Keep on Giving: Responding to the Financial Slump, Dec 2008

by Graham Kings

Date added: 31/07/2020

Keep on giving


Graham Kings               The Guardian, 4 Dec 2008

When belts tighten, do they have to tighten around the necks of the poor?


 Can religion help us through the slump?


When asked why he had robbed a bank, Willie Sutton, a 19th-century outlaw, replied "Because that's where the money is." A wonderful answer, but with the slump affecting our plans for Christmas, our wry smiles soon turn to rueful worries.


On November 13 2008, on the 16th floor of the Economist building in London, Matthew Bishop and Michael Green launched their new book Philanthrocapitalism. Bishop, from England and a regular speaker at the Christian arts festival Greenbelt, is the New York bureau chief of The Economist.


He invented the word "philanthrocapitalist" and uses it to refer people such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and George Soros. These are key examples of mega-scale, business-like donors who provide risk capital for social change. Their foundations back innovative ideas for tackling global problems of poverty and disease, especially malaria and HIV/Aids in Africa.

Chapter 11 of the book uses another new word "Celanthropism", concerning people like Bono and Angelina Jolie, who use their fame to raise, and give away, money for similar projects.

The timing of the book launch in the present climate – in some ways striking while the irony is hot – was not lost on Bishop and Green. And sadly, on November 25 2008 the Wall Street Journal published a worrying article by Mike Spector and Shelly Banjo, "Big Players scale back on charitable donations". These huge new foundations are indeed to be encouraged, but when belts are tightened, need they be tightened around the necks of the poor?


How may Christians, corporately and individually, respond to the financial slump? Jack Maple, adviser in community ministry to the diocese of London, has written recently (pdf) on the diocesan website about some Christian responses in London: these include food banks; debt counselling; winter night shelters; and projects focusing on youth employment, special needs and "time banks".

Reflection and discussion in groups on the theme of money in the scriptures, prayer, and the sharing of financial advice within congregations and local communities are also beneficial. In particular, an ancient parochial charity in London, The Cripplegate Foundation, is seeking new ways of providing communities with advice on debt.

If we do cut back on luxuries and presents over Christmas, will we, as individual Christians, reduce our giving to those in need? Hopefully not. Surely they should not suffer for our caution at this season?

Perhaps we should consider giving away to Christian Aid, or Tearfund, one tenth of our spending on presents. If we're not sure about that, we should think about this perceptive, intriguing and challenging comment by Guy Browning:


The path of contentment is well signposted but generally points in the opposite direction to where we want to travel.


The signposts to wholeness at Christmas point towards the poor Christ child. Why don't we consider turning around from where we want to travel and following the one who later said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"?



Graham Kings

Graham Kings

Wood panel


A bronze

Wood panel