The 10th Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture

Capital and the Kingdom
by Stephen Green

Report by Eunice Burton
November 2004

On 25 October 2004, the historic Guardroom at Lambeth Palace was filled by members and friends of the Tyndale Society attending the Tenth Annual Lambeth Lecture. This was given by Stephen Green, Group Chief Executive of HSBC, on Capital and the Kingdom, and the meeting was chaired by His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Professor David Daniell, Chairman of the Society, thanked Dr Rowan Williams for his continued interest in the Tyndale Society since delivering the Lambeth Lecture in 1998 (see Anglican Identities, 2004) and for his willingness to chair this meeting. Professor Daniell reported steady growth in the Society (now 460 members) and reminded us of the publications (Reformation and the Tyndale Society Journal), the website and forthcoming conferences, especially the 10th Anniversary Conference in Oxford in September 2005.

The Archbishop responded, saying he welcomed the growing recognition of William Tyndale in Anglican circles. He then introduced Stephen Green, who combines his secular work with a non-stipendiary ministry in Kensington, has an interest in St. Luke’s Hospital for the Clergy and was author of Serving God? Serving Mammon? in 1996.

Stephen Green began his lecture by referring to the parable of the Talents (St. Matt., 25), when the servant who had buried his talent was reprimanded by his master for not having given the money to the ‘changers’ (bankers), so that his master, on his return, would have received ‘mine own with vantage’ (Wm. Tyndale) - i.e. with interest. This is translated as ‘usury’ in the Authorized Version, but the term now carries the connotation of exorbitant rates of interest. The topic of capital (investment) is not directly discussed in the New Testament, but through the centuries, from Old Testament times to Classical Antiquity to the rise of Christianity and then Islamic law, the charging of interest on loans was regarded as inappropriate: the Jews paid no interest when borrowing among themselves, but exacted it when lending to Christians! The implication was that capital ownership was immoral because of its relationship to power, and this persisted through the Enlightenment to the 20th century: the abuse of power, with resultant debt, was recognized as a cause of much human suffering. The private ownership of capital (investment) was a topic of debate through the 19th and 20th centuries - was it an essential underpinning of democracy and freedom or intrinsically sinful and socially unjust? Accumulation of wealth was generally deemed acceptable provided no injustice was incurred, but states exist where central major involvement in capital investment has been abused, and the resulting inefficiency, corruption and excessive debt has been responsible for untold misery.

Stephen Green analyzed the situations in Russia and China. Was the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989 a case of Capitalism triumphing over Socialism? But Capitalism is not an ‘-ism’ (ideology) and is more than a system chosen by societies; it is a fundamental human characteristic to produce traders and investors, and examples of commerce in silks, spices and precious metals exist for millennia B.C. - and capital was required for that. This universal behavioural pattern was limited by poor communication and risks of travel, and by official restrictions designed to control thought. But the invention of printing facilitated challenge to the established order, hence Tyndale’s New Testament was considered threatening to the Church. During the past 150 years, technology has changed economic life - goods and money flowed with the advent of fast ships, trains, the telegraph, etc., and by WWI, one third of British output was exported and vast assets were built up overseas. In the 19th century, the USA exported mainly to Britain and Germany, but now 80% is to other continents, and trade is spread ever more broadly through the world.

Adam Smith (1723-90) initiated inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations, while David Ricardo (1772-1823) formulated the law of comparative advantage to demonstrate the benefits of trade. Human beings trade with each other and invest to do so: they are not commercial islands and are motivated by ‘vantage’ (Tyndale). This means that capitalism and commerce are part cause and part beneficiary of the phenomenon of our age known as globalisation.

Globalisation is not just a matter of economics, but has profound implications for the balance of power and international relations. The 19th century European concepts of ‘dark continents’ and ‘New World’ have been swept away by the flow of information and universal availability of goods, but unfortunately now there is trash on Mount Everest! Whereas the majority of our grandparents did not journey widely, today everyone travels. The Internet Revolution has changed the way we learn, relate, shop and do business. Globalisation has had an impact on almost every aspect of life e.g. the consumption of exotic foods. But there is also a negative impact on business and work - 3 million manufacturing jobs have been lost in the UK in the last 25 years because of competition from lower cost suppliers in the developing countries, and agriculture now employs less than 2% of the UK working population. Conversely, service jobs have increased by 6 million over the same period. There has been international redistribution of jobs, China becoming the ‘workshop’ of the world, producing 50% of the world’s cameras, 30% of all air conditioners etc. Even service jobs in Europe are threatened by international competition. India is becoming the services centre of the world: as the cost of a phone call there has fallen by 80% over the past three years it has thus made it possible to locate there everything from call centres, to IT software development and medical diagnostics.

An Open World Economy leads to more efficient production, economic growth and higher standards of living. John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) predicted in the 1930’s that even a modest growth of 2% annually would produce dramatic effects on the economy, and this has been proved true, as it is commonplace for families to have indoor sanitation, telephones and cars. Areas of Asia, which were still ‘medieval’ in the 19th century with people living in dire poverty, have become prosperous, productive economies - no longer ‘sweatshop’ nations, but sophisticated centres of expertise, e.g. Korea’s electronics and Singapore’s microbiology industries, etc. If China continues its present rate of growth, its economy will equal America’s in 30 years - and similarly with India. These two countries represent 40% of the world’s population.

Globalisation has ensured that soon there will be no dominance by one power but multiplex relationships, and unipolar influence will become multipolar with the rising involvement of the East.

