THE world’s richest and largest Anglican diocese has lost more than $100 million on the sharemarket and is investigating ways to cut programs and ministries across Sydney.
Two years ago the Anglican diocese of Sydney was able to allocate $30 million to educate new ministers, spread the Gospel and reach out to young people. But returns from investments have plummeted so steeply that the funds available next year have been slashed to $5.6 million.
The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, has written to clergy warning that the global financial crisis has caused significant losses. He said the diocese had borrowed money to invest and used the profits to build churches in 2007.
“In the extraordinary conditions at the end of 2008, as the whole market fell, this strategy also accentuated our losses,” Dr Jensen said.
“As a result, our investments have fallen by more than half and distribution of money from our investments has been cut by 50 per cent.”
At one stage it is believed the diocese had lost nearly $260 million but this has reduced as the market has recovered.
The diocese became aware of the looming crisis earlier this year. Now a series of inquiries is under way, and committees are debating what to do before the mess and its consequences are put to the Synod in October.
Because of the way that the Diocese is structured, this loss will affect centrally-funded projects but not the parishes, which are self-funded (unless supported directly by the Diocese).
Of course the newspaper has managed to round up the usual suspects for a juicy quote:
The Reverend John Cornish, the rector of St Alban’s at Epping and a long-time Jensen critic, said it was a shame so much money had been wasted and, while it was good to build churches in new housing estates, “excessive enthusiasm” meant the diocese had stayed too long at the stockmarket gambling table.
“Nobody’s taking responsibility for this. In other organisations heads would roll.”
but where it really gets interesting is in the letters over the next couple of days. First, a barrage of nothing short of Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Long before Jesus, Qohelet (the Teacher in Ecclesiastes) noted, with some irony, the fickle nature of wealth:
Ecclesiastes 5:10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? 12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. 13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him.
or, as another philosopher once said, “you can’t take it with you”, to which Qohelet would add “and some idiot squanders all the stuff you left behind”.
In the face of all this Jesus tells us to extend our investment horizon beyond retirement to eternity:
Matthew 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
More than this, he gave a severe warning for those who got their investment horizons wrongly calibrated:
Luke 12:16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Ultimately, material investments will do nothing for you. In fact, more often than not they will provide us with a false sense of security. They will keep our head buried like ostriches, preventing us from looking up and seeing the oncoming judgement of God for what it is - the ultimate market crash.
So does that mean we stick out of that kind of business altogether? Well, no. We’re also told to look after our wealth responsibly…
1 Timothy 5:4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.
of course, a few paragraphs later the Apostle, drawing on themes we saw in Ecclesiastes, will warn again about greed…
1 Timothy 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Greed, it seems, is not just the problem of the pagan. It can mess up a Christian.
So does this mean we, as Christians, should shun all such matters of money? Does this mean investing is permanently off the agenda? Jesus provides an interesting close to the debate:
Luke 16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
It’s intriguing, isn’t it? Jesus says that the dishonest manager is to be emulated. Now obviously his dishonesty is not being praised here, but rather his shrewdness. He knows how to manage things so that they go the best way. Jesus calls upon the Church to be equally shrewd with the world. We should use worldy wealth to make friends, says Jesus, who Himself is noted in Luke’s gospel as being a friend of all sorts of people, tax collectors, prostitutes and the rest. So we should use the money of the world to gather friends from the world - put another way we should be wise, shrewd, in the use of our assets for the sake of expansion of the Kingdom. Invest to evangelise!
So back to the Diocese and, perhaps, a slightly calmer look at it all.
Some things now worth considering:
- Investing one’s assets is not per se being greedy. It may simply be shrewd (and therefore godly) management.
- Gordon Gecko is wrong: greed is not good. More than that, greed will very likely take you to hell.
- Greed is about foolish mis-placed self-interest. Which is not the same as investing in order to charitably benefit others, as Sydney Diocese does.
- When the market crashed last year, everyone tanked. No-one escaped without damage. Were they all greedy foolhardy gamblers or, perhaps, did they all act sensibly and get stuffed anyway?
- Have those in the know called for the widespread resignations of other heads of investment over the crash and associated losses? If not then it might be an indication that the market understands that sometimes these things are not a result of irresponsibility. Compare to the way those responsible for sub-prime got hammered.
- Nevertheless, was the Diocesan decision to borrow and gear up their investments a wise decision? Was it shrewd? Were other people doing the same thing? Were they advising further gearing up, not for individual assets but the extension of already diversified portfolios?
I think the last question is the one that needs to be asked about the Diocese. Did they follow a strategy that was acknowledgeably risky? Or did they follow the shrewdness of the world? Because, believe it or not, Jesus might just have commended the latter.