THE NEWSDESK: It's all gone a bit Wonga for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

South Wales Argus: The Archbishop of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury

"WHY do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" Matthew 7:3.

I knew those Sunday school lessons would come in handy one day and they weren't just an excuse by my parents to get us out of the house for a few hours.

The problem with declaring 'war' on the 'usurers in the temple' is that the Church of England must then be seen to be squeaky clean when it comes to its own investments. And, er, it isn't.

The spat between the Archbishop of Canterbury and payday loans firm Wonga has been enlightening.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said he was irritated and embarrassed after it emerged that the Church of England helped to fund the payday lender he wanted to drive out of business with an alternative lending system .

Although the amount of Church money indirectly invested in Wonga was £75,000, out of investments totalling £5.2 billion, it has proved embarrassing for the Archbishop.

He suggested a comprehensive review of the Church's investment portfolio could follow, after he expressed his unease over its ties to Wonga.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "I was irritated for a few minutes but, you know, these things happen. I understand the business, it's an incredibly complex business.’’

Yes, so why didn't he get his facts straight before he spoke out?

The Archbishop went on: "Now, it shouldn't happen, it's very embarrassing, but these things do happen. We have to find out why and make sure it doesn't happen again.’’

The Archbishop then proceeded to heap praise on Wonga and its management, appearing to distance himself from comments he had made to Wonga the day before, saying he wanted to "compete it out of existence’’.

He said: "Funnily enough, I never took on Wonga in particular. The context was talking about the entire payday lender movement. Wonga is actually a very professionally managed company. Errol Damelin, the chief executive, is a very clever man, runs it extremely well.’’

And if you think that's the sound of a man furiously backtracking on his previous statement, I would tend to agree. Why take on this situation in such a combative way if you have no problem with those lenders in the first place?

Let's make no bones about it, Wonga is doing nothing illegal, though we might all have our own views on the level of interest it and other payday lenders charge.

This isn't about the law - it's about morality. And each of us needs to make up our own minds about where we stand on this issue, though you would think that well thought-through stances on moral issues might be a religious organisation's forte.

The Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group "recommends against investment" in companies which make more than three per cent of their income from pornography (so under three per cent is OK?), ten per cent from military products and services, or 25 per cent from other industries such as gambling, alcohol and high interest rate lenders.

The Church also "reserves the right" not to invest in companies with "unacceptable" management practices, according to its website.

The problem is that any organisation which wants to get the good soundbites on its tough stance against those making a lot of money in interest from loans during this economic slump cannot have even a one per cent threshold - its hands have to be completely clean.

Or it can quite rightly be accused of rank hypocrisy. And its credibility is under threat.

I think it right and proper that the Church chould be on the side of those who need economic help right now - for me, that reflects one of the key principles of Christianity.

But the way it is doing it needs to change.

People need real financial help, not soundbites.

 

 

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Comments (2)

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8:40am Mon 29 Jul 13

Dai Rear says...

Be careful what you wish for Archbishop. Credit unions presumably won't lend to those who persistently fail to repay and will have a national "bad list" of debt junkies, because they won't be in competition. Payday loans companies are extremely unlikely to share a bad list, for obvious reasons. The next resort is to "informal" creditors who resolve issues of non-repayment with knives and baseball bats and despatch debtors to the place where the Church should be focusing, immortal life after death.
Be careful what you wish for Archbishop. Credit unions presumably won't lend to those who persistently fail to repay and will have a national "bad list" of debt junkies, because they won't be in competition. Payday loans companies are extremely unlikely to share a bad list, for obvious reasons. The next resort is to "informal" creditors who resolve issues of non-repayment with knives and baseball bats and despatch debtors to the place where the Church should be focusing, immortal life after death. Dai Rear
  • Score: 0

8:43am Mon 29 Jul 13

Dai Rear says...

PS my gran, from a poor family in Moss Side Manchester, left school at 12 , over 100 years ago, well understanding "neither a borrower nor a lender be". Shame that many youngsters can't do the same after 11 years of compulsory schooling.
PS my gran, from a poor family in Moss Side Manchester, left school at 12 , over 100 years ago, well understanding "neither a borrower nor a lender be". Shame that many youngsters can't do the same after 11 years of compulsory schooling. Dai Rear
  • Score: 0

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