shrinking your camel

15 11 2011

A turn of the page couldn’t reveal two more different approaches to the good news. I was reading the latest edition of Christianity Magazine and p18 had an article about the so-called Machine Gun Preacher, a hard-core Christian who uses machine guns to rescue stolen African children in Uganda/Sudan in the name of Jesus, and is the subject of a recent film of that name. Controversial, obviously.

The previous page had a simple interview with an ‘ordinary’ person with an even more controversial theology yet one that slips under the radar of respectability.

The interview was with the top man in RK Capital Management LLP, which runs one of the biggest industrial metals hedge funds in the world. He is known as Mr Copper because of the fund’s significant role in the copper market. He attends St Helen’s Bishopsgate. All fine so far.

© 2011 Thomas Lekfeldt/Moment/Redux

It is well-known that conditions in Zambian copper mines are not good; many are run by Chinese-state companies that routinely flout labour laws, according to Human Rights Watch. So he was asked whether, as one of the biggest buyers of copper in the world, he could influence conditions of workers in the mines in a country where copper is 75% of the country’s exports and 2/3 of Government revenue. Surely the workers would be pleased to have a Jesus-following Bible-believing man of influence on their side?

No.

He washed his hands of any responsibility for their working conditions, saying that if he were to do anything, it would be to import “God-fearing gospel-believing ministers into Zambia, because once hearts are changed, improvements are made.”

Unless it means him, of course. Has his heart been changed, so improvements can be made?

Perhaps even more distressing was the fact he made claim to Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Ruler as a way of reconciling his wealth and inaction. Somehow he came to the conclusion that money is neutral.  He has completely missed the point. This is an extremely wealthy man who makes his money, in part, gambling on the future of copper mined in extremely dangerous circumstances. Were people like him to have a direct encounter with Jesus in the manner of the rich young ruler, I do not think they would get away with claiming their wealth was neutral and their hands clean.

There is a problem with City of London ghetto theology that justifies turning blind eyes, washing of hands and hiding behind claims to “preach gospel” before improving living conditions for copper slaves . I’m sure we can guess which one the workers would call good news. “Thinking of the cross at the beginning of the day”, as he says he does, makes no difference to their lives. Few can influence copper mines. When you are one of the few who can, yet hide behind “the gospel” as an excuse for inaction, the Jesus movement  is in a sorry place.

Money is not neutral. Jesus said it is harder for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  This is a challenge to little me, but surely a massive challenge to to Mr Copper and the many who work in the City and think like that: shrink your camel.

Because that needle is gonna hurt.

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9 responses

15 11 2011
c2drl

Its a difficult one isn’t it. His job as the boss of a hedge fund is to make money for his investors. If he does something that compromises that is he being a Christian to them. Oh, and by the way his investors include people who are poor and who depend on him to make good returns for their pension fund.

Maybe he keeps people employed by working within the system, albeit not in very good circumstances.

Maybe he doesn’t and you are right, but I do know it is easy to judge others when we aren’t involved and don’t understand all the detail.

Ethical teaching is sorely needed within the Church and can help reform some of the bad practice we see in financial institutions. We need to engage with these people not condemn them. I wonder too why we keep opicking on bankers and hedge funds. I don’t hear the same criticisms of footballers and other sportsmen paid silly money for doing nothing useful and I don’t hear criticism of the Trades Union barons.

We need to get involved in the discussion, not stand outside throwing stones.

15 11 2011
Kevin

I think this is engaging with them. Hearing their point of view, and putting an alternative. And there is an argument that says we ‘pick on bankers’ etc… and maybe we do – but it was largely that industry that led us into economic territory we are in, that industry that demanded tax payer to bail them out of their mistakes, and that industry that carries on regardless making money whilst people all around me are losing their jobs. And that industry that claims to be indispensable to our economy. I think the view represented by ‘Mr Copper’ in his interview is widespread among Christians, and needs challenging because it is wrong. Regardless of all the other arguments about the economic downturn and bail-outs etc…, if a person finds themselves in a position to help out those imprisoned in an oppressive, dangerous working environment that simply would not be allowed here and chooses to do nothing in the name of Jesus they need challenging.

Footballers, on the other hand, are paid silly money for doing nothing worthwhile, but do not demand that their fines for incompetence are paid by the tax payer.

