Dr Morgan enters ‘dangerous waters’ with voting advice

24 April 2015

Gavin Drake reports from the meeting of the Church in Wales Governing Body

PHILIP MORRIS

CHRISTIANS should vote for policies "that will be of most benefit to the common good", the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said in his presidential address to members of the Church in Wales Governing Body.

Concerning the forthcoming election, he said: "We have the freedom to act purely in our own interests, and vote for policies that will benefit us personally the most; but we also have the freedom to vote for policies that will be of most benefit to the common good, even though they might not be of benefit to us personally."

He acknowledged that by addressing political issues he was "entering into dangerous waters. . . If bishops and Christians have nothing to say at all about how we organise ourselves in society, and the issues which confront us every day, then we have emptied the Christian faith of a great deal of its content, which urges us to love God and our neighbours as ourselves.

"Running through the whole of the Bible is the belief that God is on the side of the poor, the disadvantaged, the fatherless, widows, orphans, and strangers. And the prophets of Israel railed against injustice and unfairness towards the poor, and chastised their nation for allowing such things.

"And Jesus, when he came to Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry, according to St Luke, said that he had come to preach good news to the poor, freedom for captives, sight to the blind, release for the oppressed."

The issues were developed further in a short debate on "Church action on poverty issues", during which members were asked to adopt a revised ethical-investment policy that would introduce "Wonga-related changes".

Moving the motion, the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, said that some of the changes had been "deliberately put into the policy to take account of the Wonga episode that so embarrassed the Church of England in the past. We want to say something specific about those who engage in exploiting the poor or financially vulnerable through payday lending. We are not naming individual companies, firms, or individual people; but that is why it is there."

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Although the motion made no explicit reference to the Living Wage, Bishop Davies referred to the recent accusation that Canterbury Cathedral employed people below the Living Wage, despite the General Synod's passing a motion that called for all C of E entities to pay their staff the higher rate.

"This is something that has already been looked at by the human-resources committee of the Representative Body," he said. "It has already been looked at by a number of the dioceses; and it is on the agenda."

James Turner, who chairs the Representative Body, said that the proposed changes to the ethical-investment policy had the "full support of the Representative Body and its investment committee".

"The proposed draft policy includes two principle changes," he said. "The first is the inclusion of a specific restriction on investment in companies which are engaged in predatory lending activities. This term includes payday-loan companies which charge more than 36 per cent APR."

The second change, he said, would make existing restrictions on companies engaged in pornography, or the proliferation of armaments beyond legitimate self-defence, more transparent.

The motion was carried unanimously:

That the Governing Body:

(i) recognise the gospel imperative to address poverty and disadvantage;

(ii) adopt the revised Ethical Investment Policy approved by the Representative Body on 20 November 2014;

(iii) welcome the establishment of the Churches' Mutual Credit Union and commend credit union membership;

(iv) welcome the progress made towards accreditation of the Church in Wales as a Fair Trade Province;

(v) recognise and affirm the work of local churches and church-related projects in supporting people in poverty, and campaigning against the causes of poverty;

(vi) call upon the Welsh Government to do all that it can to minimise the impact of poverty, austerity and recession on the people of Wales.

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