Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

The C of E does wrong again: RBS, public money and funding evil

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The Church of England means well, it really does; it just finds it very difficult not to put its own interests first. Who could blame us really; that’s what most of us do. Well, we do have this nagging expectation that the Church does the Right Thing. I know that historically we’ve done all sorts of bad things, like burning Catholics, encouraging Puritans to move to America, providing reconnaissance and population control for British colonialism, and generally siding with establishment against the grievances of the poor and needy. But, we’re really sorry: Archbishop Vincent is our buddy now, we have a black Archbishop of York and mission churches on council estates. See, we’re really nice now!

Well, no. We haven’t learnt our lesson. The blessed C of E believes that it is necessary to fund your vicar’s stipend and pension by investing in war and pollution: we simply have to do it! That’s why the Church of England has £200 million invested in the oil industry. We also do some mining and out-of-town retail parks, having shifted funds to the latter from the badly performing market in social housing. We also have £8.4 million invested in a nice Scottish bank called RBS, making us a major shareholder alongside the UK Treasury who now own a 70% stake in the banking group due to the recent,  sudden conclusion that the bank’s money wasn’t terribly real and it could do with some very real tax money to help it out.

The Treasury and the Church provide RBS the leverage to deliver £10 billion of loans to the fossil-fuel industry. £6 billion went to E.ON (also known as F.OFF) to build the first new coal power station in the UK in more than two decades (but the development of Kingsnorth Power Station is now in doubt because Climate Camp managed to get the publicity out about it, while under extreme policing measures). Another £400 million has gone to fund gas exploration on the Uganda–Congo border, just where natural resources happen to be a major factor in an extremely brutal civil war (no Climate Camp to stop that one). RBS gave another £116 million to fund ‘accelerated drilling’ in Arctic Greenland.

So, if you are a British taxpayer, you’re investing in RBS’s global nastiness. If you’re also putting money on a Church of England offertory plate, you’re enhancing your donations to a bank profiting from global climate rape. Back on Tuesday, three NGOs (World Development Movement, Platform and People & Planet) took the Treasury to court to demand that it force RBS to disinvest in these areas. One compelling argument was Section 172 of the 2006 Companies Act that says that directors must have regard for the impact of their activity on the community and the environment. The case failed and judicial review was denied. The government’s barrister, James Eadie, gave some interesting arguments in favour of allowing banks to operate in an ethical vacuum, including that a bank should not be required to make decisions based on ‘non-commercial’ considerations (i.e. ethical ones), that an ethical review at RBS would be “enormous and wholly impractical exercise”, and, to much derision, that RBS should be allowed to “operate as a proper bank”.

You can’t get out of paying your taxes, unless you’re a member of the royal family or Tesco, and putting money on the offertory plate is part devotional and part the charitable support of the Church. But when both our taxes and offerings are put to use supporting climate-wrecking and warmongering companies what are we to do? I urge you to write to anyone who can help make a difference: to your MP (WriteToThem), UK Treasury and your local bishop. You can also sign this petition. Get the message out about this!

Information, with thanks, from Ekklesia (here and here).

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

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