16 11 2011
fran lewis

I am of the view that education and discussion about money is far more important than all the discussion churches are having currently about sex and gender. We can often hide behind those issues and forget that Jesus did actually say more about money than sex and gender. He opened up the forum for discussion, it was a ‘hot topic’ for him. He knew how difficult it was for those with money to attach responsibility and honour to it, because so often the more money we have the more protective we are to keep it and hold it, and the harder it is to hold it loosely, the harder it is to build equality with it and the harder it is to be accountable. I think Jesus really understood how tricky it is to be wealthy, but stressed time and time again his grace that unlocks our attitudes to wealth. Why is there so many references where Jesus talks significantly about social action and attitudes towards less fortunate folk….’when you saw someone hungry and fed them you did that for me’. It is vital that as a church community we keep talking about our attitudes to money and do not become complacent, attached to, or hordy with it!
It is also important that we pray for those in wealthy worlds to be able to manage the responsbilities that they face due to it and that they have wise grace to manage their worlds with God. .

16 11 2011
Kevin

Amen!

16 11 2011
Edward Green (@EdwardBGreen)

Did you read the Indie piece on Christians in the City? I quote:

“That’s a very complex question,” says Nick Fletcher, a member of HTB’s congregation and the chief executive of financial advisers Saunderson House. “You could ask, ‘What is rich?’ I think it’s more of an attitude to capital. It’s not the money but the love of money that is the root of all evil. We need to earn a living and we need to provide for our families – the Bible says that, doesn’t it? And actually, in this day and age, if someone earns £1m, I mean firstly you’re giving 80 to 85 per cent away in taxes – income tax, national insurance, VAT – then you provide for your family’s education, shelter, warmth; at the end of the day, there’s not much left for what you might call yourself.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/gods-bankers-how-evangelical-christianity-is-taking-a-hold-of-the-city-of-londonrsquos-financial-institutions-2270393.html

16 11 2011
Kevin

I hadn’t seen it, thank you. There are of course great arguments like this, that the amount wealthy people contribute in taxes is great etc…, which is true. I have to wonder how he possibly manages to feed and house his family on a meager £200,000 /year, poor thing. Seriously though, the money is not the point. The point is, we all have moral and ethical considerations, and when our industries take advantage of people in dire situations – like Zambian copper mining – I think we have a theological imperative to improve things for them, alongside making money from them.

16 11 2011
c2drl

Thats it, never let the facts get in the way of a good argument!

As I recall it wasn’t the bankers who demanded a bail out, it was a socialist Government that declared them too big to fail. It wasn’t bankers who led us into the economic territory we are in, it was Governments of various colours who were too addicted to borrowing and demanding ever more growth, coupled with investors (i.e. people like you and me) wanting better pensions and higher returns.

It isn’t Mr Copper who is in a position to change the dangerous working environment, (he can’t, all he does is buy futures in the product, if he stopped doing that it wouldn’t make a scrap of difference to the workers) it is the growing economies who turn a blind eye to this in their demand for copper and other products to permit their electronic gadgets and machines to go on being developed and sold to make profits.

The world is out of kilter, and if I put my thumbs in my ears and my hands over my eyes (difficult but not impossible) I can convince myself it is a scapegoat’s fault – in this case the bankers. Not me God, it was him and him.

Have you ever considered that the collapse of economies and particularly of Euroland just might be God’s laws in action causing something which has got too big and out of control to self destruct.

16 11 2011
Kevin

That’s it, never let facts get in the way of a good argument!

As I recall I didn’t say people like Mr Copper should stop investing in mines – I said people like that have a moral and theological imperative to do all they can to improve working conditions in an industry they benefit from. Just because all he does is ‘buy futures’ (and no, I have no idea what they are but I do know they involve people and relationships because they involve money and are therefore not neutral or disconnected…) it doesn’t mean he cannot make a scrap of difference. That is not the sort of attitude that ‘ended’ slavery or apartheid or any other sort of oppression.

As for arguments over economics, I know I am not well-placed to know the subtleties of who did this and that, and that many governments are to blame. But I do seem to recall it is banks that agree or do not agree to lend money knowing the risks, and banks that agree to take risks or not to knowing the risks, and seemingly it is not banks that suffer the consequences when their risks go wrong. But this is a diversion from my main point about those with money having responsibilities.

24 11 2011
Anita @ Dreaming Beneath the Spires

Excellent and thoughtful blogpost. Yes, money might be neutral under the mattress, but it has an enormous potential for spiritual and actual good or evil once activated and used.
Good point on what the Zambian copper workers would consider the good news to be.

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