Changes of Culture: Commercialisation is leading to a consumerist homogenisation, just as there is loss of biodiversity in the natural world because of our treatment of the environment; the dominant image is the shopping mall and golden arches of MacDonalds! With everything available everywhere, the variety of cultures worldwide will soon be found only in museums. It is good if Japanese paintings are exhibited in London and Beethoven is heard in China, but having everything without struggle or pain leads to ‘dumbingdown’ of human values and loss of the sense of the exotic and mysterious.

The effect of change of traditional loyalties is seen in damage to the environment, increasing illegal drugs trades and in international terrorism. Nation states lose influence and institutions are challenged, as exemplified by the decline in church attendance, youth organisations and social clubs in the UK in the last 50 years. Increased mobility leads to more flexible affiliations and development of some new loyalties, but also of bizarre spiritualities replacing traditional religion. Availability through globalised markets is not all gain. It is an illusion to think that undesirable features can be controlled or eradicated, e.g. football hooliganism and spread of drugs. We cannot escape these changes, to which we are becoming enslaved at the price of instability and less protection. Are there alternatives, or is globalisation becoming nothing but greedy commercialism? The truth is that globalisation has led to a massive diffusion of power, with uncontrolled access to information channels by all, from governments to terrorist groups. This causes anxiety - we fear ‘progress’ while enjoying its benefits!

Some consequences of Globalisation

(a) Social fragmentation of our society, such as marriage breakdown, abuse of alcohol, spread of drugs, increasing crime and loneliness of the elderly.

(b) Marginalisation of communities of the world, who have not benefitted from the global market and have experienced loss of livelihood and less stability. Unemployment has rocked whole groups as steel mills, coalmines and docks have closed, so that now redundancy is as common as divorce. New service jobs do not carry the same security. There are countries crippled by debt, by bad governments, by corrupt leaders who siphon off wealth, and by civil wars, so they have little chance to benefit. In the world’s 40 poorest countries (representing 20% of the world’s population), education, health, mortality and the status of women have worsened - do we pretend this does not exist?

(c) Privatisation (the selling off of state owned assets) has had an unsettling effect, and this has involved attitudes, so that beliefs and values have become irrelevant to our dealings. Human relations are not sacrosanct. When John Donne said ‘no man is an island’ he drew attention to the connectedness of society, but globalisation has conversely led to a diminished sense of community, fewer shared beliefs and increased individualism. The great liberal principle of toleration has progressed to non-involvement and rejection of a sense of positive obligation, so that the Christian principle of ‘do unto others what you would have them do to you’ no longer applies. We have to acknowledge that the real issue is a spiritual one, and globalisation has taught us some ‘home-truths’, such as

i. Human beings are not economic animals content to ‘eat, drink and die’, but they need more than ‘bread alone’ for life.

ii We are imperfect, as is seen in the horrors of the 20th century - hence we resonate with Handel’s ‘All we like sheep have gone astray’.

So we need to know what Christian Theology has to say regarding Capital, Commerce, Globalisation and the Kingdom of God: -

(a) God intercedes in Human History (past, present and future) - particularly 2000 years ago, when the promise of a new relationship was realized. The new community holds out hope for a future time when ‘They shall not hurt or destroy in My holy mountain, says the Lord’ (Isaiah 11.9). This sense of the waywardness and the preciousness of Humanity caused God’s redemptive intervention.

(b) If God is so engaged in Human History, we should face the future with hope, not despair or indifference. We are citizens of a shared, priceless fragile world. The church must not turn its back on the modern era, but become internationalist in sympathy and open to a global future.

(c) But we must not have uncritical optimism, as justice and judgment demand responsible behaviour by institutions and governments.

(d) The Christian response to all the complex difficulties of the world is ‘be involved’. Our understanding is incomplete: we live and work in an imperfect world where compromise dominates, but our decisions must be made in the light of their implications for the Kingdom of God on earth. Challenges will confront us if we have this discernment, but if we are not challenged and called to action, we are not being true to the faith we profess. And so we pray, recognizing the implicit challenge, ‘O Our father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Let thy Kingdom come. Thy will be fulfilled, as well in earth, as it is in heaven’ (Wm. Tyndale).

A time of questions followed. The topics ranged from the nature of talents and challenges when dealing with money (N.B. Zacchaeus was not told to cease collecting taxes but to be honest, and the Rich Young Ruler was to give generously) to the dangers of making ‘profit’ an end in itself. We were reminded that as shareholders we can check the ethical policies of companies and question the morality of their dealings, thus exerting influence by making money work for good. Talents can be multiple personal acquisitions to which the same principles apply. Also discussed was the need for companies to be humane in their relocation decisions, recognizing their responsibilities to societies requiring work and to individuals’ needs.

Finally the Archbishop noted the sacramental qualities of justice and compassion, and the paradox of the consumer society, whose enthusiasm to make money work needs motivation for a fair balance of interests. William Tyndale regarded the Church as the Body of Christ rather than a group of individuals, but its morality must result in an influential, literate, articulate and equipped society. The Archbishop then invited us to continue discussion over wine, and later some enjoyed further fellowship during dinner at a nearby hotel.

Lambeth Lecturer 2004 – Stephen Green

Mr Green grew up in Brighton, studied at Oxford University and MIT in the United States. He worked at the Ministry of Overseas Development before joining McKinsey & Co, the management consultancy in 1971. In 1977 he joined the banking corporation that would become the HSBC. He has been with the company ever since. He was promoted to chief executive in February 2004 and at the very end of the same year on 29 December was confirmed as the new chairman of HSBC’S UK business. He is an ordained deacon and preaches at his local Anglican church in London. In 1996 he wrote Serving God? Serving Mammon? a book that explores the compatibility between Christianity and a career in financial services.

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