Comments: The Church and Mammon

Meg Gilley would you please tell those of us who do not know you something about yourself.

Posted by Chip at Friday, 6 March 2009 at 9:12pm GMT

I was listening to a n item on the radio on Islamic banking, and was impressed by its thoughtfulness (the banking that is). I cannot but remember Biblical condemnations of usury - we too need to find thoughtful ways with al our monies - thank you for this Meg.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah at Friday, 6 March 2009 at 9:16pm GMT

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I think your point is spot on. As fundraiser for over 20 years, I maintained that asking for the money was always the second question - asking about belief was the first. Depending on the answer to the first, the question of money could be much further back. As Christians our assets, corporately and individually, have much more to do with faith, than with finance.
Thanks again for reminding us of the hope that is ever with us.

Posted by Sven at Saturday, 7 March 2009 at 12:00pm GMT

Thank you Meg - I found this really helpful & hopeful too.

Posted by Kathryn at Saturday, 7 March 2009 at 12:45pm GMT

Chip asked about me: I am a parish priest in a northern diocese in England; a member of General Synod; a member of the Archbishops' Council's Finance Committee. Before ordination in 2000, I worked for 16 years in the NHS, ending as Chief Executive of a Primary Care Group (before they became Trusts). Last year, I led a church to closure, which effectively left me redundant (except I have freehold), so I am looking for a job. Am doing interim ministry for the time being. Am passionate about helping people grow in prayer, discipleship and ministry. I am writing a book about closing the church, including issues of decline, success and failure in the church.

Posted by Meg Gilley at Saturday, 7 March 2009 at 6:16pm GMT

"does this mean that we can do things differently now?" Surely the message is that we must do things differently now. From what I understand a large part of the current economic problems arises from people paying more attention to figures on the page than to whether or not they represented real value. Facing the truth can be painful, as it has been for Meg and the congregation she led, but we have to live with and in the Truth. Only then can we be free. Rosemary is right to be impressed by the thoughtfulness of the Islamic approach to banking, an approach similar to that of Credit Unions in the UK such as is currently being proposed for C/E clergy.

Posted by Roger Stokes at Sunday, 8 March 2009 at 8:34pm GMT

I agree - my own church is 'suddenly' facing a running deficit, and we were asked as a congregation how we might respond to this situation just last week. In part it does come down to 'bums on seats' but also from what little I can tell of such arcane matters, it's partly due to the fact that we have no incumbent.

Islamic banking I would steer well clear of - it sounds rational and innocent enough especially in these uncertain times but historically its reception in the West has been primarily by those whose agenda has been very specific: labour and spirit versus interest: "Arbeit macht frei" refers to this exact supposed dichotomy, and the target has been 'The Jew'. I would say the same about Social Credit, which had similar impetus. I don't disagree - the banking and financial systems that we live by are corrupting, but the essential evil if you like (for me at least) is private profit, not interest as such. I am not an economist, and perhaps others could shed more light here.

Posted by Orfanum at Monday, 9 March 2009 at 10:21am GMT

"essential evil if you like (for me at least) is private profit, not interest as such"

Don't know that I'd necessarily agree with this. We now live in a society where it is accepted as a matter of course that every adult will, upon reaching adulthood, take on a debt that will continue for the rest of that person's life. It begins with education and goes on from there. Many are just managing to pay the monthly interest. It is not as though it is entirely a choice to enter this neoserfdom either. I have a friend whose only debt is her house, but she is an exception, and has done without a lot in order to live so freely. Without our current system, many things, like postsecondary education, housing, transporation, would be mainly the province of the wealthy. This isn't solely the fault of interest, of course, but by making the amount to be paid back a good deal more than the amount borrowed it compounds the problem. The big change is attitudinal. Money lending used to be seen as somewhat shady, now it, and the attendant debt burden, are accepted as a matter of course. Can you really say it is not a problem to have the majority of the adult population in perpetual debt? The traditional rural Newfoundland economy ran on such a system, and it meant the rural population were, essentially, serfs. This seems to me a modern incarnation of that same state.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 9 March 2009 at 6:42pm GMT

Ford - perhaps I should become an economist because then I would be better able to answer your points, some of which I formally accept. But to take Islamic banking, the subject of the original post I responded to, as an alternative example is to miss the point: that banking system still creates indebtedness for profit, it just doesn't use interest as the mechanism for profit making. Instead there's an elaborate system of fees, spot prices and future prices, etc., which still boils down to this: it costs more than the sum of money borrowed to borrow that sum of money.

So, why are we indebted? Because we are not in possession of the means to satisfy either our wants or needs. Reduce needs and you might remove indebtedness, to an extent (there was a 'Stone Age Economics' argument put forward by Marshall Sahlins in the 1970s). But the very basics, such as land to build on, are not there for the taking: use by no means indicates ownership any longer.

On the other hand, it's not indebtedness that's the problem, it's human pride. We are all in fact indebted to each other, and money is a formal, mechanistic means of exchange for that indebtedness. It's easier, I would hazard, to be indebted to a monetary formula or a transaction than it is to adknowledge your material and spiritual debt to others. That is Mammon - the means of exhange becomes the focus of attention, not the relationship that the means of exchange should properly point to.

I know this sounds garbled, but I hope you get my drift.

Posted by Orfanum at Tuesday, 10 March 2009 at 11:01am GMT

Orfanum, I do, and I agree. I don't know enough about Islamic banks to comment. I don't, however, look to human pride as a sole reason for indebtedness. We live in a society where from our youth up we are battered with the idea that we have a right to everything we should ever want, and it is there for us to get. The American societal model is still strong, even in more compassionate countries, so that whoever wins is lionized, whoever loses is just a loser. So, those who have things have them because they played the game better. But there can only be one winner in any race, so a society based on competition is necessarily composed mostly of losers. So, even if you have to shoulder immense debt, you do it because society tells you you are supposed to, or you'll be shown to be a loser. And you have to shoulder the debt, because if you waited till you could actually afford it, you'd never have most things. It is true that we don't have to make those choices, but that is hard to do when one of the few voices telling you there is a better way tends to cloak that message in language of condemnation, crime, and conformity, and in it's loudest manifestations actually supports the system. As a related aside, I think the current financial crisis is proof of the folly of basing a financial system on debt and usury.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 10 March 2009 at 3:02pm GMT
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