Crisis at Christmas, Easter and throughout the year
Only four hours before I sat down to start writing this piece, I was asked a question about the impact of the ‘GFC’ on the churches and their mission in Europe. This shorthand for ‘global financial crisis’ may yet go into the dictionary and become as widely used as JFK or RAC. The impact has been multilayered and is certainly complex but it can be presented reasonably comprehensively in the following way.
A financial crisis
Mission agencies, Christian charities and churches have seen their budgets hit significantly by reduced income. Some can point to continued faithful and sacrificial giving by their regular supporters but there have certainly been casualties and cutbacks. In June 2001 the 29 congregations of the Greek Evangelical Church reported a reduction in support for drug rehabilitation programmes and in payments to pastors and pensioners. Similarly, the Greek Orthodox Church was informed that the state-supplied salaries of its priests were to be cut by up to 50%.
The Italian Government is currently considering taxing church property in order to increase tax revenues. Reports surfaced in March of this year that church-owned profit-making ventures such as hotels, restaurants, or stores were likely to be taxed and that as the second largest land-owner in Italy, the Vatican would be particularly hard hit.
In Hungary, by contrast, around 60 recession-hit state schools have been handed over to the Reformed Church and about 40 to Roman Catholic Churches during the latter part of 2011. The Reformed Church’s response was cautious although it believed that the move could potentially offer several advantages, communal and financial, because many of their existing Church-run schools are backed by significant community involvement.
A social crisis
In December 2011 the Conference of European Churches called for concerted action by the EU that meets ‘the needs of the people at the centre of the solution’. Prior to a meeting with the European Council, CEC church leaders said that this was not only a financial and economic crisis. In their view the crisis was political and ethical: we might add that it is also a social and spiritual crisis. Sustainable solutions that put people first were urged by Europe’s Christian leaders. Romanian church leaders spoke out in May 2011 to head off attempts by economic and political leaders to limit church contributions to addressing only the spiritual dimensions of the current crisis. A biblical response places spiritual dimensions at the heart of social and communal networks, suggesting that financially challenged individuals are also spiritual individuals and that these aspects of human experience are inextricably linked. Referring to a social crisis draws attention to the need to account for the human cost of the crisis to be addressed alongside attempts to balance national accounts.
A crisis of values
Few Christian commentators deny that the crisis, fuelled by the ready supply of cheap credit provided by Europe’s financial institutes, is a consequence of crass materialism and naked consumerism. The demise of many of the major credit suppliers seems already to be a fading memory. There is as yet little evidence that the crisis has provoked a widespread return to a more values-driven society, particularly a society driven by Christian values.
Meanwhile, secular commentators have suggested that in the face of predictions of decline, the economic, political, demographic and cultural assets of Europe would be likely to continue to drive the region’s global leadership. Church leaders argue, on the contrary, that without a renewal of the values that underlie the current crisis, further crises can be expected. A renewal of Christendom is certainly not what Europe needs right now but the social vision of the Christian Scripture certainly deserves urgent consideration by Europe’s political and economic leaders.Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized