Bishop Richard Wood: Theology of Disinvestment Part 2

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 two.

In general, it seems true to say that the use of money represents an unredeemed area of Wester society at least. Disinvestment queries very basic assumptions inherent in our society. It is not possible only to clobber 'those nasty capitalists'. At a Trades Union meeting in London a discussion on 'apartheid' was immediately followed by a motion to press for higher wages without any attempt to relate this to the immense differential between our own and black standards of living in South Africa. When challenged the Secretary said, 'We are here to do the best for our members' and the best is more money.

Under Mosaic law usury was forbidden. Today it is part of the Western way of life. Few of us would reject the practice of buying a house and selling it at a highly inflated price. We do not ask 'What is that person’s need for a home? How much can he afford to pay - nor do we believe that a surplus should go into a common fund. I have never been known to refuse a pay rise on the grounds that as I get richer, others in the Third World get poorer. Nor would we reject something for nothing — an attitude implicit in football pools, horse racing, stocks and shares or even Church fete raffles. The time when this little flutter was an ecclesiastical issue is long forgotten.

In paying back a £1,000 million E.M.F. loan a week or two ago, when the dollar was especially low the British government made a cool £25 million for us at the expense of the U.S.A. It is interesting that a system of avarice has developed in traditionally Christian countries. We have to be careful if we are making an appeal for disinvestment on moral grounds. The Wates construction company is one of the few recorded rejections of the opportunity to invest in South Africa. Philip Wates, in doing so, made a notable contribution to business ethics. Time and again our policies are guided by economic and strategic interests rather than by qualitative moral choices. Western intervention helped to create the Chilean junta. Iran is apparently our best friend, and we shall look forward to the Queen's report back. Business knows no enemy except the competitor. From a businessman’s point of view South Africa has many years of useful life ahead. It has the minerals we need and is of strategic importance. An objective economic survey may simply suggest that it is now prudent to have annual reviews and short—term returns. When you get into the disinvestment lobby you are up against the big boys of commerce and world governments — and they do their homework. However weak our economic morality may be, do we have clear grounds for selecting South Africa as a target from among all the other countries of the world?

I think an affirmative answer must be made as the result of our historic responsibility for the development of the 'apartheid' state. Cecil Rhodes, a central figure in our South African connection, is

is reported as saying "If you ask me, do I want niggers or land, my answer is land." For a hundred years South Africa has been a major area of British exploitation and only since the rise of the Afrikaner in the last fifteen years has economic control been wrested from British hands. If we have not specifically built the system of 'apartheid' there, we have allowed it to develop. Today South Africa is the only country in the world where racial prejudice is built into the constitution, effected by Parliament and enforced in Courts of Law. The black citizens have no constitutional means to change their condition. We do have a national responsibility; a debt which today we are being called upon to repay. South Africa is a special case.

Theologically the practical effectiveness of disinvestment is relevant only in that it would be repugnant for Christians to participate in a futile exercise. The genuine threat which disinvestment presents has been spelled out in many publications including 'Autograph' Vol.34 of September 1978; the bulletin of the Hull Association of University Teachers, and it is unnecessary to repeat it here. Although disinvestment could only become fully effective if it was internationally applied, unilateral action by Great Britain would be powerful and would set a precedent. In fact British involvement is so great that one could only expect other countries to move if we were setting the pace.

A further aspect of disinvestment which has moral overtones is the effect the action would be likely to have on the blacks in South Africa. This has also been widely dealt with. Suffice it to say that the call is coming from very many voices. Blacks already outside South Africa will inevitably find it easier to propose disinvestment. However, it is people inside the country who, through many political and Church groups, are requesting the action. In the event, an effective economic blockade might have to be balanced by an immense Red Cross aid programme, and hope that South Africa would permit selective support for starving blacks. International action must always be seen as supportive and in response to the people of the country. This principle is important as otherwise outside forces might feel justified in controlling and guiding change ending in the classic neo—colonialist state. A people can only liberate themselves. The essential area for change is within South Africa by the blacks and those few who support them, taking whatever action they can to develop and use their political muscle. It is as equally important, though so far unrewarding, to work for a real change of heart in the whites in South Africa, for they have it in their power, at any moment they choose, to reverse the course of apartheid history in the country.

When one considers measures that could have a significant effect, short of military intervention, one is continually forced to the conclusion that the economic arm is the one which still has the power. Much of that power may have been frittered away over the years during which South Africa has grown into the African monster. It remains the only weapon left by which we could significantly threaten South Africa even though now one must see a timescale of many years of effort. The blacks themselves will inevitably develop guerilla warfare along the borders and, as occasion offers, in urban areas. This is already being seen at a low level.

If we do not use the weapon of disinvestment, we must accept that we contracted out of effective concern for South Africa. Morally I believe it is correct to disinvest. It is a way of using the 'Mammon of Unrighteousness' to gain friends, that is using wealth for just and compassionate ends.

However, I would again say that it is a course of action which opposes our attitude to wealth, and which asks us the question; 'If there is a Disinvestment Theology, do we as Christians have an Economic Theology?’ Perhaps South Africa has already passed its ‘Kairos’, the point of no return so that change now can only take place through great loss and suffering. If that is so we in the West, due to our economic attitudes, have contributed to the disaster in a major degree.

Again, if that is so, how long will it be before those same attitudes reap their inevitably bitter harvest here? How should we be changing? What political or economic systems can be devised that would seem to offer the best hope of developing what might be termed a Christian economy? What would it look like? Is this just being utopian and must we simply resign ourselves to the abyss?

At least, and unlike our remote forbears we have resources of knowledge and research to warn us. '0 Man, what is required of thee' alongside Micah's ancient words. Can we find the Christian will in time? We must believe that it is possible and that it is the desire of the Risen Lord that we should. Our concern must be to provide the fulcrum on which the long lever of God’s Will can rest in order to move the world.

Bishop Richard Wood.


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