Sunday, July 28, 2013

Inconveniences and Opportunities

It's been an interesting week for the Church of England, to say the least.

On Thursday the Archbishop of Canterbury - Justin Welby, revealed that he had plans for the Church of England to back credit unions in a bid to compete payday loan companies out of existence. It was a move that for once saw widespread backing come in from outside the Church, rather than criticism or condemnation... even among hardened atheists. Yet even as the platitudes came in, the archbishop was about to discover all too personally... what a difference a day makes.

The very next morning news broke that the Church of England itself indirectly invested in Wonga, causing much embarrassment and irritation on the part of the Archbishop.   Many of the voices that had been so supportive just 24 hours previous, were now numbered among the mockers and scoffers who relish any opportunity to point out the Church's faults and failings.  Even Wonga themselves hit back with a parody of the 10 commandments in a new marketing campaign.

In truth it's not the first time the Church has been in trouble with where it invests money. I remember as a teenager being extremely disappointed when reading a story that the Church had investments in a subsidiary of the arms manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. Someone had told me a few years ago that this had been rectified and yet as Welby himself admits... where the Church decides to invest its money is a murky area simply for the fact that a hotel chain may seem an innocent enough investment, but it might choose in turn, to sell pornography to its clientele - something that an outside investor seemingly has little control over.

These facts may appear at first glance to be a major inconvenience and yet I can't help thinking that the recent turn of events has a precedent in the Old Testament. In approximately 640BC Josiah acceded to the throne of the kingdom of Judah. His father Amon had been an idolater but Josiah had not followed in his footsteps but instead chosen to try and follow God. 18 years into his reign, Josiah decided that he wanted to refurbish the Temple in Jerusalem.  He probably thought he was doing a noble thing and yet very soon after he began the venture, Hilkiah the High Priest shattered his illusions by walking into the royal court with a copy of the long neglected Law that he had discovered.  Josiah was so distressed by what he had read, that he tore his robes.

King Josiah and Justin Welby share this in common - they both started out on a godly venture only to be confronted by the shortcomings of their respective factions.

I find that often it is during the times we express a desire to serve God, that he tosses a grenade into the room to test our resolve and commitment to the cause. It is messy, it hurts, it is infuriating and it is embarrassing.  How we respond when faced with these inconveniences and difficult emotions defines whether or not we are truly called to the path of action.

How did King Josiah respond to his embarrassment and humbling?  Quite simply, he committed himself and his people to a series of reforms the like of which had not been seen before. His legacy is remembered fondly in the book of 2 Kings:
"Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses."
2 Kings 23:25
So I think that over 2,500 years later Justin Welby finds himself in good company and can take solace from the fact that inconveniences like these.... are actually divine opportunities in disguise. What matters now, is where he and we go from here. Do we succumb to our embarrassment or do we, like Josiah redouble our efforts and go much, much further with our commitments than we originally imagined.  Early indications seem to suggest that this is exactly what the Church of England is priming itself to do and scrutinising more closely where the Church's money is coming from and going to is the first step on this path.

Similarities between Justin Welby's and King Josiah's trials
This encourages me and I think with a little imagination and some savvy alliances with a few pressure groups (such as the people behind No More Page3), we might be able to do something about hotel chains selling pornography to clientele as well. Maybe we won't eliminate it... but we could perhaps persuade a chain to abandon the practice and get them endorsed by pressure groups if they do so.

  • How would you like to see the Church of England respond to the Wonga episode?
  • Would you support a wider campaign of reforms within and outside the Church?

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