Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bankers, repent!

When I first discovered the role of the state church in the history of Scandinavia, it literally staggered me.  My father was a small-town Lutheran preacher who was barely paid enough to feed his family.  He had no power in any meaningful sense.  So to imagine someone who was educated in the same way and believed largely the same things as he did being a well-paid member of a country's power structure was literally mind-boggling.  This rarely happened in USA to any clergyman—what with the legal separation between church and state and all. (It also explained why there are a couple of bishops in the back row of chess—closer to the king and queen than the military as represented by the knights and castles.)

Once I had discovered that state churches are dramatically different than self-organized North American houses of worship, I got interested enough in how they behave to have spent a tiny fraction of my life following the subject of state religions—especially the Protestant variety.  The role of the Church of Sweden in the evolution of their society is quite remarkable.  But no one comes close to the Church of England—which was the official moral voice of British Imperialism.  They have justified a wide assortment of crimes over the centuries.  But the empire is no more and so the state church has been reduced to debating the morality of homosexual clergy and other issues that church-goers in USA would quickly recognize.

But once in a while, the Church of England actually acts like its old self.  This time, however, they are not trying to relabel the Opium Wars as a fight for "free trade" or the plunder of India as a benign example of spreading Christian civilization.  They are actually calling on Bankers to repent.  Not that any of the bankers are lining up to repent, mind you.  But it is interesting that the enfeebled voice of the Church—the voice that spent 300+ years turning imperialism into a humanitarian exercise—has decided that bankers are sinners.  From any meaningful historical perspective, this is breath-taking.

Church Of England Calls On Bankers To Repent For Role In Financial Crisis

By Pat Garofalo on Oct 1, 2012

Despite its role in creating the financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession, the financial services industry continues to be one of the most powerful in both the U.S. and abroad. Banks and other financial services companies are back to making huge profits and handing out large bonuses, while lobbying against reforms aimed at preventing a repeat of 2008.

In the U.S., few have stood up to the banking industry. But over in the UK, the banks have earned themselves a new critic: the Church of England. The Church submitted a comment to a parliamentary commission investigating the LIBOR rate rigging scandal that called on the banks to make a “public, corporate contrition for past failings”:
The financial crises and emerging scandals of recent years have…raised profound concern not simply about the ability of the system to prevent extreme and criminal behavior by individuals but about the system itself and a whole cadre of professionals within it. The question is not whether systems have been adequate to identify and deal with the bad apples but whether the whole orchard needs replanting. [...]

One insight from the Christian tradition of penitence and forgiveness is that is often not enough to put matters back to where they were before things went wrong; some demonstration of a change of heart by means of restitution and a visibly robust refusal to let the same failings occur again is necessary before a bad situation can be made good…. To achieve this is not just a matter of technical “fixes” but may require public, corporate contrition for past failings…and possibly some symbolic steps to assure the public that the corporate culture has changed.
Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, director of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council, told the Wall Street Journal, “you need to rethink how banking is done so that good people can flourish and good people can do good things.” Here in the U.S., meanwhile, a group of nuns have been touring the country focusing on a different public policy issue: the detrimental effect budget cuts will have on low-income families. more

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