The Archbishop of Canterbury’s announcement that he plans to start a credit union contradicts the Bible, which condemns money lenders in the temple. But as a means of curbing the power of payday lenders, the Church of England’s decision to cross over into the financial services industry may be a fine display of pragmatism from a church increasingly accused of being out of touch with a society blighted by financial woe.
Membership of credit unions has increased dramatically since 2008, with people losing confidence in large banks and building societies. But with stringent criteria for acquiring a loan from a credit union and widespread ignorance as to their existence as many people have fallen into the claws of high interest payday loan companies.
Since being stung by its reaction to the Occupy London protests on the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral, the church is trying to demonstrate its own relevance to a world of financial turmoil. So Archbishop Justin Welby’s announcement certainly looks on trend, responding to changes in the financial sector, and potentially offering an alternative to the unholy alliance of big banks who control the sector.
But anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of the Bible will surely be wondering if the church ought to be getting directly involved in the financial sector by openings its doors to money lenders whom Jesus evicted from the temples. The church can be involved in the debate without putting its own skin in the game, but in this instance, it has taken a bold move by declaring plans to open its own credit union, and to allow small financial co-operatives to use its premises.
Regardless of contradictions with holy scripture, the church intervention in the credit union schemes will, at least, provide some much needed publicity for this underused form of credit.