Christian Council for Monetary Justice
Papers su
bmitted by Members

By Martin Hattersley, a Canadian member of CCMJ

"You wicked and lazy servant! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter. Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest."

So Jesus, to the servant who buried his talent in the ground. He was commending those who took hold of their talents and applied them in the Lord's service. But indirectly, he categorizes fixed interest lending (usury) as being an investment most suitable for the "wicked and lazy", who "reap where they did not sow".

Lending at interest was restricted to foreigners in the Old Testament, and condemned in Christian church from its inception and throughout the Middle Ages. Yet from the time of the Reformation onwards, it has become permissible even in the church, and it is nowadays accepted without a second thought as to its morality. However, it is still prohibited to Muslims. So today, we find our Church well endowed with fixed interest investments, and the whole economic order of the Western world furnished with money almost exclusively through loans from its banking system, breathlessly waiting week by week for its prosperity or the reverse to be affected by the gurus who determine the country's rate of interest.

What is "wicked and lazy" about investing in fixed interest investments anyway? My suggestion is, that it is a means for the (wicked and lazy) investor to secure a guaranteed return without risk, at the expense of a doubled risk, either of profit or loss, to the borrower. When a farmer's crops fail, or a feedlot is ruined by the collapse of the market for beef, the bank does not share proportionately in the risk of the business venture: its loan, plus interest, must be repaid in full, and is usually secured by the borrower's assets and personal guarantee. The pound of flesh must be delivered in priority to all other claims, even of unpaid workers. Shades of Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice"!

Yet banking cannot take place unless it can depend on this certainty of being able to be repaid. Otherwise those who have made deposits, and think they have "money in the bank", are going to be surprised when the bank fails, and the whole economic structure begins to collapse like a pack of cards. Remember the Principal Group, the Northlands Bank, and the Canadian Commercial Bank, in the failures of the 1980's just in our own city let alone serious problems that currently exist in Argentina, China and Japan.

In their "Jubilee" project, the churches of the world made a valiant effort to bring the spotlight of publicity and human concern to bear on the world's debt problems - severe but so far manageable in Canada, but responsible for immense poverty, suffering, death and despair in most of the poorest countries of the world. We haven't yet grappled with the problem created by our present banking system, that if governments, businesses or people pay off their debts, the money supply of a nation will disappear and the economy will grind to a standstill - yet if they do not, the load of debt carried by individuals and taxpayers will in the long run become insupportable.

Some of us perhaps remember the tragic poverty and unemployment of the Great Depression - and the transformation that took place in Canada when war, and war financing, provided employment in the military for thousands, and transformed our country in very few years into the fourth greatest industrial power in the world.

War is economic peace, and peace leads to economic war. So George Bush's expedition into Iraq, paid for by government deficits and providing employment to thousands of soldiers, arms manufacturers and reconstruction workers, may yet be the key to warding off an impending economic recession in the United States. Should this be so? Only if we worship Mammon before we worship God, and put the welfare of the economy before the welfare of the humans whom the economy is supposed to serve.

Let's keep the concept of Jubilee alive!