardless of health. A great gift. Of corse you have to have the discipline to save the difference. @mhart456 #15

  17. Warren
    June 11th, 2012 at 10:13 | #17

    Digging through Thrivent’s website, I finally found their membership eligibility requirements:

    You are eligible to apply for membership in Thrivent Financial for Lutherans if you meet one of the following:
    •You profess to be Lutheran and are a current or former member of a Lutheran congregation or the youth is a current member of a Lutheran congregation or is being raised Lutheran.
    •You are a family member of a Lutheran, or a person serving or associated with Lutherans, or Lutheran organizations or their family members.
    •You are associated with and provide support for strengthening the membership efforts of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to meet its mission.

    It seems to me it’s already very easy to become a member if one is so inclined.

  18. GaiusKurios
    June 11th, 2012 at 13:39 | #18

    LB, AAL or Thrivent all bring to mind the words of Christ. You have turned my Father’s house into a den of theives. The LCMS should not have anything to do with Thrivent.

  19. Lumpenkönig
    June 11th, 2012 at 14:31 | #19

    @Pastor Roger Gallup #9
    Soon, groups such as Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Mormons and even Buddhists would be able to apply for Thrivent grant money.

    Sad, so sad.

    I would love to see the old AAL split from Thrivent. Is such a move even possible?

  20. Jason
    June 11th, 2012 at 15:45 | #20

    @John Rixe #20

    Not sure it would matter to Thrivent. Eventually they may well do that. Got to keep expanding the business. And that means bottom line: i.e. money which comes from as many warm bodies as possible.

  21. GaiusKurios
    June 11th, 2012 at 16:28 | #21

    I agree, it just hurts that I hate the LCMS and its memebers being used by Thrivent to further their bottom line.

  22. Rev. Matthew Lorfeld
    June 12th, 2012 at 21:03 | #22

    I used to work in the Appleton Home Office prior to becoming a Pastor. I thoroughly enjoyed working there and appreciated some of the little things, like having an LCMS midweek Lent service available which was conducted by a local LCMS pastor. The pay was decent and the benefits were better than I have heard of in almost any other company. The thing that impressed me the most was that on my last week of working there, my VP not only thanked me for my service to the company but also thanked me for deciding to become a pastor. The way I was treated as an employee left a big impression.

    From a churchly standpoint, I honestly could care less. Their mission isn’t to spread the Gospel, it’s to provide financial services for Lutherans and to provide grant money to congregations. I don’t see expanding their nets as something that infringes on fellowship any more than my ownership of Ave Maria funds (which, by the way are the only mutual funds which I can be sure won’t go to funding the murder of embryos or sale of women’s bodies) or receiving a Lilly Endowment grant to go on sabbatical (which I know several very confessional Lutheran pastors have done).

    That said, I’m not a huge fan of the Thrivent Choice program, wasn’t when I worked there and it was proposed, as I thought it would diminish brand identity. As to this move, well, it has become clear that building brand identity in the local chapter isn’t working… and maybe it is just that the business model was unsustainable. Frankly, I’ve got way more pressing things to be worried about than my former employer’s business decisions.

  23. Joanne
    June 12th, 2012 at 21:23 | #23

    And when the snake bit him, the man angrily complained. The snake calmly replied, but you knew I was a snake when you let me in.

    Admit that you lost. Don’t throw good money after bad. Get what money/assests you can out of the deal and start all over again with a new fraternal organization for confessional Lutherans. A well run fraternal organization can do a lot of good for it target group.

  24. Warren Malach
    June 12th, 2012 at 21:47 | #24

    When will Lutherans have “a new fraternal organization for confessional Lutherans,” and who will be allowed to be members of it? Members of synods which are not in fellowship?
    Just wondering…

  25. June 14th, 2012 at 15:48 | #25

    I am a Board Member of our local Thrivent Chapter (baptized in an LCMS church, currently attend an ELCA church). I cannot speak for all the choice funds, but “here” they get used, for example, to supplement benefit dinners for someone with high medical bills, or a family whose home has burnt, or for new church carpet, and my congregation donates our Thrivent funds to a local organization that make sure all kids in the county have a Christmas gift. I learn a lot from this website, and find it fascinating the amount of time and worry some LCMS members spend on the ELCA and whether it is Lutheran enough, and the reverse also, many in ELCA spend a lot of time looking over LCMS shoulders to see what ole’ Missouri is up too. Anyway, can we not share a fraternal insurance company? Locally, I see the money being used to help people, not for “ELCA” or “LCMS” only causes. Maybe it is different in other parts of the country.

  26. Joanne
    June 14th, 2012 at 19:24 | #26

    Will confessional Lutherans be able to maintain a fraternal aid society with The Peoples’ Church of America, a mega merger of ELCA, UCC, PCUSA, and the ECUSA? Everytime I close my eyes I can see the PCA coming. And, why would anyone in the huge, megamultifaith PCA be concerned with what any of the confessional Lutherans are thinking? I just can’t see the mergers stopping when these churches realize that nothing separates them and they could so easily join the big movement to Peoples’ Churches started by the Norwegians.

    Fraternity with the Peoples’ Churches worldwide. We could always have had fraternity with the World Council of Churches, and yet confessional Lutherans demurred. Would fraternity with the Peoples’ Churches be different?

