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The two Freds

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Recently, National Underwriter’s executive managing editor Emily Holbrook wrote an editorial entitled “LGBT: The emerging market closest to home,” in which she notes that just as insurance companies have placed a strong focus on multicultural markets (something for which the industry deserves more praise than it currently gets), so too should it place a similar focus on serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, which has some very unique financial planning needs. (Indeed, some carriers have already begun to do just that.)

We have covered this topic at least twice before in the last few years, and both times, as cover stories. Why do we return to this topic? Is it because we have a need to advance the social cause of the LGBT community? No. It is not my role as an editor for this publication, nor is it Emily’s, to make social statements for the sake of making social statements. Our role is to point out areas in which the life and health industry could either address a challenge or take advantage of an opportunity. With the legal acceptance of gay marriage in an increasing number of states, the financial planning realities for homosexual couples – many of whom are relatively affluent thanks to their double income, no kids status – present a very real business opportunity for financial planners willing to work with such clients. Alas, not all of our readers approve, as this letter, written in response to Emily’s editorial, shows:

Does it make any difference to you that the “gay lifestyle” is very offensive to Christians? Have you ever considered that embracing and validating sodomy is insensitive, intolerant and bigoted toward Christians? Are you aware that both the Old Testament and the New Testament condemn the behavior as sinful?

God not only condemns the behavior, His word calls it abominable! He does not condemn the sinner, only the sin. Jesus DID die. He died for sinners. (You and me.) He tells us to go and sin no more. The gay crowd is advancing the concept of go and sin some more!

I am very tired of sodomy being put up on a pedestal as if it were wholesome. It is not healthy or wholesome. Why should we promote and embrace an unholy behavior?

I am sure the author of the letter wouldn’t mind being identified, but I left out the name here because the importance of the letter isn’t who wrote it, but what was said. Every time we have covered this topic, we have received at least one letter along these lines. From what I can tell, this viewpoint is shared by at least some of our audience, but if it is shared by the majority, then it is a silent one. That said, we take all of our feedback seriously, especially when it suggests that just by covering a certain topic we have caused offense.

With respect to our reader here—who took valuable time out of the day to share thoughts with us—that homosexuality is offensive to some is an insufficient reason for National Underwriter to ignore it as a topic.

The consumption of alcohol is very offensive to certain Christians (and to all observant Muslims). And yet, when we run stories about liquor liability programs in National Underwriter Property & Casualty, we do not get complaints citing religious offense. Even if we did, it would not stop us from covering liquor liability, as it is an important insurance market, and one in which those professionals who do not find the subject matter objectionable may conduct their business. By covering liquor liability, we do not mean to promote drinking (though I am sure some would see our failure to ignore the topic, or our failure to decry it to be tantamount to supporting the behavior). Rather, we mean to explore the insurance business it represents.

Speaking of Muslims, strict Islamic law forbids virtually all kinds of conventional banking and insurance, as it breaks that religion’s prohibitions against usury. That is why there is an entirely separate Islamic insurance industry that serves both the life/health and property casualty worlds. Those products and services are structured in a very specific way so as to comply with Islamic law. That we cover non-Islamic insurance at all is surely very offensive to every strict Muslim in the world, let alone those in our readership. And yet we have not gotten any complaints over it. And again, even if we did, all we could offer is that we seek not to offend those whose religion is at cross-purposes with the business opportunities present in the modern insurance world.

Thankfully, it is a free country, and producers can always pick and choose what kind of clientele they wish to serve. National Underwriter, in the interest of serving all, will make no such discriminations. Nor will we make any apologies for doing so.

As I write this, there is much media coverage and social media activity about the passing of Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, the Kansas-based church that gained infamy for picketing the funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers. Their point was that God hates homosexuals so much that the U.S. is being punished for tolerating such behavior, and that every slain soldier should be celebrated as evidence of God’s disapproval. For years, the Westboro Baptist Church got enormous press coverage for its activity, and when the BBC filmed a documentary about the church and the Phelps family (which  formed the church’s nucleus), it was entitled – and not hyperbolically – “The Most Hated Family in America.”

When it was announced that Phelps was dying, those who disapproved of Phelps and the WBC spoke of how Phelps’ own funeral ought to be picketed so his family could get a taste of what that might feel like. I could never understand this line of thought. Surely picketing Phelps’ funeral does not bother Phelps any. And if anything, it would only show that the same kind of rancor the WBC showed to the world would have rubbed off on those who chose to repay Phelps in kind. And truthfully, if one seeks to oppose the WBC, picketing it is not the way to go. Not when the church obviously thrives on confrontation. One gay friend of mine suggested a demonstration by the LGBT community at the funeral showing compassion for Phelps’ family. After all, what was it that Nietzsche said? When fighting monsters, one must take care not to become one.

On my Facebook feed, a lot of folks angry at Phelps talked about they hoped the guy was rotting in Hell, and how he deserved to have his own funeral picketed. But I had noticed something else on the day Phelps died. That day, March 20, is also the birthday of Fred Rogers, who became famous as the star of the children’s television show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Fred RogersI loved Mr. Rogers, growing up. That show was sandwiched between “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company,” and I watched it nearly every day, for a while. And although Mr. Rogers didn’t have the Muppets, or the coolness of a young Morgan Freeman (who played not one, but two awesome characters on “The Electric Company”), I still loved the program anyway. Every day, this kindly grown-up seemed to come home for work and right off the bat, made time for kids growing up in a latchkey generation. He never had a cross word to say. He always spoke of being good and patient with others. He was an avatar for trust and friendship at a time when missing kids on the sides of milk cartons made us feel like we were about to lose both. I can’t say I learned how to count or read watching Mr. Rogers, but I can say that I learned how to be a better neighbor, and not just to the folks living one or two doors down. I learned that being a good neighbor means being that even to perfect strangers.

And so I posted on Facebook that rather than get worked up over how Fred Phelps never seemed to get any justice for his hateful behavior, I decided instead to focus on how much Fred Rogers enriched my life, and that in the long run, we really ought to focus more on that. That’s a legacy more worthy of remembrance, isn’t it?

I shared my story of the two Freds in context of Emily’s editorial and the letter it prompted, because to me, it shined a light on what life insurance and financial planning is, and what it’s supposed to achieve. It is said that you buy life insurance out of love, and if that is so (which it is), then what does it make those who sell it? Something good, certainly. Perhaps even…a good neighbor? The truth is, the producers of the life/health world are a rare breed. Unlike their counterparts in the property/casualty world, their business is almost always a deeply individual and deeply personal one. (Not to speak ill of P/C agents and brokers, by the way, but much of that business is a comparatively impersonal one.) Life/health producers are there to help people make sure that the ones they love are taken care of, that families stay together, that despite the adversity of the end that must claim us all, there are measures in place that will help us endure on this earth while the ones we will miss the most are no longer on it.

This is a temporal and compassionate business filled with temporal and compassionate people. Certainly, it is everyone’s individual choice to determine who they want to do business with, and who they would turn away from their office doorstep. But with respect to the various social, political and religious convictions we all hold dear, I would offer that we would do a lot more good, both personally and professionally by welcoming each other – differences and all – as neighbors we could help, rather than as wrongdoers to push away. This week, we have seen the passage of one man who used his hands to point a finger, and we have remembered one man who used them to wave hello. It is up to us to decide which Fred we’d rather emulate in the office, in our home and in the world.

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