Bob Hope’s definition of a bank as “a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it” would be funny if it wasn’t so true.
The banks fell over themselves to offer cheap and easy credit for a decade with the consumerist premise ‘why wait?’. Having got burned by defaulters, but flush with billion pound bailouts from the government which you and I will have to pay for, banks are busy trying to squeeze money back from every source. One infamous strategy is to quickly restructure loans at much higher rates or to reduce overdrafts overnight, which is leaving some small companies, including many who are sound and profitable, at risk. Bank managers have swapped places with estate agents, senders of spam email and call centre operatives as holders of the UK’s ‘most-vilified profession’ award.
As unemployment rises and recession kicks in, the crisis puts the Church, Christian organisations and individual believers in an interesting position.
On the one hand, there are opportunities to be salt and light. With 300 people a day being declared bankrupt, one fifth of UK households struggling to pay their bills, and close to 1,000 homes being repossessed each week, many are looking for help. Stewardship, Credit Action and Christians Against Poverty are three leading Christian organisations which provide debt counselling or train churches to offer practical advice. The opportunities to be Jesus in this crisis are many.
On the other hand, the credit crunch has presented the Church with very real and pressing threats. While some Christian charities and churches are reporting that giving is not affected - the first three months of 2009 could turn tough. The situation for Christian bookshops is critical. As many as half may be forced to close in 2009, given the current dire trends. Charities and church collection plates are facing slim pickings.
Many charities have restructured. Some have made staff redundant, while most have put a freeze on new initiatives.
For some of us feeling the pinch, it feels as if charity must start and end at home. But while we may consider our needs to be pressing, we must remember that we do have food and shelter. This is not the time to forget those in most need, to stop sponsoring a child in Haiti or to halt your direct debits.
The credit crisis also raises wider questions about what the Church’s prophetic voice on economics should be. It wasn’t difficult to decide what our lead feature in this, our new design issue, should be about. As well as informing you, I trust its counterculture message about money will challenge and enlighten you with a godly perspective. Ruth (deputy editor), Ian (new designer) and I, look forward to your feedback on the new design and new editorial content of this issue. We have a host of new contributors this month as well as an enlarged news and reviews section. Do let us know what worked for you and what didn’t.
As we face a new and uncertain new year, we trust that Christianity magazine will refresh and resource the 30,000+ who read it each month – including you. Thank God that in this fast-changing economic scene we can continue to cling to the unchanging one – who was and is and is to come.