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Andrew West: Hello, from me, Andrew West, here with the final edition of the Religion and Ethics Report for 2012. And in 2012, much of the world dealt with the ongoing fallout from the global financial crisis. Budgets and jobs were slashed across Europe and the United States, demonstrators hit the streets—there were even riots breaking out.

So how should the churches respond to the financial crisis? Apart from providing relief to the needy, is there an ethical obligation to speak against greed? And, have the churches sometimes been complicit by their own relationships with the powerful?

Earlier this year, the St James’ Institute, which is part of St James’ Anglican Church in Sydney, hosted a panel discussion with Anglican priests who preach to Wall Street and the big end of town. Taking part were: George R Bush, rector of St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside London; Frank Nelson, now the dean of St Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide; James Cooper, the rector and chief executive officer of Trinity, Wall Street, Episcopal Church in New York; David Pickering, the acting dean of St John's Anglican Episcopal Cathedral in Hong Kong; Andrew Sempell, the rector of St James’ King Street in Sydney; and Michael Weeder, the dean of St George's Cathedral in Cape Town in South Africa. Let’s hear first from the moderator, Dr Simon Longstaff of the St James’ Ethics Centre in Sydney.

Simon Longstaff: You’ve…you’ve all…not all of you, but a number of you touched on greed as some kind of a root cause. I just want to test whether or not this is something you actually believe—that if we were to go back and look at the global financial crisis, which is not a crisis everywhere, would you pin it to greed, and to what extent would you do so? And I’m interested to know whether, you don’t think we’re more greedy now than we were in the 1600s, 1700s or not? George?

George Bush: I think one has to be careful. What’s happened in Britain is that bankers in particular—whatever that means, because obviously the financial services industry is very multifaceted—but bankers have been castigated for their greed because of the enormous levels of money they receive. This is sometimes called reward, sometimes called compensation; well we all know what it actually is.

Simon Longstaff: And it is…it is pretty impressive remuneration isn’t it?

George Bush: It’s huge. Sums like…it’s dynastic sums of money. These people could set up their families for a very, very long time indeed. And they’ve been very much castigated for it. They’re very exposed all the time in the press at the moment.

Simon Longstaff: Do you know any of these people?

George Bush: I know a few. I mean…

Simon Longstaff: I was going to ask…

George Bush: … I don’t sit there guessing what their remuneration was.

Simon Longstaff: No, but without naming names, would you…

George Bush: But I let them pay the bill.

Simon Longstaff: Yes. So without naming names, if I said to you, do they strike you as a particularly greedy bunch, how would you respond?

George Bush: Well, I had a conversation with somebody who may or may not be remunerated at that sort of level, not so long ago, and he claims—I think I could understand this—that this was not so much greed as a strange sort of cyclical process about ambition and the ways in which that ambition can tell. So you actually get into a cycle of wanting more and more rewards to prove to yourself and your friends and your colleagues, that actually you’re achieving for the bank or the concern that you’re involved in. So whether people are actually tied in to the cash—because frankly there’s only so much you can spend…

Simon Longstaff: So, if we gave them all elephant stamps it would be a lot cheaper, you know…

George Bush: Absolutely, yes. But it does raise the question, how good you have to be to get these sums of money. And there is an element, I think, in which it is still the case, that in terms of Britain, the bankers still don’t get it in terms of rewards. And there are lots of people, including other people in financial services who would say that continuously. Whether it’s just naked greed or not, I don’t know. But I would just want to say also…

Simon Longstaff: No, I want you…I want you to say whether you do and what you suspect, because it’s important. If you think it is naked greed then we need to know. If you think it’s just a, kind of, blindness…

George Bush: Well it’s…I think it…there is an element of greed but I would want to spread that much more widely because everybody bought in, across the western world really, at the time of Mrs Thatcher, particularly in England, but other political leaders elsewhere, everyone bought in to Milton Friedman’s philosophy of a completely free market that was its own regulator as it were—it would just, sort of…went on and on and on, and was a natural force. Everybody bought into that. And people consistently across the western world, voted for administrations that wanted light regulatory regimes so that everybody became richer and richer. And that was, of course, part of what we wanted for the world. You know, part of what we wanted was that we should all prosper, and the line between whose prosperity is somebody else’s greed is, I think, very very difficult for us—particularly for clergy, to define. Because it goes right to individual people’s sense of sin and worth.

