What does the Church stand for?

by
29 July 2009

The C of E’s theology on weapons is hidden under a bushel, says Elaine Storkey

I HAVE some sympathy with journalists who tell me they do not understand what the Church of England stands for. Sometimes we seem to have an innate ability to make the clear unclear, or to launch into stage three of an argument while omitting the crucial first two.

The media can usually be relied on to compound any confusions (even if they have to trawl the lunatic fringe), thereby reinforcing the impression that we are muddled, irrelevant, and easily dismissed. This is a pity, because I believe that much of the time what the Church stands for is very clear. It is also crucially important in relation to how our society operates, and the direction it takes. Yet we are not always good at getting this across.

This struck me when I was at the Synod, in a fringe meeting with the Ethical Investment Advisory Group. It was reassuring to listen to the clarity of their thinking on money matters, and to be reminded that there are strong ethical parameters around how we in the Church of England invest. This was neither muddle nor lip-service. Far from being morality at the margins, it was a carefully considered integration of financial decision-making and Christian ethics.

As we looked at all the exclusions related to alcohol, gambling, cloning of embryos, defence, pornography, or climate change, I wondered how many people inside the Church know about the strong stand we take on ethical investment. I also wondered how many people outside the Church will ever be able to find out why we do.

Defence is a key example. While the Church of England accepts the right of nations to defend themselves, it also operates an embargo against investing in arms. Four levels of invest­ment criteria cover a huge list of complete exclusions.

We do not invest in firms that supply defence platforms: military aircraft, ships, tanks, submarines, helicopters, armoured or security vehicles. We do not invest in weapons and weapons systems, including nuclear warheads, missiles, torpedoes, bombs, ordnance, artillery, small arms and handguns, electronic warfare systems, guidance, and targeting and firing systems.

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We do not even invest in suppliers of non-offensive military systems, avionics, radar, sonar, military IT, and software components, when these involve more than a quarter of their business. Long gone, it seems, are the days when bishops blessed battleships. Our ethical policy is a carefully considered, strong Christian commit­ment. We believe in peace, and we put our money where our theology is.

Yet how many people know this is where our theology is? And how much do our churches engage with the theology behind investment practice — not just gambling and drinking, but also defence and research? How often do we hear solid expositions of the New Testament on conflict resolution, Christ on peacemaking, the prophets on justice and reparation, and the call to replace weapons with tools of peace?

It seemed ironic at our meeting that profes­sional money advisers seemed more aware of the breadth of the Church of England’s theology than many of us in the parishes, pews, or pulpits.

If we believe in God’s covenant of peace so strongly that it directs how we raise money for ministry, surely we could let our nation in on it. The same principles that lie behind our investments present a challenge to the arms trade, the replacement of Trident, nuclear proliferation, the treatment of enemies, profiteering from war, and the need to protect our military personnel.

If people really do not know what we stand for, perhaps it is time to open up more of our theology and share it with clarity and boldness.

Dr Elaine Storkey is President of Tearfund.

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