Insights from the UK and beyond
Blame or redemption for Christians in financial crisis?
The Treasurer of the United Reformed Church pointed to the relative stability of HSBC — despite market speculation about its capital adequacy — compared with the parlous state of some of its rivals.
“It is fairly safe to assert that HSBC is the high street bank that has been the most robust bank during the recent troubles. It seems to have ordered its affairs in a way that has allowed it to be least damaged by turmoil all around it,” Ellis said.
“It is absolutely safe to assert that the chairman of HSBC is a committed Christian, indeed an Anglican priest, the Revd. Stephen Green. Do we regard that as a curious coincidence or do we think that having clear Christian values held in an institution like that is actually of significance?
Shares in RBS sank to 11.6p on Monday, their lowest for a quarter of a century, while Lloyds Banking Group lost a third of its value and Barclays saw its share price drop 10 percent despite another government lifeline.
Christians working within the financial sector have the chance to create a new banking model out of the chaos, Ellis told the Churches Together conference.
There is an opportunity to change the nature of the banking system and its recent emphasis on targets, he said.
Bob Goudzwaard, professor emeritus of economics and social philosophy at the Free University in Amsterdam, suggested those in the West had recently been tied to a Faustian relationship with money.
Society had created an idol of money, to be followed devotedly, he said. That idol was now staggering under the impact of the credit crunch.
“We should not forget that money is not the part of God’s own good creation,” he said. “It is created by man.”
“Money needs to be our servant not our master,” he said.
It all went wrong when we began ignoring the Bible’s condemnation of usury, author Ann Pettifor said.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments warnings are given about the use of money to make profit – something the Islamic world has kept heed of on the whole, she said.
“The thing with Islam is it is still considered very unpleasant and very unacceptable if you are engaged in the business of making money from nothing,” Pettifor said.
Muslims also say making claims on future prices is sinful because only God can see the future.
Christians used to adhere to non-usury – you could be ex-communicated from the Catholic Church in Britain centuries ago and you were unable to be buried in consecrated ground if you were involved in the practise, and your chances of marriage was reduced.
But that disappeared with the French theologian John Calvin during the Protestant Reformation and later with political economists and moral philosophers such as Adam Smith, who endorsed money-making and then a lack of risk taking on losses, Pettifor said.
“For me this is a profound shift in Christian thinking which then underpins the growth and development of capitalism, and which underpins, in my view, the crisis we face today,” she explained.
It gave free rein to lenders and the finance sector, Pettifor said.
She called for the re-assertion of the abhorrence of usury and the re-regulation of finance and credit creation.
Produce is affordable, she quoted an economist as saying, as long as interest rates are low.
“It is only when you have to pay interest to people who are not doing anything that it becomes unaffordable,” she said.