Willy Wonga and the CofE's Investment Factory
From Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen:
First the Archbishop of Canterbury’s systematically-misleading statement: “We’re not trying to legislate Wonga out of business; we’re trying to compete Wonga out of business.” We should be thankful for that we have for Archbishop no Regius Professor of Obfuscation but a man who speaks as we speak in the street. Any reasonable person hearing his plain declaration of intent would conclude that the Church of England is about to compete with the payday loan company Wonga by offering clients lower interest rates on their repayments. Not so. The Church isn’t actually going to lend any money but only to make premises available for the use of credit unions. After the systematically-misleading statement, the scandal: it turns out that the Church itself is an investor in Wonga.
The official investments policies of the Church have always been something of a looking-glass land. For example, gambling is regarded as a social evil and so the Church will not invest funds in it. But individual parishes and other church causes are free to run bingos and raffles and to accept money from the National Lottery fund. The Church’s official explanation runs:
Gambling is a legitimate leisure activity for many people; nevertheless it can be abused, and has huge potential for abuse and unnecessary suffering. The Church distinguishes between the decisions made by individuals or individual churches on one hand who choose to accept monies from lotteries and bingo events, and judgements made by the Church as a whole in avoiding taking income from, or providing capital to, companies wholly or mainly involved in the gambling industry.And we wonder why casuistry gets such a bad name.
The Church’s investments policy is a combination of bold indicatives and foggy hyperbole. The underlying principle is declared to be 'ethical investment'. So investment in sales of armaments and alcohol are reckoned to be unethical – sort of. So investments in companies deriving their income from arms will not be permitted. However, the small print says that it will be permitted where companies do not derive more than 10% of their turnover from the arms trade. For alcohol investment the figure is 5%.
So what we have here is a clear statement of absolute ethical standards – relatively speaking.
Disallowing arms investment has always seemed odd, for it’s not the guns and bombs which are evil in themselves but the purposes to which they might be put. Is it wrong to invest in our nuclear deterrent even when the evidence overwhelmingly points to the benign results of Trident? Deterrence has worked and millions of lives saved.
Would it have been wrong to invest in Spitfires?