Antonia on faith and finance.

  • Source: Scotland on Sunday
  • Date: 7 March, 1999
  • Author: Antonia Swinson

I am often teased by visitors to my house for having Christian books alongside my book collection on business and money. 'How can you have the two sharing a shelf!' they say in mock horror. But then I have always thought Christianity and money natural bedfellows, both requiring energy and faith as well as a bit of greed and fear for successful understanding.

News therefore that the Bank of Scotland is to go forth and evangelise its customer base with Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, leaves me less surprised than amazed no one has thought of it sooner. To bring succour to 55 million God-fearing and highly-geared American Evangelical Christians at a price, what could be better for the Bank of Scotland than to join Pat's happy band without cannibalising their home customer base. What a successful marriage of brand values too: the Scots, representing thrift, good value, intelligence and good living, combined with the American Christian in your face pastoral care. William Hendry, Bank of Scotland's New York boss was quoted as saying that Pat Robertson brought entrepreneurship, plus a knowledge of American consumers' preferences. Amen to that. Anyone who has ever turned the TV on in the States will know just what a consumer choice Christianity is. And of course American Christians are playing the markets and treating equity gains as income just like everyone else over there. Need a loan or a credit card? Get one with Pat's blessing. With the added guarantee that the Lord will save you anyway when the bad times rol.

No, far from being surprised, I am amazed that there have not been more God and mammon affinity marketing partnerships. I have been rather expecting an announcement about the 'Alpha Bank' for instance, a holy alliance between Holy Trinity Brompton, that super-rich evangelical hotbed in South Kensington, and some other financial institution interested in the moral high ground. Virgin perhaps? One could just imagine Jonathan Aitken, now HTB's chief greeter and hymn book hander-out, defending it in the press with every bit of biblical armour going.

One of the most fascinating evenings I spent in the early nineties was at a supper held at Holy Trinity Brompton. We had a cracking time, particularly when various top names ? including a judge, a former Hong Kong bond trader, and a City broker stood up and told the several hundred guests of how Christ had entered their lives. Of course such testimonials are always heart-warming, particularly if the people were really naughty and rich before, and are whiter than white (and still rich) now. Hallelujah! My problem is that, however strong my faith, such speeches tend to be run through the portion of my brain marked Money. And so, though they had lived lives pre-Christ of enormous excess and emptiness, as one does when you're earning a lot of money and haven't had time for a really good mid-life crisis, after being born-again, it seemed to me that they were still carrying unsustainable burdens of debt, (not least because several were on second or third families) and hadn't thought about their financial way of life, half as much as they had thought about their spiritual wellbeing. The delightful evangelical habit of praying for share price rises, promotions and successful business dealings, seemed to demand more a bail-out from the Almighty than a rigorous look at the morality of their financial dealings.

To me, good money practice and the Christian faith are indivisible. Yet recently I addressed a group of seventy elderly Christians who were an unexpectedly challenging audience. When discussing the rationale behind ethical investment I found myself loudly heckled. "I've earned the money so what does it matter where it is invested?" an fierce octogenerian yelled from the back. I pointed out the inconsistency of turning up at the Kirk every Sunday, while potentially investing in pornography, arms or gambling. But they would have none of it. What had money got to do with Christianity!

The separation between money and God of course appals Muslims for whom the Sharia lays down strict principles about paying interest and doing business. The Jewish faith too has always been practical, seeing money as a resource from God. Christians however have traditionally preferred a mental apartheid. When Jesus said "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's," this was a clever answer to a politically loaded question, and surely not an excuse to leave money out of the faith equation. Yet poverty was seen as good, which is a problem for the aspirational. The rich young man you may remember was sent away with a flea in his ear, and early Christians were encouraged to forsake wordily possessions and live off the charity of others.

Personally, re-reading the Bible with fresh eyes, I believe Jesus was an early fan of ethical investment if you take the parable of the talents, and that he certainly loathed hypocritical financial institutions, like the moneylenders in the Temple, who pretended to do good while bleeding people dry. Yet, the historical consequence of keeping money out of faith was that the Church grew fat, while everyone else was just supposed to tithe and keep their mouth shout.

Thank God we have moved on, and all Churches must now earn our respect. I believe there is, more than ever, a role for Christian financial advice, but this doesn't mean some godly finger pointing through the sitting-room curtains and saying it could be you-hoo, or a nice ad from the Bank of Scotland under Pat Roberton's banner, come to that.

Wednesday, 24 April, 2019
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