Has Covid-19 changed the relationship between faith and money?

(Photo: Unsplash/Nick Fewings)

It's often said that Jesus talked more about money than any other subject. Whether or not that's true depends on precisely how you count it, but it's certainly the case that he did talk about money a lot. Forty per cent of the parables are about money or possessions, one in every ten verses in the gospels is on this topic, and Jesus spoke about money approximately four times as often as he spoke about prayer.

It makes sense then to look to that body of teaching as we think about the Covid crisis we currently face. For while this is obviously a health crisis, it is also a deeply economic one which is having profound financial consequences for many.

Significant numbers are losing their jobs or seeing their income diminish. They are understandably worried, not just about their health but also about their financial security. This is especially the case for those who are poorer.

The pandemic has both exacerbated existing inequalities and highlighted new ones and recent analysis by the IMF suggests the economic consequences will be much deeper and last much longer for those who are poorest. The same economic shock is not experienced by everyone.

In light of all this, what does our Christian faith say to us about the use of money and the wider economy? To explore these issues, we at the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility are running a a series of online events to explore the way in which our faith, finance and the wider economy interact. Called 'Restoring Hope', we want to offer a vision of hope that can help us in these difficult times.

The main event is an evening conversation with Dr Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury) and Dr Ruth Valerio (Global Advocacy and Influencing Director, Tearfund). In addition, we are running sessions which include a Bible study exploring income and wealth, an exploration of ethical pensions and a discussion of how the £40bn available in our churches each year could make a real difference.

'£40bn?' you might ask. Well, the average UK church has 40 adults; the average UK income is approximately £25k. There are 40,000 churches in the UK. If you multiply all that together you get £40bn. Our vision is one in which we take seriously the idea that all of our money is God's money, not just the tithe, and that we have a moral responsibility to use all of it wisely. It is for that reason that we talk about the £40bn restoration fund.

One strand of our work is about encouraging Christians and churches to take a pledge that in some ways is the economic equivalent of eco-church commitments. That pledge is not about giving away a tenth of our income to charity; it is about using 100% of our money with a Christian mindset. It is about asking questions of who we bank with, where our pensions are located, on which products we spend our money, who provides our energy, our car, our clothes etc.

It's also about campaigning for tax justice – which is another strand of our work via Church Action for Tax Justice – to ensure that the tax policies we implement are those that have poverty, inequality and environmental sustainability at their heart.

A recent international report argued that we need to change our global economic system in light of Covid to focus less on growth and more on equality and the climate. One of the reasons they gave is that humans are not inherently selfish, focussed only on maximising their own income, but rather we are social beings for whom the wellbeing of others, community and social cohesion matter. In reading this, it struck me that the authors of the report were, perhaps belatedly, coming round to an insight that theologians identified in the pages of scripture, indeed in the very nature of the trinitarian God, a few thousand years ago.

As people created in the image of God, we are in essence persons-in-community, not individualised selfish beings. It is this kind of application of Christian thinking to our money and contemporary economics that we will be discussing at our events and we hope to see you there.

Dr Justin Thacker is Director of Church Action for Tax Justice, a a programme of the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility.