From the (Arch)Bishop’s mouth: What has Justin Welby said about the economy and financial system?

Our new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will take office at a time when chronic problems with the economy and financial system are high on the agenda. So I am encouraged that he speaks regularly to these issues with a measure of technical insight as well as spiritual wisdom.

In a previous post I suggested that the Archbishop should avoid talking about ‘financial services’ in generic terms, and help reframe the public debate by insisting on distinguishing between different types of financial services. In this post I let him speak for himself a bit more. What has Bishop Welby has said publicly in the last year about the economy and financial system?

Since being enthroned (yes we still call it that!) as Bishop of Durham just under 12 months ago, a large proportion of Bishop Welby’s 14 public sermons and speeches directly address our economic situation. His enthronement sermon begins: “This is a time of opportunity. The idols of our age are fallen, toppled in successive economic and political tempests”. Start as you mean to go on. (I’m not convinced the idols of high finance have fallen, but they are certainly wobbling on their perch.)

His New Year’s address contains sage financial advice to households and business leaders alike:

“First, get the priority of finances straight. At a personal level, live within our means after having given away 10 pence in every pound to worthy causes… at the business level, we need to break the tyranny of finance that has us all in its headlights. We need confidence, and confidence needs leadership. I would love to see business leaders making sane plans for expansion, investment and creation of jobs. Let’s remember that investing in people is the very best asset any business can possess. Jobs creation might mean creating opportunities through apprenticeships and internships, even through local business investment initiatives. But importantly we want generous and imaginative major companies not just seeking to pay more to senior executives but to start pulling more weight in turning round our society… The Roman Catholic church calls it solidarity.”

He understands that lack of confidence is a major issue in holding back the business investment that sustains and creates jobs:

“companies added £80 Billion to their cash hordes last year – and in Keynesian terms that is what  that money is, it is being hoarded not because it is needed imminently to repay debt but out of lack of confidence…  the Budget  Red Book emphasise[s] the importance of exports and investment, but the major constraints in the North East are not imagination or determination to achieve those ends, but confidence and skills.” (Maiden Speech to the House of Lords, 16 May 2012)

Bishop Welby sees a role – even a responsibility! – for the church to step into the gap:

“We are on the edge of a precipice of economic crisis which both demands our prayers and will demand heroic action. Food banks, credit unions, job creation should be part of our ministry.” (Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod Meeting, 26 May 2012).

No doubt this is because he has seen first-hand, while ministering in the North East of England, the damage that unemployment does:

“It is too easy for us to forget that unemployment, industrial decline, lack of purpose in people’s lives that comes from the absence of work and creation, are all things that destroy the opportunity  for human beings to flourish.  We as human beings do not exist for the economy and its benefit, it exists for the benefit of human beings, and although that is obvious when it is spoken, it is an obvious truth frequently forgotten.  High unemployment diminishes life expectancy, increases domestic violence, results in more mental illness, and worsens problems of debt and substance abuse.  It is the means of making life worse for many, many people.  The absence of flourishing leads to deaths, earlier and in worse circumstances than would otherwise have been the case… Our economy today is resulting in a slow, scarcely heard landslide of suffering that is equally destructive of life but without the drama, and often without the intention.” (Felling Colliery Address, 24 May 2012)

In the context of international aid, he emphasises that economic growth can be good, but as a means to human flourishing, not an end in itself:

“The language of our good news is not GDP, output and so forth, though they are part of the means, it is human flourishing in a context of love. The tools of our good news is the unique ones of reconciliation and peace, with its fellow travellers of generosity, community and self-giving love. All aid outside the context of the grace of God leads to the abuse of power and the creation of dependency…” (speech to the Anglican Alliance for Development, Bishopsthorp, 30 April 2012)

And on justice the international trading system, the soon-to-be Archbishop sees the need to put our money where our mouths are:

“The task of seeking a just international trading system, of protection of those made most vulnerable, of being separated in our words and investments from oppressive and unjust structures is a task that becomes heavier with time and needs conscious refiguring and renewal.” (speech to the Anglican Alliance for Development, Bishopsthorp, 30 April 2012)

Which leaves me wondering: will this herald a move for the Church of England to more thoroughly separate its financial investments from oppressive and unjust structures?

One comment

  1. R M Guptara · · Reply

    The Church of England is one of the largest “ethical” investors in the UK, which until now has understood it’s mandate as a “via negative” ethical investment process, e.g. do not invest in arms, tobacco, sub-prime debt lenders, etc.. One hopes that with Justin Welby as Archbishop, there is a renewed impetus to evaluate more positive impact investment approaches, such as returns on local, social and environmental criteria. That would indeed be good news.

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