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Bishop of London urges religions to invest positively

April 11 2005:

The Bishop of London, Rt Rev Richard Chartres

This is the text of the address by Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Church Commissioners for England, given at the launch of 3iG on April 11, 2005

"After the prudent research and feasibility stage, in which the Alliance for Religions and Conservation (ARC) has played such a notable part in animating the meetings in New York, London and Istanbul, we are now on the eve of the formal launch of the International Interfaith Investment Group (3iG). Representatives of the founding members are assembled: Buddhists, Christians, Druze, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Zoroastrians supported by major banks and investment advisory groups.

A wonderful picture is given of the wealth which God intends his people should enjoy in "a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig trees and pomegranates..." But the passage then warns us to beware, "lest when thou hast eaten and are full thou shouldest say 'my power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth'. Instead we are to remember God, the God of justice and compassion for the poor and needy.
"It has been estimated that the portfolios held by the world’s religious bodies amount to about 6% of the total world investment capital but of course the reach and influence of the great world faiths into their various constituencies is even greater. We should not underestimate the influence which we could exert. Recent examples of initiatives launched by members of faith communities and supported by religious bodies include the Jubilee 2000 campaign to secure debt relief for some of the world’s poorest countries and the continuing Fair Trade campaign on behalf of primary producers. Both these campaigns have had considerable impact and have shifted the terms of the debate about debt and trade justice.

Faiths investing together

Together we could be influential in developing a dialogue and a practice of faith-consistent investing. This is one of those moments where our one wired-up world is struggling to express its unity while celebrating the diversity of our voices. The trouble is that we have hardly known as people of faith what to say in this area of investment policy, beyond the scope of some traditional prohibitions. I remember a Russian priest in the early eighties of the last century, prophesying that believers would soon be able to speak on the radio. It seemed inconceivable at the time but it has come to pass. There was another part of the prophecy, however, “they will be able to speak on the radio”, he said, “and they won’t know what to say”. We have many opportunities but sometimes what we say, especially in the field of macro-economics and responsible investment, is sadly illiterate.

In Christian discourse the erroneous translation of one of the most familiar texts from the bible has not helped. Paul is commonly quoted as having said in his letter to Timothy that “money is the root of all evil.” In fact the word he used is “philargyria” – this is falling in love with money for its own sake and treating it like an idol. We should spend time with the Hebrew Scriptures. By chance the first reading set for Mattins this morning was an extract from the eighth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy.

A wonderful picture is given of the wealth which God intends his people should enjoy in a: land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack anything in it; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.

But the passage continues to warn us to beware: "lest when thou hast eaten and are full thou shouldest say 'my power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth'." Instead we are to "remember the Lord God", the God of justice and compassion for the poor and needy.

"In Christian discourse the erroneous translation of one of the most familiar texts from the bible has not helped. Paul is commonly quoted as having said in his letter to Timothy that “money is the root of all evil.” In fact the word he used is philargyria,/i> – this is falling in love with money for its own sake and treating it like an idol."

Wealth as a tool not an idol

All the faiths represented here treat wealth not as an idol but as a tool. We have funds which we invest in order to provide resources for worship as well as to finance community building and development work to alleviate poverty and need. If we did not invest prudently the poor would be the sufferers and the various aspects of our agenda of social and spiritual regeneration would be starved of resources. Quite apart from our fiduciary responsibilities as Charity Trustees, we should be acting in an ethically dubious manner if we did not respect our duty of care for our beneficiaries. But we do have an opportunity. Our funds are modest but not negligible. We have to balance our fiduciary responsibilities with a spiritual imperative to be faith- consistent investors and to learn by being engaged in the debate.

The "via negativa"

There has always been a via negativa in that we do not invest in areas which we consider to be negative or inimical to human well being such as the international arms trade. This obviously continues to be a vital part of any faith-consistent investing. Calculations are done of how much income is forgone as a result of running an ethical investment policy of this kind. One London firm, CCLA suggested that the figure in 2004 was a diminution of 0.63% on the return that could have been expected from a portfolio with no ethical inhibitions.

The "via positiva"

While respecting this via negativa, 3IG is proposing something rather more adventurous, a via positiva. It could have three tracks:

1. Investing in beneficial developments

First is there a potential for deliberately investing in those enterprises directly involved with beneficial developments in areas of most concern to people of faith? Faith communities invest for the long term which in any case has an impact on their investment strategy. Could support for the industry concerned with developing the technology for and the production of renewable energy be the kind of investment which balances responsibility to beneficiaries with pro-active faith consistent investing? Part of the preparation for this launch has investigated this possibility.

Britain according to the recent survey in the Economist derives only about 4% of its energy from renewable sources which is less than America or China. There would seem to be scope locally for a closer look at this sector as a subject for a proactive faith-consistent strategy.

2. Engaging in dialogue with multinationals

Second as responsible players we are in a position to engage in dialogue even with multinationals given the international character of our constituency and our many opportunities to highlight particular issues. Global business is organised in conglomerates and it is difficult to target investment in a way that isolates ethically challenging parts of the business. Hence it is very important that faith communities should use their involvement in the market to be ethically informed and concerned investors, and at the very least more frequent attenders at AGM’s to ask searching questions. I am grateful for the lead given in this respect by Andreas Whittam Smith a former financial journalist who is now the First Church Estates Commissioner.

