God’s bankers: Through the eye of the needle…

Money_Church“In this day and age, if someone earns £1m, I mean firstly you’re giving 80 to 85 per cent away in taxes – income tax, national insurance, VAT – then you provide for your family’s education, shelter, warmth; at the end of the day, there’s not much left for what you might call yourself.”

A fascinating, and slightly disturbing, article in today’s Independent, explores the question as to whether evangelical Christianity is taking a hold of the City of London’s financial institutions.

Whilst the relationship between faith and finance runs deep (Barclays was originally a Quaker-run bank), Alex Preston explores the role of more recent developments – Alpha, Christianity Explored and other similar initiatives – in attracting a new generation of City-types to faith.

His conclusions are troubling:  Whilst the vast majority of the City Christians he met were decent people using their faith to make sense of a dog-eat-dog world, it’s clear that Alpha and the majority of other evangelistic initiatives pointedly sacrifice asking hard questions about the relationship between faith and wealth which might stand in the way of members’ economic advancement.

So how do Christian bankers respond to the Gospel challenge to the wealthy? Seemingly with the same self-justifying rationalisations that Polly Toynbee found in researching her book, Unjust Rewards ‘It’s a fact of modern life that there is disparity and ‘is it fair or unfair?’ is not a valid question. It’s just the way it is and you have to get on with it.’

Hence the quote at the top of the page from Nick Fletcher, member at Holy Trinity Brompton and chief executive of financial advisers Saunderson House: A breathtaking attempt to claim its tough to make ends meet on £1 million a year.  (I’d certainly not go for financial advice to anyone who can claim that they are paying 80-85% in tax).

As the Catholic Bishops Conference concluded as far back as 1997: “There may come a point at which the scale of the gap between the very wealthy and those at the bottom of the range of income begins to undermine the common good. This is the point at which society starts to be run for the benefit of the rich not for all its members.”

And as one banker Preston quotes says: “The City isn’t immoral any more, it’s amoral.”

 

Sadly, the response still seems to be. Amen to that.

 

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4 Responses to God’s bankers: Through the eye of the needle…

  1. Jane Perry says:

    So, would you rather that Christians fled the City? Are we saying that some places (or wage-packets) are just too amoral for Christians to work in?

    I agree that it seems hard, particularly to outsiders, to reconcile large incomes with a Christian spirituality. I totally agree that it would be great to see churches involved in ministering to the City asking hard questions more often.

    But, just like politics, isn’t it better to have Christians in there, trying to listen to God and trying to do their best than to leave Finance as a profession considered ‘beyond the pale’?

    • niallcooper says:

      I’m not saying that Christians should flee the City, but I am saying that you can’t have half the Gospel. Christianity presents a particularly uncomfortable challenge to the wealthy, but no more so than in Jesus’ day. Jesus challenge to the wealthy of his day wasn’t simply to be a bit more virtuous and philanthropic, it was to give up their wealth and to stop exploiting the poor. Aside from the extent to which it is possible to reform the financial system from within, I find it hard how anyone can square this with continuing to justify receiving obscene levels of pay/remuneration – which is why I started with the quote at the top..

  2. Alison Williams says:

    This Independent article must have been written some time ago. Nick Fletcher left Saunderson House last year.

  3. ianchisnall says:

    A quick response to Alisons question, the article was dated April 2011 and so is two years old. I think anyone on high income who adds VAT onto the list of taxes to then try to work out his overall tax take needs a reality check and has too much time on their hands. It is no better than someone who was speaking on the radio this week defending his life on benefits and saying that he paid taxes through the VAT he pays. I don’t know many people who work in London, and only one who is in a role that is very well remunerated. In his case (he is not a banker, but is involved in finance) he and his wife sat down and worked out what they considered their needs were as a family. He then draws a line on his accounts (he earns money in an irregular fashion) and when that line is exceeded the balance (and it is an obscene balance by my standards) goes into a charitable trust which is distributed by people who he trusts but also is prepared to be accountable to. I imagine he is not alone in taking a line with such integrity but his approach might be a bit more radical than most.

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