Thursday, 18 December 2008

the herald

Credit Crunches Again, by Alan RussellIt seemed like a very good idea at the time, back in 1982. Why not form a society restricted to members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland where people could save their spare cash and other church members could take out loans. After all, it's the kind of thing that you would expect a Christian community to do for each other, bearing one another's burdens, the strong supporting the weak, church members in community helping each other out.It was all for the benefit of Presbyterian Church members and no-one else was involved. So why has the Presbyterian Mutual project ended in tears for many peoplewho can't access the money that they need? It is just another financialcasualty of the credit crisis, a victim of the impersonal forces of economics that are beyond our control.This issue is more than financial ­ it's moral and spiritual. Let's remember, that the Mutual Society was formed by Presbyterians, run by Presbyterians, invested in and borrowed from by Presbyterians and brought to its knees by Presbyterians. There was no-one else involved. So what happened? People got nervous and withdrew their money because they were told that the Mutual Society has not been covered by the government financial guarantee.Historically, I imagine this will be seen as corporate Presbyterian financial stupidity. In financial terms, the society was as near to a closed system as you can get. There was no link to the stock market and an absolute undertaking not to speculate with the money. In other words a significant number of people came to the conclusion that it was better to trust the government than their fellow Presbyterians. Those individuals (and, please God, not congregations) who thought they would move in quickly to withdraw their money, just to be on the safe side, obviously didn't care about the consequences of their actions for others including the possibility that they might cause hardship and hurt. No thought of bearing one another's burdens here.I'm sure that the majority of those who invested with the Presbyterian Mutual Society did so because they liked the idea of their money being available for other Presbyterians to finance their businesses, repair and extend their church property or even change the car ­ as well as the good return they were getting for their savings. However, that's not the message we have sent out to surrounding society. When it comes to money thegeneral public will conclude that Presbyterians are just as greedy, insecure, opportunistic, selfish and me-first as anybody in the community.Those outside the church certainly won't take us seriously when we quote what the Bible has to say about money. We'll wince with embarrassment as the world dismisses us as hypocrites who secretly sneer along with the Pharisees about the financial naivety of Jesus. Critics of Christianity will take it for granted that Presbyterians treat Christ's teaching as irrelevant in the real world where only the shrewd and ruthless prosper.Indeed, could it be true that too many of us think that Mammon is entitled to his little shrine on the mantelpiece of our home or even in a corner of the church office?Will our grandchildren look back with regret at how much our witness for Christ lost credibility because Presbyterians blew the chance of showing the world how Christians could show trust and solidarity in hard financial times? Or will they give thanks for a Christian community that learned hard lessons about money and turned, in repentance, to take the message of their Lord seriously? It's up to us as to what the answers will be.This article by Rev Dr Alan Russell, who is minister of Ballywalter Presbyterian Church, first appeared in the Presbyterian Herald (December 2008/January 2009 edition

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