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Major church report to urge just wealth creation
As the UK media gears up for what many believe will be a long and acrimonious general election campaign, the nationís churches are poised to launch a major report asking tough questions about how a rich society can responsibly develop and use its wealth-creating abilities for the common good in a divided world.
ëProsperity With A Purpose: Christians and the Ethics of Affluenceí, a study commissioned through the official ecumenical body, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, is due to be launched on 28 February, as previously reported on Ekklesia. Its argument for a positive Christian engagement that links wealth creation to social justice is bound to stir up a lively debate.
The debate the report will generate has the backing of major church leaders in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, including the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Church of England, and the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, as well as the major Free Church traditions.
Yesterday Christopher Morgan, writing in the Sunday Times newspaper, claimed that ëProsperity With A Purposeí amounts to the churches making peace with Mammon, reversing their hostility towards wealth-creation and finding "faith in money."
However Morgan has not seen the published report, and according to Ekklesia sources this is a simplistic rendering of the studyís conclusions, which include a strong concern for justice in the way wealth is generated, as well as the way it is spent and distributed.
The big debate is about how to act constructively in relation to different economic mechanisms - including markets, corporations, small businesses and social enterprises as well as government.
The report itself, drafted on the basis of group study by respected Catholic journalist Clifford Longley, is accompanied by a book of essays to stoke the debate. Conversation will also take place online, and the issues raised may feature in the local election hustings being organized by the churches across the country.
Clifford Longley suggested to the Sunday Times yesterday that ëProsperity With A Purposeí represents a new consensus within Britainís churches, a claim that will be tested when it is finally launched in three weeks time.
However the publishers are obviously hoping for a lively argument, because they have chosen as the report's cover image a camel walking through the eye of a needle ñ a provocative reference to Jesusí forthright condemnation of the all-sufficiency of riches in the Gospel.
The document sits in a long line of major social statements on economic and political issues from Britainís churches. Before the 1997 general election the then Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (now CCBI) launched ëUnemployment and the Future of Workí, which called for concerted action on job creation and a wider understanding of work.
In 1996, meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales produced ëThe Common Goodí, which attempted a similar balance to that apparently explored in ëProsperity With A Purposeí. The Methodist Church also published a less widely received report on ëThe Citiesí.
The most famous church document in this area, however, was 1985ís ëFaith in the Cityí, produced by the Church of England. It was rubbished as "Marxist" by Conservative PM Margaret Thatcher and her key aides before they had even read it.
Church statements on economic issues often face automatic criticism either for idealism or for pragmatism. They are also regularly accused of being ëtoo religiousí by some and ënot sufficiently faith-basedí by others. The media customarily seeks to pigeonhole them as ëleft wingí or ëright wingí in orientation.
It looks as if the 'Prosperity With A Purpose' study will make the pundits work harder than usual in order to get its arguments to conform to existing prejudices. "Ekklesia will be one place where a more intelligent, radical and theologically-informed discussion will be possible", said its director, Jonathan Bartley, today.
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has embargoed ëProsperity With A Purposeí until 28 February 2005, and stresses that any material circulating about it until then is not a basis for reaching an adequate conclusion about its findings. However delegates at CTBIís Assembly the week after next will have an advance view of the document.