Welby v Wonga

I wanted to cheer the Archbishop of Canterbury. I wanted to cheer his entry into the conversation about debt and how we run our economy. So what that he was a little embarrassed to find his church had a small investment in a payday loan company. That wasn’t the point and the reporting on it only served to distract from the scandal of those financial institutions who make huge profits from the most vulnerable.

As the news cycle refused to let go of the story it emerged that £100 borrowed from the company in question and unpaid would equal to the National Debt in just 7 years. Now think about that for a moment.

I wanted to cheer him because finally a church leader was starting a conversation about sin in society that didn’t involve argument about what people did in their private lives. Rather it was addressing the fundamental way in which we choose to run the country. It addressed the foundational economic questions at the heart of the Christian gospel.

After all, from the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament the Lord’s Prayer is rightfully translated ‘forgive us our debts, as we forgive the debts of others’. Jesus knew that those who were in debt had their lives owned by others and Jesus came to bring redemption – another phrase borrowed from economics.

And take the story of manna in the Old Testament, where God feeds people in the desert with a miraculous substance they called manna. It came fresh everyday and they were encouraged to gather sufficient for that day because excess would rot. The central ethic of manna is an economic one.

It was to teach to people to live with sufficient. It was to help them understand that resource must circulate and not stockpile. It was to teach them that too much accumulation, whilst others go without, would lead inevitably to rottenness in their community.

Above all they would learn these lessons in scarcity to teach them how to live in times of plenty.

This is part of the reason why I’m a member of my local credit union. My financial surplus, the amount I save each month, is circulated locally through my credit union. It’s not removed from my community in the form of share dividend or private profit, but shared out among us members. And it teaches financial prudence, you can only borrow in proportion to what you save.

So three cheers for the Archbishop of Canterbury. He has raised an issue of genuine national significance which affects the lives of those within and without the church and one on which we christians have been shamefully silent for too long.


thought for the day, BBC radio ulster, 31 July, 2013

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