    You currently attend The Peoples’ Church in America. Why don’t you just forget about us? Your baptism still counts in the PCA, as much as it counts in any union of Lutheran and Reformed churches (a very old situation in Europe).

    You know that works of mercy do not require false doctrine, nor fraternity with false doctrine. Even confessional Lutherans can do works of mercy without false doctrine ever crossing their minds. We can witness, show mercy, and live together in harmony without false doctrine.

    You are under the curse of Esau, you gave away your inheritance for a bowl of porridge. But, it is nice that you give away some of your porridge to people who don’t have any. Think how much mercy you could have done with your whole inheritance. Pooling your porridge in the PCA can only help, if mercy is the only measurement.

    @Bryan Scheiderer #25

  27. Pastor Ted Crandall
    June 15th, 2012 at 05:13 | #27

    @Bryan Scheiderer #25
    “Anyway, can we [ELCA and LCMS] not share a fraternal insurance company?”

    Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for ELCA to share with UCC, PCUSA, and the ECUSA — the ones who share ELCA’s faith?

  28. June 15th, 2012 at 12:45 | #28

    I feel perhaps like I am intruding, this is not “my” site, I thought I would just comment on the Thrivent thread and share my thoughts. I am out of my league debating theology obviously, so let me just say that I have read the Book of Concord, and found nothing to disagree with there. ELCA in its statement of belief accepts the Unaltered Ausburg Confession and other BOC writings. That makes “us” an “L”, just as anyone else who accepts the BOC. I understand you disagree with other things the ELCA has done…but regardless, we share the same heritage, share the BOC, and we are all Lutherans….and I still don’t understand why we can’t share an insurance company.

    I just ate at a Subway next to my office and I know some LCMS members eat there also. Is that an impermissible sharing? After all, we “pool” our money there buying sandwiches so that the restaurant can continue serving us all. I realize that example is at the extreme…here is a better one: would you refuse to seek treatment from a medical doctor that is an ELCA member, who goes on an ELCA mission trip to heal the sick in a poor country? Your patronage of his or her medical office would in some manner allow the doctor to take the time off for the mission trip…I don’t see any difference.

    One last thought…I don’t control Thrivent nor do I have any special inside knowledge, but my guess is that it will continue serving ELCA members and that ELCA members will continue buying its products. So, I think your option then is to start another fraternal benefit organization if you feel that is the right thing to do..but I do hope you reconsider.

  29. June 15th, 2012 at 13:45 | #29

    @Bryan Scheiderer #28
    “I have read the Book of Concord, and found nothing to disagree with there.”

    Great! Have you considered joining the LCMS? As you know from reading the Book of Concord, it condemns those who disagree with clear Scripture, yet ELCA communes with them and swaps pulpits with their pastors. (We don’t just disagree with “other things the ELCA has done.”)

    As far as business dealings go, fine; we can have business dealings with ELCA and all the other denominations with whom she has declared full fellowship. As far a business with Thriven’t in particular goes, it is just another insurance company, so a wise man would compare their offerings with what all the other businesses are offering. It would be wiser still to consider that your premiums will be inflated to allow donations to causes you might not want to support — you know, things like abortion and sodomy.

  30. June 15th, 2012 at 17:41 | #30

    Fraternal Societies

    To be exempt under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 501(c)(8), a fraternal beneficiary society, order, or association must meet the following requirements:

    It must have a fraternal purpose. An organization has a fraternal purpose if membership is based on a common tie or the pursuit of a common object. The organization must also have a substantial program of fraternal activities.
    It must operate under the lodge system or for the exclusive benefit of the members of a fraternal organization itself operating under the lodge system. Operating under the lodge system requires, at a minimum, two active entities: (i) a parent organization; and (ii) a subordinate (called a lodge, branch, or the like) chartered by the parent and largely self-governing.
    It must provide for the payment of life, sick, accident, or other benefits to the members of such society, order, or association or their dependents.
    An organization that provides benefits to some, but not all, of its members may qualify for exemption so long as most of the members are eligible for benefits, and criteria for excluding certain members are reasonable.
    To be exempt under IRC 501(c)(10), a domestic fraternal society, order, or association must meet the following requirements:

    It must have a fraternal purpose. An organization has a fraternal purpose if membership is based on a common tie or the pursuit of a common object. The organization must also have a substantial program of fraternal activities.
    It must operate under the lodge system. Operating under the lodge system requires, at a minimum, two active entities: (i) a parent organization; and (ii) a subordinate organization (called a lodge, branch, or the like) chartered by the parent and largely self-governing.
    It must not provide for the payment of life, sick, accident, or other benefits to its members. The organization may arrange with insurance companies to provide optional insurance to its members without jeopardizing its exempt status.
    It must devote its net earnings exclusively to religious, charitable, scientific, literary, educational, and fraternal purposes.
    It must be a domestic organization, that is, it must be organized in the United States.

    @Ted Crandall #29

  31. mitch
    April 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 | #31

    I have stayed with AAL/Thrivent all these years because they seemed to be focused on serving and helping our Lutheran communities. Now they are just one of many generic options out there to look at for investing. I have never been real impressed with the gains through Thrivent. I haven’t seen my agent in years. I see no real reason to stay with them any longer.

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