The call comes after revelations that Church finance managers have been using similar tactics to the ones for which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, condemned City traders, to maximise profits on the Church’s £5 billion assets and investments.
Ekklesia makes five key points:
1. The C of E has benefited hugely from rising oil, gold and copper prices, which have been driven at least in part by speculators, due to its share holdings worth hundreds of millions of pounds in Oil and Mining companies.
2. In 2006/2007 the Church Commissioners set up a currency hedging programme, in effect short-selling sterling to guard against rises in other currencies.
3. The Church invested £13 million in Man Group, the largest listed hedge fund manager which regularly short-sells.
4. The Church has a stock lending programme through JP Morgan Chase which may have been used by traders to make profits by betting that the value of the stocks will fall.
5. The Church has traded debts. The commissioners sold a £135 million mortgage portfolio last year, according to their annual report, in spite of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s criticism of trading debts exclusively for profit.
“The key thing is not to apportion blame – either on traders or the Church – but to open up a realistic discussion about economic alternatives,” says Ekklesia’s co-director Jonathan Bartley.
His directorial colleague, Simon Barrow, author of Is God Bankrupt?, added, “The banking and credit crisis presents an opportunity for the Church to be honest and positive, not anxious and defensive.”
Ekklesia says that the worldwide Christian churches have billions of pounds of assets and investments, and this means they can act as a global community promoting a different model of economic activity based on need not greed.
In the case of the Church of England, the think tank says it could invest more in institutions such as cooperatives, friendly societies and housing associations in return for a slightly lower profit.
“It’s a question of how resources are earned and shared, and in whose interest,” Barrow says. “The earliest Christian communities were founded on principles of seeking to use material wealth for the common good, building equality and giving priority to the poorest and neediest.
“The Church needs to put its money where its message is,” he added. “Jesus pointed out that ‘where your treasure is, there is your heart also’. Condemning others while playing the system to your own advantage will strike many as lacking the kind of integrity and creative endeavour the churches could be demonstrating.”
Ekklesia says many church groups and community initiatives are involved in “alternative economy” practices – co-ops, credit unions, ethical investment, fair trade, local trade and exchange schemes, micro-credit, small loans for development, calls for monetary reform and more. The “credit crunch”, it says, means that such initiatives need as much investment as they can get. “But the crunch is also an opportunity to pioneer alternative economic models whose need and worth is being recognised more than ever,” says a press release from the organisation.
“This work is often praised by church leaders,” says Barrow. “What we are saying is that they should be investing far more of their resources to match. Now would be an opportune moment for the C of E to re-examine its whole investment system, work with other churches and civic groups to promote economic justice through actions as well as words.”