January 23, 2009

Christian thinkers respond to financial crisis

by David Masters

A conference in London, organised by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland brought together Christian thinkers and leaders to discuss the church’s role in helping to deal with the current economic crisis.

The conference looked at the causes of the credit crunch from a faith perspective.

Ann Pettifor, former head of Jubilee 2000 Debt Relief Campaign, said usury and easy credit were to blame for the crisis.

“Six per cent interest is an incredibly high and, I would say, usurious rate,” she said.

“Usury is the exalting of money values over human and environmental values.

“Capital and globalisation is based on the principal that there are no boundaries. But the problem is law needs boundaries.”

Pettifor added that usury is looked down upon in Islam.

Paula Clifford, Head of Theology at Christian Aid, said it is offensive to assume that the economic crisis ‘serves a higher purpose’ when poor people are now suffering due to cuts in aid.

Niall Cooper, from the Get Fair Campaign against poverty, said the Church must have the courage to get political and stand up for the poor.

Alison Gelder, chief executive at Housing Justice, asked: “To what extent should we share the responsibility of looking around the community and saying, ‘Who is it who needs housing?’”

John Reynolds, an investment banker and Chairman of the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group, said banks must be encouraged to invest money ethically.

“Ethical pressure must be applied both on companies and stakeholders at the same time,” Reynolds said.

Dr Murdo Macdonald, Policy Officer for the Church of Scotland’s Society, Religion and Technology Project, said the church must bring together faith, business and government leaders to work out a joined up response to the credit crisis.

“We as Christians have to be holding out the word of life and not just the opportunity to bring economic solace to people who are in difficult positions by doing practical things,” he said.

“If we don’t do these things nobody else is going to do them.

“We have a responsibility to be the salt and light to those around us.”

Revd Bob Fyffe, General Secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, summed up the conference: “We face today a choice between a political economy based on greed and consumption and a way of life which is based on sustainable and just relationships with our neighbour.

“This conference is an example of the practical kind of way we can work together in the future towards building a more sustainable economy.”

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