Grace in hard times
As the new year brings with it news of more financial woe, Simoney Girard asks what the Christian’s attitude to these events really should be.
In 1973, directors of a London merchant bank met to discuss the economic crisis that had brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy. There was no money to pay staff and it would be six weeks before the big inter-bank loan they had requested would come through. They were about to announce mass redundancies.
The man telling me this story continued: ‘The youngest director on the board stood there and said: “Gentlemen. If this company were your marriage, you would do everything to try to save it. I have my own personal money. I will pledge my share of paying the salaries of our workers until the bank loan comes through”.
‘One by one, we sat back down. For six weeks, we all paid our share of the staff’s salaries out of our own pockets. That’s the way we did business’.
Thirty-five years later the UK is now in a worse state than in 1973-4. Our government is now £1000 million in debt, while consumers are indebted to the tune of £3000 million. Companies are announcing swingeing job cuts, banks have been bailed out.
No one seems to be taking responsibility and people are angrily questioning the reckless way in which the banks handled our money. Has ethics fallen by the wayside? And how is this crisis affecting Christians working in the industry?
Is ethics dead?
Dictum mea pactum – my word is my bond – is the old motto of the City. For many people, this conjures up ethics, integrity, professionalism and trust. Do these exist any more at all? Is ethics dead?
Not entirely. For example, there is the Securities & Investment Institute. Members of this secular organisation must sign up to strict codes of behaviour and conduct. It has been called an idealistic organisation in the City because of its emphasis on best practice and honesty.
There are many Christians working in finance who believe Ephesians 6:7 and work with a good will – as to the Lord and not to man. Many are in high places in the industry. For example, Ken Costa is vice-chairman of UBS Investment Bank. He is a born-again Christian, chairman of Alpha International, and author of God at work: living every day with purpose.
People such as Costa shine out more strongly in the gloom, because that is what God calls us to be – ‘blameless, innocent, children of God in a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world’ (Philippians 2:15).
Ethics is not dead but it needs some serious life support! ‘My word is my bond’ is an echo of how we as Christians should be – ‘Let your yes be yes and your no, no’ (Matthew 6:37). We should be men and women of our word, even in tough times. We should act with integrity to staff and customers alike, putting God in his first and rightful place.
However, this takes great courage. Putting God first (perhaps refusing to accept shady yet lucrative business) might mean losing your job. Pulled in so many directions – family, mortgage, commitments – it is hard to take the most ethical route. Before we judge Christians working in finance we should support them in the decisions they have to make daily. We should strengthen their hands with prayer.
What should be our response?
Professor Michael Levy of Cardiff Business School speaks of the growing sense of desperation that follows redundancy and a change in personal circumstances. This can lead to domestic violence and even suicide (there have been at least three suicides in the UK and US related to this financial crisis).
We know that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15) but worldly people know nothing better than their material wealth. ‘Fat cats’ may not seem to need our pity but they are under God’s wrath (John 3:18) and living on borrowed time.
So while Christians write justifiable diatribes on the folly of putting your trust in money, quoting the parable of the wealthy farmer (Luke 12:13-21), it’s easy to forget that the people in the City are human.
Regardless of the organisation, it is important to remember that God has reserved for himself people who have not bowed the knee to Mammon (cf. 1 Kings 19:18). Condemning organisations like the banks without having compassion for those who work for them dehumanises both those workers and ourselves.
What are we as Christians doing to lead them away from the false god of Mammon and towards the Son of God who loves us? When Mammon fails them, where can they turn?
There are thousands of Christians who, like myself, work in finance and can bring God’s word of salvation to the (albeit subdued) dealing floor. We can witness to our unsaved colleagues but we need your prayers to do it.
In hard times, many who previously had no time for God will look to him for answers. The swift response of US believers to these events should spur us to action: on 28 September last year, Christians on Wall Street set up prayer meetings at Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and other troubled banks. What did we do at home in London? We preached about God’s judgement on an ungodly nation.
Dare I say that if we pronounced fewer righteous judgements from inside the church, and instead showed more of the love of Christ to people outside the church, we might reap a greater harvest?
Caring for Christians in the City
As we move into 2009 many Christians will face redundancy. One born-again believer who works for RBS admits: ‘I don’t know if I will have a job in a few weeks’. St Peter’s Barge, part of the ministry of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, has been in the middle of the turmoil at Canary Wharf. Just speak with its ministry teams as they have had to counsel many people – both Christian and non-Christian – who just don’t know what to do amid the turmoil.
It’s idealistic to think that Christians are exempt from depression, guilt, feelings of helplessness, envy, despair and even thoughts of suicide. As Asaph puts it in Psalm 73, some believers’ feet have ‘almost slipped’ because, despite their attempt to lead godly lives in the workplace, this economic crisis has brought them stress, anxiety and mounting debt.
With so much pressure on them to be ethical at home and at work, is it any wonder that many Christians in finance are depressed?
Practical points to ponder
So, what can we do? We could try the following:
• Pray for those Christians who have lost their jobs and encourage them.
• Are we in a position to offer them temporary paid employment?
• Can we afford to give them our time, our care, maybe even our money?
• Pray for Christians in finance, that they will be shining lights.
• Pray for the work of all those Bible-believing churches in the City which have lunchtime ministry.
• Pray for and support the work of London City Mission as it reaches these people, whether through its internet cafe on the Isle of Dogs or open-air outreach.
• Support the Gideons and Christians in offices as they witness to companies and colleagues.
• Act ethically and honour God in our own business affairs.
It’s worth remembering that we’re also talking about human beings who do not have the assurance of salvation, or who face tough choices – not just impersonal capitalist organisations.
It’s easy to expand on the text, ‘The love of money is a root of all evil’. But if we’re really honest, when we criticise the fat cats, might we be displacing our own covetous feelings?
Do we have a sliding scale of greed, whereby if we don’t earn much we are justified in wanting more, but can condemn wealthy people and still feel good about ourselves? One last point: while we berate the rich, what exactly are we doing for the poor? Real Christianity and ethics are not dead in the City, but are they dying in our congregations?