Simon Longstaff: Jim Cooper, you’re bound to have bumped into a few Wall Street bankers who’re doing quite well, or were at least. Do you see greed lying at the heart of this and do they strike you as greedy people?

James Cooper: They…some would strike me as greedy people.

Simon Longstaff: Some?

James Cooper: They would not strike themselves as greedy people. What I find interesting about the two systems at work—there’s the Occupy Wall Street, sort of, system, which is a leader-less movement and so was this banking thing; you cannot identify somebody—it was systemic. And therefore the drivers, I think, are emotions like greed, or perhaps, hubris, or runaway competitiveness, because these banks were competing against each other, and trying to fund their stockholders. What’s pathetic about it is when it crashed, some benefitted by the bailouts, others didn’t. But at the middle to lower levels, everyone suffered. And when some of these big banks went under, the tellers lost their jobs; they weren’t about greed. But the system had a life of its own; maybe it was motivated by greed, or competition and combined with the skill to manipulate the system.

Simon Longstaff: Andrew Sempell. you have a view about this?

Andrew Sempell: Well, I think there’s two things here. We’re talking a little bit, I think, on greed about attitude—people’s views about what they do or what they’re entitled to and their attitudes about other people and the society in which they live. And there’s a societal attitude, which we’d call a culture, which develops as well.

Simon Longstaff: Well what do you…what do you…just before you go on; what do you think greed actually is?

Andrew Sempell: I would see greed more in the individual attitude.

Simon Longstaff: But what is it? How do you define greed?

Andrew Sempell: Well, wanting more than you need, having power, control. It could be because of needs of self-aggrandisement, but it could be just a matter of social pathology—that the person just does not understand the impact of their behaviour on other people—they’re…they’re ignorant. But they have this desire to have more, or control over more, or whatever it may be. And that’s an individual thing but it also can become a cultural thing; that it spreads into a much broader group of people who all look at things the same way. And we can find that in cultures in our society—so, [7.34??] you know, the banking group may have a culture. But there are other cultures within our society where you can have groupthink that starts to take over. Military culture is one I’m familiar with, that can develop that sort of view as well. So, greed, I would see as an individual attitude but then has the capacity to permeate a culture when you’ve got a lot of people thinking the same way.

Simon Longstaff: So, we’ve…we’ve got two horses running here, one, kind of, an unalloyed individual greed, a desire for more than you actually need, as you describe. Another is this interesting notion about some kind of system or systemic blindness that has you do things just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Of course that’s the great enemy of ethics.

George Bush: Something which was eye-opening for me was, I once had a conversation with a vice-chairman of a famous American bank, and I was trying to get him to think about some issues, and politically in so far as they affected the world’s poor, and he said, what you don’t understand George, is that most of the people working in this bank, what they’re doing is not a sharpened intellectual exercise; what they’re doing is much more like playing sport at school and at university. And I think that’s quite interesting. It’s a very competitive culture. And it’s not…they’re not actually aware that they could be targeting a common good.

Simon Longstaff: Not aware, or positively not inclined to…would you say, they don’t even think about it?

George Bush: I don’t think they think about it. I mean, I think…I think the City of London particularly, the financial centre in London, is a very hermetically sealed cultural world. I mean, actually it is physically quite a sealed world. One of our famous authors, AN Wilson went there recently and wrote that he found the place utterly foreign and rather disgusting. He didn’t know his way around. And people just pass through the City, they don’t get off the bus. It’s, sort of, a separate world. And it tends to be a world in which people are doing something quite different, which is not apparently anything to do with the rest of national life. It’s very strange.

Simon Longstaff: Michael Weeder?

