Archive for July 30, 2013

Wonga, Justin Welby and Ethical Investment

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments last week regarding pay day lenders are most welcome and his intention to reform, improve and bolster the Church of England’s network of credit unions is a good policy in order to provide a competitive and effective alternative.

Pay day lenders, such as Wonga, use usurious interest rates to mean that they take no risk from their loans to those who may not be able to pay back. What these rates also mean is that those who are already struggling to make ends meet find themselves advanced greatly along the downward spiral into slavery to debt. In light of this it is wonderful that Justin Welby has spoken out and wants to take action to redress this.

The comments by Welby were overshadowed, however, by revelations that the Church of England’s own investment wing has invested money into a company that has provided funds to Wonga.

As Luke Bretherton made clear in an article for ABC we should not allow this news to distract from the very good moves by the Archbishop to address the serious issue of pay day lending. It is, however, of great concern that the Church of England engages in unethical investment. Rules prevent excessive percentages from being invested in dubious trades, yet even with these low percentages the actual figures involved may be high for large companies and multi-nationals.

Symon Hill, of Christianity Uncut, makes the very good point that the Church of England’s investment should be geared not only toward ethical investment (which is vitally important) but also towards using the large sums involved to further Christian principles and the Gospel message.

It is right to encourage the Archbishop, and the Church in general, to approach the use of investments as a means of furthering God’s work on earth and not merely as a revenue generating activity. It would be good to see the large funds which the Church deals with employed in a manner which has, as its primary purpose, the furtherance of Christian principles, which could include investment in local communities, social housing, ethical businesses, and environmental protection and development.

It is certainly a concern that the Church’s current policy of investing in large companies – which in some cases make unethical investments in pay day lenders, pornography and arms for example – is not only counter to the Christian faith but also serves to alienate many people who have passionate concerns about such issues and feel such strength of passion that they are willing to take direct action demonstrations. This then acts to hinder the societal and personal benefit which the Church could bring to many deeply ethical people and therefore could act as a counter-force to the spread of the vitally important Gospel message.

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