Monday, February 1, 2010

Thinking about economics--with the Archbishop of Canterbury

The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury (pictured with me here), spent three days reflecting on the nature of faith and economics at this year's Trinity Institute at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, in New York City.
Father Jonathan and I attended, and both of us met Dr. Williams and chatted with him. The archbishop, a poet, and I talked about poetry, not economics.
This was the 40th national theological conference hosted by Trinity Church. It took place at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street, the center of world finance, in the historic nave of Trinity Church. Alexander Hamilton, one of the founders of the Republic and father of our banking system, was a member of Trinity and is buried in the church's graveyard.
During the conference, we participants reflected on how our Christian faith could help build an ethical economy.
Dr. Williams, who holds a DPhil.,,in theology and who taught at Oxford and Cambridge, said that faith in God and the values of the gospels, such as compassion and generosity, should contribute to economic decision-making, not just considerations of profit and loss.
He reminded us that the word "economy" comes from the Greek word for "household" and commended the model of a household for economic planning and action. The household " is where life is lived in community," he said. "Good housekeeping seeks common well being, starting with stability (and) balancing the needs of all and maintaining relationships."
Economists, together with people of faith should ask "What is the long-term well being we seek?" What kind of home do we want to build together? Dr. Williams asked, citing a phrase of the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom.
Theology, Dr.Williams said, contributes two things to ethical economics. It challenges the mystery of economics and proposes a model for human life together. And theology tells us what people are made to be--beings with value and of virtue.
"What makes us human," he said, "are gift and love."
And if you follow economics as closely as I do--I used to be a banker--you know that economists who speak about gift and love are rare, but people of faith, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the people at this year's Trinity Institute, who talk about economics and ethics are becoming more abundant.
And we're actively discussing ways to build an ethical economy in which people are valued primarily because we're created in the image of God, and not because we're simply sources of productivity and profit.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to reflect on God's generosity and how we can extend that love to others as His people. If we really believe that God owns it all, including our lives, our time, and our treasures, then the significance of being a good steward is even more meaningful. What a wonderful thing it is to allow His Spirit to guide us into joyful generosity. I'm not sure how that is reflected in a structured economy, but we certainly can live that as individuals regardless of the socio-polictical structure. When we do, I believe God is honored.


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