Michael Weeder: Yesterday, George said, people don’t believe in hell anymore and it really struck me is that when you live life oblivious to consequences, then the question of greed has always been a manifestation and it is, as Andrew’s saying, as when you consume more than you need. But related to that, you’re oblivious to the consequences, you actually don’t care about…that there is somebody being impoverished by…by what’s happening to you.

I walked around the streets of Sydney for the last few days, I couldn’t see the equivalent of poverty as I would on the streets of Cape Town—people begging, people hustling at traffic lights, selling little titbits of things to make the day go by. But what you have here is a degree of the chickens coming home to roost, in a most cruel way. In a way that, as a society in general in the west, that you have been isolated from in a way, that we haven’t.

Simon Longstaff: So what chickens have you seen roosting?

Michael Weeder: Well, the fact that poverty as we know it is now manifesting itself in this society. Just this morning’s lesson; when the [unclear]…emerging Christian community—they’re looking at value systems and they start extracting from what Jesus said: love your neighbour and they incarnate that in terms of, ‘they held all things in common’, and to do that there needs to be a relational aspect to it. And what we discovered in South Africa—a person is a person because of other people; that there are consequences in the way you relate or don’t relate. The poverty that you saw in Ethiopia, the streets of Johannesburg, the rural areas of Rwanda, what’s happening in Zimbabwe—you saw the chubby-faced nature of capitalism. We saw it in its greedy, pickering, plundering nature. Now you see the overt manifestation in the kind of personification in the banker. But the banker is…is a system.

Simon Longstaff: Does anybody want to have a crack at this question about the greed index? Frank, you will?

Frank Nelson: Well, I struggle with the fact that I revel in being able to make my own decisions and…

Simon Longstaff: You like that.

Frank Nelson: I like that. I don’t want people telling me what to do. But as soon as I get into that side of it and start pushing that side, it means I forget about the other people, because I don’t need them and I don’t want them. So…I’m wondering, is it something to do with, once we’ve moved out of the tribe, we’re on our own and I don’t have to think about the rest of the people?

Simon Longstaff: Tribes can be greedy.

Frank Nelson: Tribes can be greedy.

Simon Longstaff: I mean, they can seize power, they can…

Frank Nelson: Well, well but start with the individual who relates to the family or the tribe and then move that to nations and it just moves out doesn’t it?

Simon Longstaff: I mean, the original notion of the oikos, from which the word economics comes from, that old Greek notion which Socrates rebelled against, was that in the oikos your friends and family were held, they could deserve your trust, your regard and your protection, but everybody outside of that oikos…

Frank Nelson: Didn’t matter.

Simon Longstaff: Was fair game.

Frank Nelson: Absolutely.

Simon Longstaff: You could do whatever you wanted to them. And so there’s been a progressive expansion of that and it has been…

Frank Nelson: Absolutely. It’s not…

Simon Longstaff: …rejected in philosophy and religion as well.

Frank Nelson: So the global financial crash is not something new. It’s…it’s…there is a cyclical or a spiral thing. It comes and it goes depending on how caring we are.

Andrew Sempell: It’s that basic little bit of economics called supply and demand theory, which says, you know, there’s unlimited wants but limited resources. And somewhere along the line you’ve got to work out how that is going to be proportioned or used or sorted out within a society. And societies may work…function well in that regard for a while but they also can lose the sight of what is a restricted resource.

Now we talk in terms of sustainability these days, as a way of recognising that our resources are limited and so we’ve got to ensure that we have practices that don’t waste the resources that we have and actually make better use of them.

Simon Longstaff: But are we just condemned to go through all of this again?

Andrew Sempell: Well, perhaps we can manage it better if we have a greater understanding—be more responsible therefore.

Andrew West: You’re listening to the Religion and Ethics Report here on RN. This is an edited version of a panel discussion about the responsibility of the church in the global financial crisis. The participants are clergymen who work in the major financial centres of the world. They are George R Bush from London, Frank Nelson from Adelaide, James Cooper from New York, David Pickering from Hong Kong Andrew Sempell from Sydney and Michael Weeder from Cape Town. The moderator is Simon Longstaff of the St James’ Ethics Centre.

