Churches tackle credit crisis issues

Christian thinkers came together at Methodist Church House inLondon yesterday to talk about how the Churches could lead the waythrough the economic crisis.

The speakers at the conference organised by Churches Together inBritain and Ireland examined the root causes of the current crisisfrom a faith perspective and gave their thoughts on what thechurches' role in addressing the global financial meltdown shouldbe.

John Ellis, Secretary for Team Operations for the Methodist ChurchConnexional Team and Treasurer of the United Reformed Church whopreviously worked at the Bank of England, made the connectionbetween HSBC's relatively safe riding of the economic storm and itschairman's Christian faith.

"It is fairly safe to assert that HSBC has been the most robustduring the recent economic troubles," he said. "It is also safe toassert that the chairman of HSBC is an Anglican priest. Is that acoincidence?"

John also pointed out the growth of credit unions in recent yearsand the possibility of a return to basic banking.

Ann Pettifor, former head of Jubilee 2000 Debt Relief Campaign andCampaign Director of Operation Noah, blamed the sin of usury andeasy credit for the crisis and examined the role high interestrates had played in the bursting of the credit bubble. "Six percent interest is an incredibly high and, I would say, usuriousrate," she said. "Usury is the exalting of money values over humanand environmental values. Capital and globalisation is based on theprincipal that there are no boundaries. But the problem is lawneeds boundaries." Ann emphasised that usury was looked down uponin Islam.

Bob Goudzwaard, Professor Emeritus of Economics and SocialPhilosophy at the Free University in Amsterdam, said he hopedchurches would be willing to take part in a discussion on changingeconomic structures.

Paula Clifford, Head of Theology at Christian Aid, told theconference she thought the view that the economic crisis served ahigher purpose was deeply offensive to poorer people who are nowexperiencing cuts in aid. Niall Cooper, from the Get Fair Campaignagainst poverty, said the Church should not be afraid to takesides, get political and stand up for the poor.

Alison Gelder, Chief Executive of Housing Justice, posed thequestion: "To what extent should we share the responsibility oflooking around the community and saying, 'Who is it who needshousing?'"

John Reynolds, an investment banker and Chairman of the Church ofEngland's Ethical Investment Advisory Group, laid out a five pointagenda in which churches would have a stronger voice. "Ethicalpressure must be applied both on companies and stake holders at thesame time," he said.

Following a panel discussion, Michael Bartlet, ParliamentaryLiaison Officer for Quaker Peace and Social Witness, summed up thediscussion. "We face today a choice between a political economybased on greed and consumption and a way of life which is based onsustainable and just relationships with our neighbour," he said."This conference is an example of the practical kind of way we canwork together in the future towards building a more sustainableeconomy."