JustLife is an initiative set up by a group of us based around a Tearfund event last Saturday called ‘Invest for Life’. JustLife is a space dedicated to exploring the connections between faith, money, justice and lifestyle.
‘Invest for Life’ was about money – the theology and practice of giving, budgeting, investing and using our money for the good of ourselves and the world around us.
JustLife is designed to help us go deeper on some of the issues that are raised at the event. Every Wednesday until the 25 March, a group of us involved in Invest for Life will be posting short pieces discussing topics like fair-trade, ethical banking, giving and sustainable living. We hope you’ll feel free to join in the conversation.
I’ve just posted my contribution on giving…
I’m sure we’re all a little bored by the story of the collapse of the Presbyterian Mutual and the Presbyterian church’s quest to get the government to rescue it. Yes to get the government to bail out the church. I’m not as well versed with the goings on as Will and crookedshore. I’m also aware that it is very easy to take cheap shots at churches – or the institutional parts of them at least. So this post isn’t a cheap shot, it comes off the back of several conversations about a variety of things. One was to do with a view that the biggest challenge to leadership development in the church is sectarianism. Another invovled asking if the commonly perceived view that often the church turns people away from following Jesus because of its hypocrisy is not actually true, and that maybe the problem is that the church is living out what it believes. If that is the case then the gospel it believes bears little resemblence to the gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of. Another had to do with the old adage that you can tell what we value by what we do or speak up about. You may or may not be aware that 23 previous moderators of the Presbyterian Church wrote to the British and Irish governments asking them for help. Am I being too harsh in asking why when money is involved all these former moderators are happy to sign a letter? Where was such unity in speaking out against sectarianism, denials of civil rights to certain sections of the community, global injustices, in fighting for the rights of the poor and marginalised in our communities? Is this speaking out a damning indictment of previous silences? It begs the question what would I have done? What have I done? What are the things I am prepared to speak out on and get upset about? Despite what I say what does that reveal about the values deep in me and the true state of my heart?
Much like whynotsmile I must issue an apology regarding my previous post. The helpful people at my bank have now sorted out my problems. It now seems there were in fact no bandits thieving from my account. Some company has a sort code and account number only one digit different from mine and someone got a number wrong, thus the money left my account and not theirs. I am now able to breathe a sigh of relief regarding my banking security. I then did begin to (obviously as a result of living in a litigious blame culture) think “flip someone’s incompetence could have cost me a huge sum of money, what about my phone calls to the bank (a grand total of 3) and distress caused to me (here I was beginning to take on the vocabulary of the said blame culture and exaggerate something that gave me something to talk about but certainly didn’t lose me any sleep). When I took a step back and got some perspective – I realised that someone made a mistake, and here was me getting up on my high horse talking about incompetence and wanting to see what I could get out of the bank. I got my money back, which should have made me thankful enough that I had money to be taken out of my account. I make mistakes every day, and when I do its just a mistake, but when its other people its a flaw in their character, its a trait, its incompetence. I really can be an arrogant git. Much like my encounter with the police here I am again looking to make myself feel superior to someone else – who got one number wrong – big deal. I’ve been reading through the gsopels and realise that Jesus must have been so good to be around. Instead of shooting others down to make himself look important (well he certainly did remind some of the more arrogant of a few home truths) he saw where they were at, he saw things from their perspective and gave people dignity and lifted them up. It must have be so liberating. That’s what I want to be like, instead of someone so insecure at times I need to prove my worth by showing how superior I am to others when in reality i’m no different, constantly making mistake, and needing grace, the grace I maybe need to start demonstrating to others…
I am officially a victim of fraud. Some light fingered bandit has somehow managed to swipe a significant sum of money from my bank account. I feel naked and vulnerable. And wondering how it happened and how to stop it happening again. For a moment questioning whether ethics or pragmatism should win in choosing bank. But just for a moment.
Its great when you’re able to combine some of the things you’re passionate about. Two organisations that have had a huge impact in shaping me are Tearfund and IFES Ireland (who I work for although Jaybercrow has always speculated that IFESi paid me and i actually worked for Tearfund). Anyway back to the money. we had a joint event on ethical finance tonight for students and graduates covering a huge area from a a big picture biblical understanding of stewardship, how to handle your money to ethical investments.
I remember being pretty shocked a number of years ago when I discovered that the money (or lack of) that was in my bank account didn’t just sit in a huge vault. Its obvious that banks don’t just make money from the bandit charges they have, but they invest the money that sits in your account to make money – which is how they can pay you interest. And what makes the most money? Well it tends to be arms companies (amazing the effect spreading fear of global terrorism has on the value of arms companies…), oil companies, and many which maybe aren’t the most scrupulous in their ethics. One of the major downsides of capitalistic societies is that generally where there is large amounts of wealth there is also oppression and injustice. This is where ethical finance comes in. Ethical accounts and investments have strict criteria about what they invest in – so for example the co-operative bank and smile its Internet version won’t invest in companies involved in the arms trade, oil companies, companies associated with human rights abuses or animal rights abuses (although the last one wouldn’t be my biggest concern). This means you can sleep easy about where your money is being invested. True the returns may not be just as hot (although the ethical market is one of the fastest growing) but what is more important – justice, dignity, care for the earth or an extra £20 interest? What would Jesus be teaching about ethics if he arrived in the 21st century?
I can hear you saying that’s all well and good but does avoiding the bad companies make a difference – surely we should try and reform them. Yep. This is where SRI’s or Socially Responsible Investments come in. They aren’t as strict as ethical accounts and reward companies that are doing good stuff by investing in them. For example instead of avoiding oil companies they will invest in BP because they are pouring a lot of resources into renewable energy, or they will invest in drug companies that are diverting some of their massive profits to providing cheap drugs for the developing world.
So with SRI’s your money can make a positive difference. Now you may not be loaded or have an investment portfolio but you will or should have a pension plan or long term savings – that’s where all this stuff kicks in.
But I need to remember as someone who follows Jesus, and believes in a God who is generous towards me, to live generously, and that involves not just giving money away (which i could be better at) but thinking about what happens to the money I do have.
Then the other problem with all of this is if you live in the south – are there any ethical bank accounts there?
Your financial correspondent signing off and wondering if he should follow his predecessor into the financial sector…