Simon Longstaff: Well, look let’s turn to the church’s response to this. There’s a fundamental problem, I would have thought, for Christianity, at least in its institutional form, that ever since the time of Constantine, the church has sought preferment, power and patronage, financial and temporal. How is it possibly going to play a role in dealing with this when it is so compromised, itself, as an institution? Yes, David?

David Pickering: The church may be a divine institution but it is made up of sinful human beings. And the church doesn’t have a good record in so many areas of life. And if we look back through the history of the church, I think many of us think, well, how could I have lived in the church in those days—when there was such greed, such violence, such war, crusades, et cetera?

But somehow, we believe in the church as a divine institution; that God is leading his church, through the world. Can I just…? One example…20, 25 years ago in the United Kingdom, there was great concern about the structures of society and the—particularly people living in poverty—poor urban areas. And there was a report that came out called Faith in the City, and it caused a tremendous stir, particularly in the government of the day, but it was a tremendous prophetic message to society and to the government of the day.

Simon Longstaff: Yes, but we’ve…

David Pickering: And I think at…in the present context we probably need people within the church with a sense of how finance works, who need to, perhaps, do some deep thinking on this.

George Bush: I think you overestimate the power of the church. Certainly in terms of British life, the church is largely a marginal institution. I think it hasn’t woken up to its marginalisation.

Simon Longstaff: But it is, even though marginal in the lives of many, it is an established church. It is a wealthy institution.

George Bush: Well, I think its wealth, is actually, I think, one of its strong points because, actually I think, some of the things that have emerged from the Archbishop of Canterbury and from Pope Benedict following the financial crisis have dwelt on some of the possibilities for reducing the, kind of, sense of neutrality in the economic system—so that we could actually have an economic system which was not morally neutral.

For example, the church could use its wealth—it already does of course, by having ethical investment policies. It could do a great deal more in terms of representing its interests at shareholder meetings to check executive pay, and it’s already doing that in Britain. And it could promote some of the more hybrid forms of investment that are beginning to appear—social impact investment, charitable investment—where actually any profit you gain, goes alongside there being some apparent social investment.

Simon Longstaff: Okay. Jim Cooper?

James Cooper: I think that’s a progression that the church is relational, institutionally—that that institution has relationships in it. And when you hear people’s stories it’s a pastoral response. The pastoral response then moves to an understanding of an immoral system of some sort—that people are hurt by the mechanics of the economic life, or it could be race…whatever. You hear the story, you see the immoral aspects of it and then you move to advocacy.

Simon Longstaff: To change the system?

James Cooper: To change the system—and that would be at two levels I think. Again, it’s church institution to government/business institution, and just the grass roots thing, that the ability to communicate quickly and create a mass understanding of an immoral situation will change the business and political structure, because they have to respond to the voter and the consumer.

Simon Longstaff: So what does Christianity have to say to people working in the world of money and markets?

George Bush: Pope Benedict would say, profit must never have its own value; it must always work for the common good, and that an economic system must have within it, models of democracy.

Simon Longstaff: Adam Smith said more or less the same—which is, that markets must only be a means to an end, they have no value in and of themselves. They’re there to increase the stock of common good.

George Bush: Well, that wasn’t what Milton Friedman said…

Simon Longstaff: No, that’s not what Friedman said…

George Bush: And I think…

Simon Longstaff: …but I’m not sure…

George Bush: Friedman has dominated the…our thinking for a long time.

Simon Longstaff: Yes, but is there something in the Christian story that gives rise to that conclusion? Why is it that markets or profits shouldn’t be an end in themselves? Frank?

Frank Nelson: The Lord Jesus—love your neighbour as yourself; if you are loving your neighbour as you love yourself, then you can’t only love yourself. That’s pretty simple and straightforward.

Simon Longstaff: And does everybody agree that that’s basically the core of the response that Christianity gives to the issue of the global financial crisis?

