Anglican Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu has told the General Synod of the Church of England, which concluded its business yesterday, that the real significance of the world financial crisis and the downturn in the economy was its impact on the poorest and most vulnerable.
Reflecting on the need for active solidarity, Dr Sentamu declared: "We have heard the predictions. This slough of economic despond is deep and we are told it will get deeper. For every statistic on the hundreds of jobs lost, there are hundreds of stories of individual hardship and of families in need. Their struggle must be our lament as we face up to our responsibilities."
In a detailed briefing paper, Andreas Whittam Smith, the First Church Estates Commissioner (responsible under the Crown for the Established Church's finances), said that governments around the world had created the conditions of the current "deep" recession by encouraging globalisation and relaxing bank regulation in recent decades.
Financial institutions had created bubbles in housing and consumer debt that finally burst in late 2007 as property prices in America began to fall, he said. Since then, borrowers have been unable to repay their loans, putting banks under pressure and forcing them to try to claw back some of their debts.
Meanwhile, Dr Sentamu declared: "England, you think you've got problems? It's time to get real. We live in a world where: a child dies every three seconds due to extreme poverty, almost 10 million children a year; one person dies from HIV/Aids every 11 seconds; approximately 1 in 7 children in the world 270 million children have no access to healthcare; and every single day unsafe water coupled with a lack of basic sanitation kills 5,000 children."
The archbishop added that "[p]oor Governance, in countries such as Zimbabwe, has led to malnutrition, a crumbling health system and the outbreak of avoidable diseases, like cholera, claiming thousands of lives in Zimbabwe."
Dr Sentamu said the challenge for the Church is both to engage with policy makers and to stand alongside those at the sharp end of the financial crisis.
He continued: "We need a deeper vision based on respect for the person, care for one another, and selfless service. A political vision alone won't do it. It is not about what governments can do for us but what we can all do. It is here that the Church of England and all religious communities will make a special contribution. Our strength as a Church lies not only in our vision but also in our presence. Our place in every parish in England gives us an unparalleled opportunity to make this fresh vision a reality."
Earlier in the week, Synod heard a discussion between Dr Peter Selby, the former Bishop of Worcester, whose book Grace and Mortgage critiqued the debt culture and the money-driven economy from a prcatical and theological viewpoint, and Lord Griffiths of Goldman Sachs, a former adviser to enthusiastic market deregulator Margaret Thatcher.
However, the Synod did not discuss the use of its own £5 billion assets and resources as part of its consideration of the global crisis, nor did it consider in any detail the role of the Church in promoting alternative practices and models of economy.
The Church itself is not immune to the effects of recession, reports the Telegraph newspaper today. Its pension funds, stock market investments and property portfolio have all suffered while £30 million in expected interest payments has evaporated from its accounts because of falling interest rates.
The C of E's financiers have also been embroiled in some of the practices they have condemned others for indulging.