Recent examples of more probing dialogue by faith based investors include conversations with Shell about oil extraction in the Delta of Nigeria and what can be done to reduce corruption and to secure a fairer return for the local community from the wealth that is being extracted. Also, just to draw another example from the experience of my own community, as both a landowner and investor, our continuing dialogue with the large supermarkets aims at providing a fairer return for primary producers. These are activities which are both ethically responsible and also in line with our fiduciary responsibility to our beneficiaries.

3.Working with our constituencies

Thirdly there is the possibility and this cannot fail to be enhanced by the network we are launching together in 3IG, of ourselves developing in partnership with banks and other providers of expertise some faith based vehicles for investment in beneficial areas. Our constituencies dispose of infinitely more resources than the relatively modest historic assets held by the central institutions of the faiths themselves but we could develop attractive investment opportunities with the hope of appealing to our wider membership.

One example of such a potential investment opportunity is the plan developed by the Church of Sweden with its close links with government and centuries of experience in managing forests, to replant the forest on the Lichinga plateau in Northern Mozambique, one of the poorest regions of that very impoverished country. The forest was cut down and sold during the era of Soviet domination and the present plan endorsed by the Mozambiquan Government and the World Bank has been developed in partnership with the Anglican Diocese of Niassa to benefit local people. In the process they have been enlisted as enthusiastic allies in protecting the investment. They will benefit also from the development of secondary enterprises like a furniture factory.

This is one of those areas of life where we can look together in the same direction and build our unity with integrity as people of faith. We can learn from one another and from the complexities of the scene which presents itself as soon as we set out to be serious, ethical players.

To whom can we be a neighbour?

Those gathered here this afternoon represent the rich Jewish tradition of reflection on the ethical conduct of business and on the generosity which is such a marked feature of the Jewish community, certainly in London. It is good to have a Buddhist contribution speaking from a culture which has commended the restraint of appetite and craving as a contribution to living a balanced life by following the middle way. Then there is the Christian ethical tradition which is fed from both Athens and Jerusalem but which also seeks to follow Jesus by respecting the reciprocity of “do as you would be done by” but then by seeking, as he did, to go beyond reciprocity in a life of self giving.

Especially important for Christians is Jesus’s meditation on the Rabbinic teaching which combines love of God with love of neighbour. Jesus was asked by a prudent lawyer about the limits on neighbour love – Who is my neighbour? was the question. In reply Jesus told the story of a man mugged and lying wounded by the road side. The professionals of his day saw him lying there but alas they were on their way to attend a conference with the Chief Constable about reducing violent crime and could not stop to assist the victim. In the end it was a most surprising person, perhaps for us someone with no religious convictions whatsoever, who gave the wounded man some practical help. The question is not so much “what are the limits on who is my neighbour” but “to whom can we be a neighbour”.

In our circumstances we are seeing more and more that some of our most important neighbours to whom we have a great responsibility are yet to be born. We are living in a way that is exhausting finite resources and we are purchasing our comfort at the expense of our children. Inter-generational ethics seem to me to be one of the moral frontiers of our own time. We have much to share and there is material for mutual encouragement here. I hope very much that my own church will become an active partner in 3IG.

"There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. And he called him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' And the steward said to himself, `What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me?... So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, `How much do you owe my master?' He said, `A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, `Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, `And how much do you owe?' He said, `A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill, and write eighty.' The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. ...if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? Luke 16:1-12

The parable of the corrupt CEO

Jesus told a story about a corrupt Chief Executive who knew that he was facing the sack and who went round his firm’s debtors, offering them easy terms as a way of providing for his future beyond dismissal. You would expect an ethical teacher to condemn such behaviour but Jesus administers a kind of Zen slap. Without sanctioning the dishonesty, he points out that the corrupt CEO is at least more aware of the danger of doing nothing and the need for urgent action than many of the dozy people listening to the story.

In the complexities of the modern world and its economy we simply do not dare to declare a truce between spiritual matters and our investment policies on the basis of mutual irrelevance. We have to do what we can, according to the limitations of our understanding, to invest in a faith-consistent way. We have to earn the right to address one of the greatest intellectual and practical challenges of our time. The Germans call it "Das Adam Smith Problem". How may we relate the insights of Smith’s first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments with its reflections on how human societies flourish and well-being of individual persons is enhanced with the laws which have been extracted from his subsequent work The Wealth of Nations?

A just economic order

Sometimes the so-called laws of economics have been treated as autonomous and studied in isolation from what is conducive to human well being. The time for such a segmented approach to policy making and living is over. In reality there can be no sustainable prosperity and flourishing market without moral and ethical pre-conditions, not only the habit of truth telling and the ability to trust and co-operate but also a conviction that the economic order in which we are operating is fundamentally just. I do not deny the profit motive as a powerful motivator and I have lived in the City for so long that I do not underestimate the influence of short term exploitative thinking but I do not either believe it to be wise or realistic to be cynical. No civilization can live divorced from convincing and agreed ethical norms for very long without self destruction. I hope that what we are doing will make a small contribution to this wider debate.



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