Frank Nelson: Good starting point.

Simon Longstaff: The notion of sin? Is that a concept that you believe in, or…?

Frank Nelson: That’s part of it. Sin surely starts…I mean, I’ve a very simplistic thing that I sometimes talk about with children; what’s the middle letter of sin? It’s I. If I’m only thinking of myself, I’m not able to love my neighbour.

We were all…I mean, certainly us, and I guess many of the people here this morning, were worshipping in a wonderful liturgy this morning. Part of that liturgy is, we have sinned. We need to be forgiven. But it doesn’t stop there. Because once we’ve been forgiven, we then are sent out into the world to make a difference. So the last words of the liturgy are, go now, to love and serve.

Simon Longstaff: Now, I suspect that those of you who have got your churches in major financial centres where bankers and others come to worship, they will have all said those words.

I know a very prominent business leader in this country who is a regular churchgoer, who, I believe is sincere and devout but has been known on Monday to Friday to engage in the equivalent of corporate rape and pillage. And when asked about this, says, well, it’s not really me—that’s just my job. I’m required to engage in a form of conduct in my business life, which demands these sorts of things be done. Please believe that the real me, is the one that’s at church on Sunday. This other person is, a kind of, artefact that I’m required to fulfil that role because that’s my job. I mean, it’s…

Frank Nelson: That’s…that’s always been around. People…and we talk about, you know, not Sunday Christians only and that’s one of our, possibly as preachers, biggest struggles, is to get people to say, if you’re going to be a Christian you’ve actually got to live it. And that’s what the Sermon on the Mount is all about—Jesus actually talking to the ordinary people who were following him about how to live and how …not just on Sundays…To the soldier, don’t take more than is your…your gain.

Simon Longstaff: But can you really expect…I mean, particularly asking you Frank, with your view of the cycles.

Frank Nelson: Well I think you can…

Simon Longstaff: We expect this person to go there and not do what’s the requirement of this task?

Frank Nelson: Well, there are people and, I mean, I suppose the classic person is St Francis who said, I will not continue doing this. And there are people who do that, who have the courage and have done it. And maybe you…you go and challenge him. What do you do with Matthew 5, 6 and 7?

Simon Longstaff: Well, they…and they say, well, look, you know, at least I’m more moderate than the other person who might be there.

George Bush: People nowadays are very quick to forgive and that’s a mercy but they’re particularly quick to forgive themselves. There was a bit of research that somebody I know did, about reactions to the financial crisis. He was looking at general, sort of, psychological models of what happens when you’re involved in a shocking incident. So, you experience trauma in the form of shock, guilt, helplessness, shame and apology. And actually, that doesn’t seem to have played out in this financial crisis.

The research that this chap Philip Robinson did, it seems to indicate that they’ve got stuck at the first place—they’re still shocked and there hasn’t been enough apology. There hasn’t been enough shame. There hasn’t been enough admission of where things went wrong. And actually, there were a number of…there were a number of people in the banking community in London, I know, including the chap who’ll be the Lord Mayor of London next year, who actually thinks that they can’t say sorry enough, and that they have to keep on doing that so that people actually realise that they don’t want to have an ethically neutral system for the future.

I mean, he…that character you mention is…his situation is pathological and he must be exhausted by…but I mean…

Simon Longstaff: No, this is a real person who considers himself…

George Bush: Well he must be tired…

Simon Longstaff: Well-adjusted, terribly well-respected and…

George Bush: Well he isn’t…I don’t think he is, is he? He isn’t. I mean, I think…and…you know, you don’t have to read three volumes of Freud to work out that there’s something a bit… Look we’re all divorced from our best centre. We all profess things that actually we don’t have the courage and the urgency to fulfil and, I mean…that is an extreme example. But we’re all there. I mean, I can’t help thinking that, you know, the founder of Roman Catholic social thought, Pope Leo XIII—enormously important for all the issues we’re discussing today—in 25 years of his pontificate never addressed a single word to his driver. You know, that’s a form of pathology but we can all get involved in that.

