Recent scandals with the Commonwealth Bank, and talks about welfare drug testing have prompted me to start thinking about what a Christian financial system is, and how we should treat each other in our financial relationships.
Some years ago when I was studying in the UK, I attended a talk in Oxford by three prominent Christian experts on financial systems: Paul Mills, Jenny Corbett, and Colin Mayer.
The topic was on what a Christian financial system would look like and how this relates to the current global financial crisis. In particular the topic of debt and its role in society was discussed at length.
The main speaker, Paul Mills, made some very important points. He mentioned that the idea of lending money with interest is actually unbiblical. It was the case with the Israelites that they were only to lend money without interest, and that the longest a debt could last was seven years, after which it was wiped out (Deuteronomy Chapter 15, verses 1-6) .
The prohibition of the taking of interest (at least under certain conditions) has a long history in Christianity, which has eroded with time. This approach is in a strong contrast to current financial systems where large debts with high interest rates are commonplace.
We are in a situation where an interest-bearing debt, which is essentially money that doesn't exist, is traded in vast quantities. Paul Mills mentioned the fact that the debt that you have on a credit card to your bank in the end isn't actually with the bank. The debt is sold on to another group who sells it on to another and so on.
And while there were differing opinions amongst the speakers as to whether debt is a good thing in a financial system, it was clear and of no surprise that they all agreed that greed was at the heart of current economic problems.
Another predicament that was highlighted by the discussion was the loss of relationship between lender and borrower. When your debt no longer belongs to the person you borrowed from, there is no real relationship any more.
Arguably what triggered the global financial crises, were banks no longer caring if the borrowers can pay their debt back, but only caring if they can make a profit.
This loss of relationship is inherent in financial institutions: the company exists to serve the share-holders, not the employees, nor the customers or general public. We live in a system where people are making huge profits out of nothing (which is what interest is) at the risk of the general population, for the sake of the wealthy few.
There is no relationship between the borrower and lender. More specifically, those in power have lost their relationship with their lender: God.
A different relationship
It is a cultural norm to treat the source of money as inconsequential, and the only value is in the destination: profits. I believe our current financial problems are illustrative of troubles with society at large: we have a loss of relationship between each other and God.
Most importantly we need to recall that we are all in debt to God, a debt that we can never repay. At the same time, companies are willing to accept large volumes of cash from questionable sources without inquiring where it comes from. We are also questioning those individuals who are seeking help, and treating them with suspicion.
We should be taking Jesus' sacrifice as an illustration of how to relate to each other. When there is a debt that cannot be repaid, we should write the debt clean, as the bible states, for that is how we have been treated by God!
In the end, relationship is always more important than money, in all our interactions, and hopefully someday in our economy, this should be reflected. A clean slate will do our society wonders as it does with our souls.
This article was first published in May 2012.
Nathanael Yates is a Neuroscience Researcher from Perth, Western Australia. He is constantly inspired by his astonishingly wise and beautiful wife and his adorable daughter.
Nathanael Yates' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/nathanael-yates.html