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ELCA synod urges Thrivent to end restrictions on donation policy

Helmut Schmidt

Forum News Service

MOORHEAD — A measure urging Thrivent Financial to rescind restrictions on donations to groups based on their stances on issues such as abortion, sexual orientation and gun control, was passed — barely — by the Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The vote took place at the synod’s annual conference, held Friday and Saturday at Concordia College.

But passage didn’t come without confusion for many delegates, 51 of whom abstained. That even extended to the counting of the votes.

On Friday, it was thought the measure had failed because abstentions were counted as “no” votes. But by Saturday, a synod official determined that was an error, and that the abstentions were neither “yes” nor “no” votes.

That reversed the result, giving proponents of the measure the win, with 177 yes votes to 165 no votes.

Bishop Larry Wohlrabe said Saturday that the motion is advisory.

“It will be a marker with them (Thrivent)” of some discomfort with that position, Wohlrabe said.

Wohlrabe said it appears that Thrivent officials felt the need “to avoid hot-button things” when donating dollars.

“The spillover effect (of Thrivent’s policy) seemed almost to say you can’t express preferences” for where Thrivent members wanted charitable dollars to go, he said.

On Feb. 6, Thrivent Financial, which used to be Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, announced its neutrality policy, noting that it serves a broad spectrum of Christians.

Under the policy, “certain organizations are not eligible to receive outreach support or funding. This includes, but is not limited to, organizations with a primary purpose of providing services for or advocating positions either supporting or opposing certain social, politically partisan, or health and human services causes and issues, such as abortion, sexual orientation, or guns.

“Decisions regarding the application of this policy and the eligibility of specific organizations to receive outreach funding or support are made at the sole discretion of Thrivent’s management team and are subject to change,” the policy reads.

The resolution, submitted by the Headwaters Conference of the synod, counters that Thrivent Choice Dollars are supposed to be awarded through the recommendations of individual policyholders.

The synod’s vote encourages Thrivent “to rescind its ‘neutrality policy’ … and to adopt policies for the award of Choice Dollar Grand Funds that maximize the freedom of policyholders to recommend grants to charitable organizations of their choosing.”

Several delegates declined to be interviewed on the issue. The thoughts of those who did comment were mixed.

Heather Peterson of Hallock had abstained from the vote, saying the issue and debate were confusing.

She joked that her pastor teased her about being a true Lutheran, because she abstained on a vote about neutrality.

“I guess I can see both sides,” said Peterson, who is co-director of a food pantry. “There are some things out there that may go against … what our moral code would be.”

Mike Anda of Borup said he believed that many of the people who put up white cards —voting to abstain —were confused.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people that are having second thoughts,” Anda said.

Jim Molde of Bemidji said the Thrivent Choice dollars are that organization’s dollars to give. But he decided to vote for the resolution, calling it a symbolic vote.

“It’s one of those things you can disagree in faith. It’s OK for faithful people to disagree,” Molde said.

Ken Horntvedt of Baudette said the issue spurred more discussion than he had seen on any issue in years.

He voted against the measure.

“It’s Thrivent’s policy. We can’t direct them to change. It has to come through their membership, that board, to change,” Horntvedt said.

Telephone and email messages to Thrivent media representatives seeking comment on the issue were not returned Saturday night.

According to Thrivent Financial’s website, it is a financial services organization that offers its nearly 2.4 million members a broad range of products and services – including life insurance, annuities and mutual funds – and guidance from financial representatives nationwide.

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