Material History of American Religion Project

An income assured

Advertisement for American Bible Society annuities

Unlike established churches--like the Church of England, religious organizations in the United States receive no financial support from the government. As a result, they're on their own for raising capital. Throughout American history such organizations have resorted to creative financing to support their work--pew rentals, bingo halls, and sometimes complex real estate transactions. As this1950 advertisement from Missions (a publication of the Northern Baptist Convention [now the American Baptist Churches]) shows, the American Bible Society resorted to higher finance--it sold annunities.

An annuity is sort of like a bond. An individual gives a sum of money to an organization, which then pays a fixed sum on a regular basis. Unlike a bond, however, after the death of the annuity holder the principle remains with the organization. It is a common way of arranging for a regular payout of retirement monies, indexed to the life expectancy of the retiree. Annuities are also a common way for non-profit organizations to raise money--in exchange for a small regular payout to a donor, the organization has a large sum of money before a donor's death.

This advertisement is obviously targeted to retirees or soon-to-be-retirees, to encourage them to buy an annuity from the American Bible Society. Pay attention to the image and language used to market such a financial instrument to people possibly unused to such transactions. The picture of a solid, respectable-looking man and the quotation attributed to a "prominent attorney" depict annuity as a wise and solid investment. The text stresses the safety and security of this particular annuity, from an organization which has paid out on annuities for over a hundred years. The annuity provides regular income for anxious retirees, as well as tax benefits. Finally, the advertisement points out that the annuity ultimately benefits the Society, "a single, unchanging, essential Christian cause." An annuity, the advertisement concludes, enables you to "give and receive generously at the same time." It provides the best possible solution to a middle class Christian.

Missions 148 (November 1950), 575.

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