Christian financiers back anti-usury law

UPDATE: This report has appeared in the Church Times today

The head of one of Europe’s largest hedges fund threw his weight behind calls for a 20% cap on interest rates. Paul Marshall was speaking at a conference on ‘Christian Responses to the Great Recession’, organised by St Mellitus College, King’s College London and the Contextual Theology Centre (CTC).

Marshall was one of a wide-ranging panel supporting the call for an anti-usury law. The call is being made by London Citizens – an alliance of over 150 religious and civic institutions – as part of a wider response to the credit crunch. Other proposals include the ‘London Living Wage’ which has already secured over £25 million for low-paid workers in the capital.

The panel was chaired by Dr Luke Bretherton, who played a key role in London Citizens’ recent assembly (Church Times, 4 December). At the event, he secured a commitment from the Conservative Treasury team to a cap on storecard interest rates, and a review of other ‘egregious’ financial products

Endorsing the call for an interest rate cap, economic commentator Andrew Dilnot urged church leaders to speak out more clearly on the issue. The conference heard testimony from individuals and churches affected by the credit crunch, including those trapped in loans with spiralling penalties and charges.

In a keynote lecture, Prof John Milbank that London Citizens’ measures were “only the start” of what was needed. Milbank argued that economics was gripped by a fundamentally mistaken view of the human person, as if they were “wholly driven by self-interest”. The truth, he claimed, was more complex: “we are created good, we are sinful, and we are capable of being perfected by the grace of Jesus Christ”.

The conference ended with a presentation by Phillip Blond. Blond recently launched the ResPublica think-tank, and its ‘red Tory’ philosophy is having a growing influence on David Cameron’s thinking. Blond argued that since the 1970s, the growing wealth in British society had failed to trickle down from rich to poor. He blamed this on the growth of both ‘monopoly capitalism’ and the welfare state – to the exclusion of the ‘Big Society’ for which Cameron is now calling.

Commenting on the day, CTC Director the Revd Angus Ritchie said “This event proves that Biblical teaching – on wealth in general and usury in particular – has huge relevance to today’s economy. Today, we heard of the impact this is already having on the political debate. If the church heeds this call to action, the impact could be even greater.”

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