Demonstrators dressed as zombie bankers participate in a flash mob outside the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange in London Photo: REUTERS
the Church is right to have an opinion on the Occupy protests, but its good intentions can be exploited for partisan advantage.
As the former chairman of an investment bank, Ken Costa is a good choice to head the Church of England’s new initiative to build links with the City of London. He has been invited by the Bishop of London to see if the ethical and the financial can be “reconnected” against the backdrop of the encampment of anti-capitalist protesters outside St Paul’s Cathedral. In a thoughtful article for The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, Mr Costa said that this project would not be a reprise of the Faith in the City exercise, a reference to the Church’s most controversial venture into the political quagmire
in the 1980s.
That report was published in the midst of soaring unemployment caused by
the decline of British heavy industry and it caused consternation. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government was furious with something it saw as an injudicious foray into party political controversy rather than a contribution to a moral debate. There was outrage at the parading of essentially Left–wing criticisms of social policy: one Cabinet minister dismissed the report as “pure Marxist theology”. There is little likelihood that Mr Costa, a banker for more than 30 years, would oversee anything so naive, but it is at the margins of this debate where the dangers lie. As Mr Costa concedes, there is a perception that markets have “lost their moral moorings” and radical solutions might be needed. This risks taking the Church straight into the sort of Faith in the City territory that it is so anxious to avoid. Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, yesterday criticised executive salaries and a think-tank report published today, which was written by Canon Giles Fraser, one of two St Paul’s clerics to resign last week, focuses on the underlying injustices caused by
the financial system.
The St Paul’s protest has placed the Church in a quandary.
Many Anglican leaders may feel an instinctive sympathy with the anti-Mammon, Left-leaning pronouncements of the somewhat self-righteous group of demonstrators. But their view of the way capitalism operates is often a caricature and it is one the Church must take care not to replicate. The Labour Party, despite creating many of the problems we face today, is seeking to portray itself as the tribune of the people, ready to back any measure that sounds tough on financiers. Anything the Church says that might be construed as a specific policy proposal will inevitably be seized on for partisan advantage. This is not to say that it should not take a position on such an important subject; it is merely to observe that good intentions can easily be exploited by those for whom the politics are more important than the ethics.