Christian leaders and thinkers came together at Methodist Church House in London this week to talk about how the Churches could make a positive contribution to tackling the economic crisis.
The speakers at the conference organised by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland examined the root causes of the current crisis from a faith perspective and offered perspectives on what the Free Churches’ role in addressing the global financial meltdown should be.
Ann Pettifor, former head of Jubilee 2000 Debt Relief Campaign and Campaign Director of Operation Noah, blamed usury and easy credit for the crisis and examined the role high interest rates had played in the bursting of the credit bubble.
“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.” She emphasised that usury was also looked down upon in Islam.
Bob Goudzwaard, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Social Philosophy at the Free University in Amsterdam, said he hoped churches would be willing to take part in a discussion on changing economic structures fundamentally.
Paula Clifford, Head of Theology at Christian Aid, told the conference that the view that the economic crisis 'served a higher purpose' was deeply offensive to poorer people who are now experiencing cuts in aid.
Meanwhile, Niall Cooper, from the Get Fair Campaign against poverty, said the Church should not be afraid to take sides, get political and stand up for the poor.
Alison Gelder, Chief Executive of Housing Justice, posed the question: “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, laid out a five point agenda in which churches would have a stronger voice. “Ethical pressure must be applied both on companies and stake holders at the same time,” he said.
John Ellis, strategic leader of the Methodist Church Connexional Team and Treasurer of the United Reformed Church, who previously worked at the Bank of England, pointed out the growth of credit unions in recent years and the possibility of a return to basic banking.
Following a panel discussion, Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Officer for Quaker Peace and Social Witness, summed up the day-long 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,” he said.
“This conference is an example of the practical kind of way we can work together in the future towards building a more sustainable economy.”