London, UK - September 26, 2008 Now is the right time for the Church of England to completely re-examine its assets and investment policies, says the religion and society think tank Ekklesia - which wants the churches to "put their money where their message is".
The call comes after revelations that Church finance managers have been using similar tactics to the ones the Archbishops of Canterbury and York condemned City traders for, to maximise profits on the Church's £5 billion assets and investments.
1. The C of E has benefitted hugely from rising oil, gold and copper prices, which have been driven at least in part by speculators, due to its share holdings worth hundreds of millions of pounds in Oil and Mining companies.
2. In 2006/2007 the Church Commissioners set up a currency hedging programme, in effect short- selling sterling to guard against rises in other currencies.
3. The Church invested £13 million in Man Group, the largest listed hedge fund manager which regularly short-sells.
4. The Church has a stock lending programme through JP Morgan Chasee which may have been used by traders to make profits by betting that the value of the stocks will fall.
5. The Church has traded debts. The commissioners sold a £135 million mortgage portfolio last year, according to their annual report, in spite of the Archbishop of Canterbury's criticism of trading debts exclusively for profit.
"The key thing is not to apportion blame - either on traders or the Church - but to open up a realistic discussion about economic alternatives", says Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley.
His directorial colleague Simon Barrow, author of 'Is God bankrupt?' added: "The banking and credit crisis presents an opportunity for the Church to be honest and positive, not anxious and defensive."
Ekklesia says that the worldwide Christian churches have billions of pounds of assets and investments, and this means they can act as a global community promoting a different model of economic activity based on need not greed.
In the case of the Church of England, the think-tank says they could invest more in institutions such as cooperatives, friendly societies and housing associations in return for a slightly lower profit.
"It's a question of how resources are earned and shared, and in whose interest", comments Simon Barrow. "The earliest Christian communities were founded on principles of seeking to use material wealth for the common good, building equality and giving priority to the poorest and neediest."
"The Church needs to put its money where its message is," he added. "Jesus pointed out that 'where your treasure is, there is your heart also'. Condemning others while playing the system to your own advantage will strike many as lacking the kind of integrity and creative endeavour the churches could be demonstrating."
Ekklesia points out that many church groups and community initiatives are involved in 'alternative economy' practices - co-ops, credit unions, ethical investment, fair trade, local trade and exchange schemes, micro credit, small loans for development, calls for monetary reform and more. The 'Credit Crunch' means that such initiatives need as much investment as they can get. But the crunch is also an opportunity to pioneer alternative economic models whose need and worth is being recognised more than ever.
"This work is often praised by church leaders," said Barrow. "What we are saying is that they should be investing far more of their resources to match. Now would be an opportune moment for the C of E to re- examine its whole investment system. work with other churches and civic groups to promote economic justice through actions as well as words."
Also from Ekklesia: 'Is God bankrupt?', by Simon Barrow. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/280205prosperity
Research summary on the churches and global economic issues: 'An economy worth believing in' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6015