Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Welby, Wonga and Wealth

Fighting the good fight?
Clear-eyed Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has launched a campaign against the money-lenders of Wonga. Sadly though, it’s since emerged his church funds the very company Archbishop Welby so wishes to oppose. Some prior fact-checking wouldn’t have gone amiss. 

In place of pay-day loan providers, Welby advocates Credit Unions. But there’s nothing new here; Unions have always offered an attractive and responsible alternative to rip-off loans.

Of course the church loves a fight; think of all the good things achieved by the Crusades, or the Reformation. How Welby intends to resource his challenge is left unclear but whatever happens, the church's support for Credit Unions will always be arms-length. Any taint of church-backed Unions being involved in say, sub-prime mortgage failure or scandal involving PPI would harm its reputation fatally.

Is Welby even attacking the right target? If banks were pressured to become more co-operative with loans, many people could avoid loan-sharks. Or how about demanding a living wage for the low-paid, so they can feed their families without resorting to usurers?

It’s not just the misdirection of Welby’s outburst which rankles. More irksome is his sense of entitlement to speak for those beyond his church's dwindling flock, to address wider society on temporal as well as spiritual matters.

Welby’s challenge to poverty might be better received, and more effective, if his church helped out by parting with some of its own resources. The Church of England’s hoarded wealth is currently a staggering £5.5 billion, helped by tax-free status. Yet even in these harsh times, every Sunday at services across Britain the collecting plate ensures ever more money rolls in.

In speaking out so, the new Archbishop of Canterbury follows his right-on leftie predecessor Rowan Williams, and shows a similar hilarious media naivety. Before Justin Welby addresses secular issues he should put his own out-of-step house in order, as gay people and women priests would no doubt agree.  

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