Simon Longstaff: But I think about people in banking and finance in the world of business who are listening to this and they’re saying, oh, we’re listening to a panel of holy fools. You just don’t get it.

George Bush: No.

Simon Longstaff: You can talk about love and sin but the reality is, that our world requires us to do what is necessary for our enterprises to be sustained and even to prosper. And you’ve got to get your hands dirty; that’s why the Catholics have confession. Andrew Sempell?

Andrew Sempell: I would say that there are other aspects of the life of our society where we do draw boundaries and I’ve heard this same argument of saying, well, it’s a dirty job but I have to do it, because the society requires me to do it.

Now rendition as performed by the CIA and other agencies, sort of, came into that category: well, someone’s got to do it. But it actually went across the boundary of what was acceptable. And when exposed, people said, well, this is…

Simon Longstaff: But this man I’m talking about never did anything unlawful.

Andrew Sempell: This is not acceptable. Well, perhaps…

Simon Longstaff: It’s not unlawful.

Andrew Sempell: Perhaps we have to say, well there may be an issue for the law here to tighten up or to recognise certain behaviours are inappropriate. We’re…you know, as a society we need to be able to manage our business and if someone behaves in a way which is unacceptable in the society, and that’s brought out into the open, so people can see it—because quite often these things are not seen in the open, they’re kept in the dark—and we say, well, we’re not happy with that; we don’t accept that as appropriate behaviour for this profession, this industry or whatever it may be, and we’re telling you, you need to stop it.

Simon Longstaff: So, Andrew Sempell, one of your parishioners comes to you and says, I’m working in large enterprise X, everyday I’m required to do things which trouble my conscience, but it’s essential that I do these things, entirely lawfully for the sake of maintaining my job, maintaining the conditions within which my family live, I need your counsel. Are you going to say, well, be brave, suck it up and lose your job, or what?

Andrew Sempell: Well, it would be an issue that you…when you’re dealing with it in a pastoral sense, then you want to discover what this job, what this person is doing is doing to them and to the people around them…

David Pickering: But he’s come to Andrew or…

Andrew Sempell: The fact that he’s asking that question…

David Pickering: Shows that he’s not…

Andrew Sempell: I think indicates…and so…

Simon Longstaff: Or what he wants from you is to say, look, it’s okay. I mean…

Andrew Sempell: And I’m not about to say, it’s okay necessarily. So we’re going to explore this and say, well, what is this doing to you? And what are you doing to other people because of your actions? And we explore that and I would hope we’d get to a point where, you know, perhaps both I and that person can recognise that this is not a good thing and it may be the tough thing of saying, I shouldn’t do this anymore.

I have had conversations like this on a number of occasions with people who’ve struggled with things that they have to do—certainly not legal—but for that person, it is destroying them or their family or their relationships around them—that they believe that it is wrong, even though they’re paid to do it and there’s nothing illegal about it. But for them it is destroying them from within.

Andrew West: That was a group of Anglican clergymen who minister to the financial districts of the world. They were talking about the responsibility of the church in the wake of the global financial crisis.

You heard from George R Bush, from St Mary-le-Bow in London; Frank Nelson, from Adelaide; James Cooper, from New York; David Pickering, from Hong Kong; Andrew Sempell, from Sydney; and Michael Weeder, from Cape Town. And the moderator was Simon Longstaff of the St James Ethics’ Centre.

Today’s show is available to podcast or download from our homepage at the RN website.

Now that’s the Religion and Ethics Report for 2012. A huge thanks to our hard working producers this year, Noel Debien and Mark Franklin.

Thanks so much also to our technical producer Paul Gough and the executive producer of all of ABC Radio Religion programs, David Bush. And a special thanks to my colleague from ABC local radio John Cleary—he’s the presenter of Sunday Night. John’s been a constant source of wise counsel and good ideas.

Over the summer you can hear the best of our long-form interviews with internationally renowned writers including the philosopher, Martha Nussbaum.

I’ll see you in January. Until then, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and festive season and a great new year.