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Some Thoughts for the Presbyterian Church on the Demise of the Mutual Society

November 27, 2008

OK! First of all, I don’t want to underestimate the horrendous position the Moderator and the Clerk find themselves in in relation to the Presbyterian Mutual Society debacle. There is a level at which I think neither of them had any other option but to run for cover or to deny responsibility according to the law. To do otherwise was to open the institution to potentially unlimited trouble.

And I try to understand the position of those who feared for their savings, investments and, for some, their retirement nest egg. Many I’m sure did linger over the potential impact on others in the society of their decision to withdraw funds. Not many involved are callous, cold, hardnosed investors.

Nevertheless, this is not one that the church should bury under the carpet and solve it in-house a la Sinn Fein.

The economic world which has been destroyed by the free exercise of similar pursuits is crying out for clearly articulated alternatives. Rather obviously the Chancellor and Prime Minister are at a loss, given that their budget statement this week appears to express a belief that the solution to our greed and rampant consumerism is to get us to spend more.

So here are a few things which occur to me.

Dear Moderator, Clerk of the Assembly, Erstwhile PMS Savers and teachers of the faithful,

To the Clerk and the Moderator,

You say that there is no legal connection between the church and the Society. And you’re right. Technically. But this does not absolve you or us of responsibility, unless we are content to apply the letter of the law.

To hide behind the law in this matter is shameful just as it is unacceptable to cut off the Society  and let its officials solve their problems by themselves, however naive they have been. The last person who did this at least had the decency to wash his hands (Matt 27:24)

I know you bear a heavy responsibility for the institution and you bear it honestly and sacrificially. Your daily decisions affect the lives of hundreds of thousands, their pensions, their witness, their jobs and even their eternal destiny. You, better than most, understand the potential impact if this goes badly for PCI.

But is it acceptable that these savers should die for the church, rather than the church die for these savers? The last person who said this at least had the decency to rend his garments at the death (John 11:49-53; Matt 26:66).

And to the savers who withdrew their money I say this.

Generally speaking it seems that in the case of those left behind, we’re not dealing with sophisticated investors. Indeed it appears that we may be dealing with an older generation, who trusted the word of their clergy and followed the encouragement of their denomination to stick their savings in the Society. Does the biblical injunction to honour your parents carry any weight (Deut 5:16)?

Are you ashamed of what you did? And if not, why not? Did you not realise that your agreement to save in the Society and take the favourable interest rate was also a commitment to your Presbyterian neighbour? Did you not realise that even in the financial marketplace you are your brother’s keeper? The last person to ignore this principle at least had the decency to hide the corpse (Gen 4: 8-12).

And to the teachers and spiritual guides in the denomination.

I respectfully ask, what do you discern in these events for the health of the Presbyterian community? What can you read here on the virtues of faith, hope and love in our church? What word have you for those of us who follow your lead and respect the discipline of the church?

I applaud your desire to pastor those who have been hurt by recent events. This is a necessary and honourable task, as is the need to point people towards a better source of security. Remember, there is no profit in gaining the whole world and losing one’s soul. But it is only part of the response required.

We know what the denomination’s attitude is to those left behind, the Clerk has said there may be a hardship fund and there will be pastoral care, but I haven’t heard anybody from the church speak into the lives of those who removed their savings. Is that because we tacitly understand their actions, even quietly condone it as normal? As a spiritual leader are you happy with that? Is our church silent towards them because saying something is difficult? Something like the following:

“Speaking in the name of Christ your spiritual leaders say put back the money you extracted from the Society or else endure the discipline of the church”?  “Otherwise, like Paul in Corinthians, we will not associate with you until you repent and show it in your actions” (1 Cor 5:9-13).

What I don’t want to believe is that we are all content to continue in the distorted form of individualised, self-obsessed evangelicalism that so pervades our church? But if, God forbid, we are then let’s be honest about it and not feign surprise when we act in the economic arena in such a self-interested way? On the other hand this may be a holy moment afforded us by God in which to act prophetically for our own sakes and for the sake of the world. I pray we have the maturity and wisdom to discern the way ahead and the courage to take the right path.

Yours Sincerely,
Crookedshore

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