Christians Consider Church Response to Credit Crisis

The church must work together to protect the poor and build a more sustainable economy in the face of the global financial crisis, agreed Christian leaders at a conference earlier in the week.

Representatives of a number of church organizations, including Christian Aid and Operation Noah, came together for the daylong conference, organized by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, to share faith perspectives on the root causes of the current crisis and the role of the church in addressing it.

Ann Pettifor, former head of Jubilee 2000 Debt Relief Campaign and Campaign Director of Operation Noah, blamed the current crisis on the sin of usury and easy credit, and pointed to the role of high interest rates in bursting the credit bubble.

"Six percent 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 globalization is based on the principal that there are no boundaries. But the problem is law needs boundaries."

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, made the connection between HSBC's relatively safe riding of the economic storm and its chairman's Christian faith.

"It is fairly safe to assert that HSBC has been the most robust during the recent economic troubles," he said. "It is also safe to assert that the chairman of HSBC is an Anglican priest. Is that a coincidence?"

Paula Clifford, head of theology at Christian Aid, said that parts of the developing world had lost as much as 30 percent of their financial support from aid agencies because of the economic downturn.

She said that the idea that the crisis was God-given and serving a higher purpose was deeply offensive to the poor.

"What we are now seeing worldwide is that it is the poor people who are suffering most from a crisis that is not of their making," she told conference delegates.

Instead of condemning the greed of some, she said churches needed to tackle the injustice being done to the poor by advocating for greater economic support for developing countries and the implementation of effective financial regulation at the international level.

"We do urgently need to hear a truly prophetic voice from the churches given that their voice is all too often silent and the messages that are heard are not infrequently based on lack of information or even misinformation," she said.

Dr. Murdo Macdonald, policy officer for the Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and Technology Project, said the Kirk was working on bringing faith, business and government leaders together to talk about a joined up response to the credit crisis.

He said churches had to tap into their vast human and financial resources to support people struggling in the downturn, as well as offer new hope and comfort through the message of the Gospel.

"We as Christians have to be holding out the word of life and not just the opportunity to bring economic solace to people who are in difficult positions by doing practical things," he said.

"The churches have a huge network of willing volunteers and a really good paid staff and we've got all kinds of things at our disposal and we need to be in there in the world and actually using some of the resources that the church has.

"But we [must] bring the transforming message of the Gospel into what we are saying alongside all the practical things that we are doing."

He added, "If we don't do these things nobody else is going to do them. We have a responsibility to be the salt and light to those around us."