The Papal Litmus Test for Fraternals
December 2, 2013My bona fides for commenting on theological doctrine are, at best, limited. But I could not help reading the statements dealing with economic issues contained in Pope Francis’s recent “apostolic exhortation” without connecting them to the fraternal business model. Pope Francis denounced “trickle-down economics” as a system that “expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” The benefits of the trickle-down theory, Francis contends, have “never been confirmed by the facts” and have created “a globalization of indifference. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting." He followed up those comments with a less than flattering portrait of the excesses of consumerism. And as the spouse of a woman who worked a 12-hour shift at a major department store beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving evening, I have a very personal stake in this issue. “We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,” wrote the Pope. “In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.” This Pope is not afraid to challenge the most powerful forces, theories, belief systems on the planet. Are you willing to embrace that challenge by taking a hard look at your society – whether faith-based on not – and determining if it passes the papal litmus test? Fraternals were founded on the core principle of people helping one another. Our financial services function has matured from an unregulated pass-the-hat system to one that mirrors the more sophisticated legal reserve insurance model of our commercial colleagues. Many fraternals have morphed from organizations largely focused on helping other members of their societies, to those that serve the less fortunate in the communities where members live and work – the “excluded” referenced by Pope Francis. But the fundamental mission has not changed. When governed and managed well, fraternals exemplify a business model that that serves individuals, communities, and nations – and fulfills the Pope’s exhortation to say “’Thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.” So as we plunge headlong into the season of “door busters” with news reports focused on how much we’ve spent rather than how much we’ve given, I hope you’ll ask yourself these three questions:
- Is our society operating efficiently and responsibly so that we can generate the financial resources to fund projects and programs that reflect our members shared values?
- Is our society allocating the right amount of resources to our community service activities to justify its tax-exempt status?
- Are the funds allocated to fraternal expenses being used to finance – either through direct contributions or through organizing volunteer activities – meaningful community service projects and programs for “the excluded” or are they more frequently being used to fund social events that meet the needs of a few society members in positions of authority?