Sunday, 12 January 2014

Finance, Economics and Faith - interest and usury in the traditions.

For many years now, the world-at-large has been preoccupied with finance and economics.  Now finance and economics are never far from the forefront of daily life - but with the Global Financial Crisis (the GFC) and nations and individuals plunged into poverty money and its associated category headings.

The list of headings is long.  The list of countries doing it tough is long too.  Can faith speak to money?  Has faith something to say about finance and economics and governance?

You may have heard or read this story before, but it still has some impact in the re-telling.
A few prominent clergypersons were invited to the Oval Office to meet with the President.  Rev. William Sloan Coffin, then Senior Pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, was one of those invited. President Reagan patiently explained to the visiting pastors why these cuts were necessary, in his view, to balance the budget.  Rev. Coffin replied, “Mr. President, it is up to us to proclaim that ‘Justice shall roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.  Your job is the plumbing.”

The Rev Dr Susan Brooks Thistlewaite uses the story in a blog post from her blog #Occupy The Bible.

That story reflects one Christian attitude to finance and economics.  The Abrahamic faiths - Judaism, Islam, and Christianity - each have injunctions against usury.  Usury is the charging of interest although in some interpretations this becomes the charging of 'excessive' interest.  Islam is the only faith of the three which adheres to injunctions against usury.

People of the Jewish faith have become associated with finance, banking and usury - not least because of this family.  Not all Jewish people are bankers or people connected with finance and economics - but a lot of them are.  

The writer of this article saysChristian ethics has failed in one of the most overlooked, if not ignored, civil and human rights issue in the world today. 

In each of the three faiths, there are strong ethical dictums relating to the alleviation of poor, to hospitality, to consideration of the other as one would consider him or her self.  

But where does this leave ordinary folk trying to negotiate their ways through modern economic life while maintaining an ethical faith and lifestyle?  And what happens in other faith traditions?  Below are some selections for further reading.  

Readers of this blog might like to write to us at and let us know their thoughts.  

  • Should interfaith networks start talking about this and begin to shine some light on the teachings of the different faith traditions and how they work themselves out in modern life?  
  • Should faiths bear a common witness against poor governance both of civil society and corporate entities?  
  • How would this be done effectively?
Further reading

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