Bishop Richard Wood: Theology of Disinvestment Part 1

Theology of Disinvestment is from a talk which was probably delivered in Hull in the 1970's. It has been split into two parts, this is part one.

Abraham set off from Ur of the Chaldees following his star to the promised land. (Genesis 12) It was a profitable journey. Along the road Abraham was richly blessed. His flocks and servants were seen as signs of God's approval and God's gifts to a faithful servant. Avoiding the corruption of the cities (and that's an interesting thought with our present urban drift) Abraham watched the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from afar. Only Lot's wife was a casualty in the flight. Over the ensuing centuries prosperity was a cherished goal. It was not always attained, wealth was as unevenly distributed then as now; but by dint of hard work, sleeping rough and rising early and with a degree of cunning, (Jacob, for example,) made it to become the father of Israel in a patriarchal society.

Perhaps it was in Egypt that the ugly face of capitalism, with its monopolistic brick-factories, became a dreadful experience. Mosaic laws reflected a new compassion. There was responsibility over the possession of land and wealth. Ancestral patrimony was inalienable, to be returned in the year of Jubilee. Foreigners were not to be exploited. A realistic wage was to be paid. Saul, the first king of Israel, was always short of cash. He didn't have the personality to make friends and influence people. David did better. He handed on a good legacy to Solomon who seems to have established the first biblical multi—national when he went into partnership with the King of Tyre. (The trade in shittim wood intrigues me because I have always thought Solomon was a piece of that truncated wood!) Solomon's own legacy to his son was not so happy. Jeroboam inherited, with his father's wealth, the nemesis which high taxation and high living guaranteed. 'Grinding the faces of the poor' was not an invention of the industrial revolution. First the northern kingdom, later the southern, was invaded and laid under tribute leading to a long history of oppression. Loyal opposition parties were ineffective, though often courageous, attempts to expel the invader, but in spite of all efforts the land remained in bondage to the foreigner and the people yearned for a powerful liberator.

At last a true socialist revolutionary was born — his name Jesus, Son of God. He counted it not a prize to be grasped at to be on equality with God but humbled himself and was born in a stable. It is said that in his last years he had nowhere to lay his head and at the end he bequeathed his possessions to the world. His robe was put up for auction amongst the soldiers. When he began his ministry, he had fulfilled his family obligations. A later modern Messiah has faulted him on not marrying and so producing the perfect family. Well Sun Myung Moon has his eight children, a penthouse in New York and a Rolls Corniche or two but not all are impressed by his autocratic patriarchal rule and see him, as his name implies, pas the lunatic and very affluent fringe.

Jesus was a revolutionary because he had the courage, among other things, to show that money was not the measure of success nor vast wealth essential to a full life. He saw the danger of money, and he taught how possessions were to be used. Owing to the exigencies of the ministry to which he was calling at least some of his followers they 'left all and followed him'. They still had needs, carried a communal purse and Luke says that women of substance cared for Jesus and his disciples. Even this little provision for the morrow was too tempting for Judas who John says was a thief and who betrayed his friend for a miserable thirty pieces of silver. Jesus taught that money was a responsibility, a stewardship.

He tells us of the rich man misusing his privileges and destroying himself in the process, while Lazarus is gathered up into Abraham's bosom. We need our daily bread, but not much more and in that way there would be enough for everyone - which may at least be part of the meaning of the feeding of the 5000. Grinding deprivation was neither an ideal nor a necessity, but poverty, sufficient for the day, was a great Christian virtue.

Jesus’ emphasis was on a healthy, grateful stewardship and the full realisation of our responsibility in human affairs, including the use of money. He epitomised the fundamental statement of Creation, 'Behold it was very good' and answered the question 'Am I my brother’s keeper ' with a resounding 'Yes’. In the New Testament we have the insight of the Christian community as the 'Body of Christ' with corporate responsibility within the Body demonstrated by Paul's collection for the needy Christians in Jerusalem. The Body of Christ is also called upon to function as the 'salt' and the 'leaven' of the world by the power of its evangelical witness in making real the Kingdom of God among us.

If 'money is the root of all evil' it stands as a symbol for many associated human attitudes to power and the destruction which selfishness generates. James (1:9-11), warns how Christians must be alert to the insidious infiltration of cupidity.

The early experiment of Christian community of Acts (2: 42f) failed but is nowhere condemned as being inappropriate. It has had a later Marxian statement, but without the dynamic of faith, in 'From all according to their skill; to all according to their need'. It implies an ideal of poverty, sufficient for the day, as the authentic Christian economic stance. The Christian motive for living is not wealth or status as such, but service; the giving of what we can and the receiving of what we need.

As many others have done before and since, St. Francis espoused 'Lady Poverty'. Even today he is accepted as one who reflected a Christ-like life of heroic dimensions - though his witness is popularly attenuated by making him the patron saint of the RSPCA. The Franciscan Third Order established a secular Rule of Life in which people 'living in the world' could be guided towards maintaining the

evangelical rule of poverty. The Quakers have taken up a similar witness. The Christian attitude stands opposed to a dualism that creates a dichotomy between the physical world in which we humans are forced to live and the Kingdom of God. It is not only hermits or 'religious' who can fully express a Christian life; nor is it Christian piety to carry our money to the banks with tears in our eyes. On the other hand there is a tension, inevitable in Christian witness, as a result of the call to 'Take up our cross and follow Jesus' amidst the opposing clamour to lay it down and enjoy the flesh pots of Egypt.

In calling for disinvestment in South Africa we are running counter to the basic business concept of the West - that business is amoral; that the businessman is in it for profit only and only with profit does he remain in business. It is not for the entrepreneur to be an altruistic philanthropist nor is it for him to be overly concerned about the effect which an enterprise will have on human lives except in so far as it affects his business. He will get away with as much as he can for as long as he can and only shifts his position as dictated by various pressures in order to accomodate to business principles and the maintenance of the highest practical profit level. This is the law of the economic jungle though terms like 'the ugly face of capitalism' and 'enlightened self—interest' demonstrate unease at some of its out-workings.

(to be continued)


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