I am going to step slightly outside the normal topic boundaries of this blog today -- but only slightly -- to introduce you to something that's becoming known as the "Fourth Sector" of the economy.
The three sectors you know -- private, social (or non-profit) and government -- are being joined by a sort of blend of the first two as private enterprise has begun adopting some features of charitable or not-for-profit entities and integrating all of that into a model that allows the profit-making section of the business to support an activity usually seen as charitable or non-profit.
You can learn much more about this concept at this link. At that website, if you go to the directory of companies within industries that now have been formally recognized as Fourth Sector firms and then look under insurance you will find listed only one company, the MAX (for MutualAid eXchange) Insurance Company.
And if you've ever hunted around on my blog site and discovered the page where I list the boards on which I serve, you'll find that I'm a MAX board member. So what's going on?
Well, MAX came out of the Anabaptist (mostly meaning Mennonite) community. Small insurance exchanges from that community eventually combined to become MAX several years ago, with headquarters in suburban Kansas City and in Canada, the latter called, surprisingly enough, MAX Canada.
You had to be a member of an Anabaptist (broadly including Quaker and Brethren) church to be a member of MAX and thus be eligible to buy its property and casualty insurance. A few years ago, MAX decided to open up its membership to people of any faith (or none) who would be willing to sign a statement of shared values, which emphasizes wholeness and peaceful resolution of disputes.
I, a Presbyterian and a journalist who writes a lot about interfaith relations, was brought onto the board to help with the task of thinking through how to reach out to an interfaith (though, frankly, still mostly Christian and still predominantly Mennonite) community. (Being a board member is not quite a $1-a-year job, but almost.)
One of the things that makes MAX unique -- and that qualifies it as a Fourth Sector company -- is that in addition to selling homeowners, auto and other types of insurance, it also operates what it calls a "Share Fund" under its Mutual Aid Ministries (MAM) division. MAM provides financial and other kinds of help to families in need -- even to families who are not MAX policy holders. (Heck, every few weeks I even get an e-mail that lists people who need to be lifted up in prayer.)
Much of that charitable work is done by cooperating with local Mennonite (and now other) congregations to help restore families who may have lost a home in a fire or experienced some other kind of disaster that no insurance policy alone could cover. To do its work, the Share Fund receives the first 1 percent of premiums paid by MAX policy holders as well as a tithe of MAX profits along with private donations.
So, in the end, we have a faith-based insurance company that sells traditional policies but also does ministry -- a natural for Fourth Sector designation. And what both MAX and the whole emerging Fourth Sector say to me is that capitalism is evolving, however slowly, moving from strictly a profit motive to something more complicated as well as more humane. It's impossible to tell where this trend might lead, but I'm pleased to be at least tangentially connected to it.
Take a look around the Fourth Sector site to which I've linked you above and you'll find some intriguing companies. But only one (so far, at least) in the insurance business.
* * *
#MUSLIMRAGE THROUGH FUNNY EYES
Yes, lots of attention recently has been paid to so-called "Muslim Rage," including on the cover of Newsweek magazine. But what about Muslim humor? Religion News Service has collected some great Tweets that use the hashtag #MuslimRage and that display anything but. It's good to remember how to laugh.
* * *
P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.