Church of England - the Bank that likes to say Bless
From Brother Ivo:
Brother Ivo takes his name from the Breton saint, St Ivo of Kermartin, who was known by those who knew and loved him as the 'Advocate of the Poor'. What could be a greater expression of Christ's teaching than that? The poor will always be with us, especially once we re-define the term away from the original, absolute, definition towards that of the Marxist/ Politically-Correct version rooted in relativism. Even so, Christ reserved a special place for them in his heart, and warned the rich that their prosperity - or, more accurately, the distractions it can bring - can be an impediment to living life as God intended.
Accordingly, it had has gladdened the heart of Brother Ivo - and doubtless that of the Saint and Christ himself - to hear Archbishop Justin applying his business acumen towards alleviating the plight of the poorer members of society.
The fact that poorer people are indeed still members of society needs to be re-emphasised. In an increasingly individualist society, we can easily look to the interests of ourselves and those we love, to the detriment of our neighbour.
When the rich young man asked, "Who is my neighbour?" he was trying to sort out the extent of his duties in the context of the teaching. Today, whole sections of society not only do not know their immediate domestic neighbours but also know very few people outside of their station in society.
Archbishop Justin is making sure we help our neighbours by informing the UK payday loan company Wonga that, having already established a Credit Union for Anglican clergy and staff, he is ready to develop the initiative to the wider community and offer existing small institutions the opportunity to expand their operations using church buildings. No doubt, having set the ball rolling, our friends in the URC and Roman Catholic churches will also offer their premises to ensure the network reaches all parts of the country. That said, the Established Church's presence in every part of the country makes its involvement especially helpful.
Archbishop Justin's initiative should be welcomed on two levels. Its liberation of the needy from what he rightly describes as usurious rates of interest is important, but there is another equally significant dimension. It could be the start of re-establishing the community/'working class' institutions destroyed in the 1980s.
To reference those times invites the unthinking to respond that it was all Thatcher's fault that communities were overwhelmed with change, and yet the Archbishop's call to social responsibility necessarily indicts many of us with a degree of blame as well.
The carpet-baggers may have conceived their attacks on the building societies and mutual-aid funds established by the thrift and prudence of our Victorian and Edwardian forebears in those pre-welfare-state days, but many of us spread small sums across various institutions in the hope of reaping windfall benefits.
Thus we saw the demise of local building societies, small-payment savings societies - some built from ethical, temperance and, yes, socialistic idealism. As with the utilities, Sid bought his shares and sold them for a quick profit.
None of those of us who did this is in any position to criticise corporate raiders: at least the likes of Bain Capital tends to leave a revitalised economic enterprise behind. All we ended up with from our voluntary destruction or the massive degrading of the mutual sector was a pile of holiday snaps and a mountain of VHS video recorders.
Yet there is room for optimism. People can and do make ethical economic decisions, as the several ethical investment funds demonstrate. Even during the loads-a-money 80's, some of us put our money where our green rhetoric was by creating and supporting the Ecology Building Society. They made loans on properties that made sustainable sense but were ruled out by the sharply-contracting market, which saw previously local discretions removed to ever higher and inflexible levels. It can be hard to challenge when 'computer says no'.
We all seem to hate the banks that needed our taxes to bail them out because they were too big to fail. Archbishop Justin may be leading us towards a better alternative. If we can re-create the institutions made for and by the ordinary decent members of society, and offer fair and secure lending and borrowing practices whilst paying and treating staff decently, what's not to like?
Brother Ivo warmly welcomes the strategy under-pinning this initiative. It is more imaginative and participatory than calling on government or adding to the legislative programme.
If we really don't like the financial institutions we have, or their practices, we can build new ones more to our liking. That is what the Victorians did and also what the Greens did in a small way. And let us not forget the micro-finance models that bring hope and transformation in the Third World. There is every reason to see this as a viable and popular alternative savings vehicle for the many as banks begin seeking new ways to increase their revenue streams.
Plainly the big institutions will continue, but the vision to restore genuine choice and competition is a refreshing innovation, or rather a re-invention.
There is a further implication. Len McCluskey is falling out with the Labour Party and may be withdrawing significant funds from their present investment in spads, think-tanks, pollsters, spin doctors and all the other hangers-on of modern politics.
Imagine if UNITE and other unions turned away from trying to capture big government and instead channelled funds into a renewal of the old Labour movement with its mutual funds clubs and co-operative shops with dividend distribution and delivery using modern technology and logistics. How might that regenerate the towns and communities that are struggling today?
Building a community-based alternative to a disfavoured sector is not only good in itself, but also offers a challenge to thinking beyond the present narrow modes of political ideology. Is smaller-scale, independent, competitive, ethical finance a development of the political paradigm of the left or the right?
Who knows? Who cares?