Godliness returns to Mammon's temple

Click to follow
CHRISTIAN WORKERS have always felt out of step reconciling their beliefs with the "hard sell" and "bonus envy" culture of the City. But now, according to the Centre for Marketplace Theology, an independent Christian initiative to bring the principles of God to the Square Mile, more Christian and non-Christian traders, bankers, accountants and lawyers are looking for an alternative to the City's prevailing ethos of greed.

In just 12 months the centre claims to have won an active City membership of 1,600, from an estimated Christian City workforce of 7,000. Centre chairman, Malcolm Matson, an entrepreneur who founded Colt Telecoms, the cable company which recently displaced British Steel from the FTSE 100 says: "There are many, many people out there, whether Christian or not, who are questioning what is happening. It takes only a couple of institutions to fail for people to start to take stock."

A wave of recent redundancies culminating in the loss of 3,400 jobs at investment bankers, Merrill Lynch, and the threat of a world financial catastrophe have forced people to concede the shortcomings of boom-and- bust economics. Merrill Lynch is typical of City institutions in taking no steps to offer its sacked workforce any Christian counselling. Instead, a spokesman said: "They are getting pretty generous redundancy packages."

The City churches are well positioned to help fill any spiritual void. With just 6,000 people living in the Square Mile, the 30 City churches are more than half empty. The centre is now working with some of these churches to try to reach out to Christians, who live outside the City, but want support in being more open about their values in the workplace. "Many Christians in middle management," says Matson, "have felt cowed, especially when it has been politically incorrect to acknowledge that you have some pretty fundamental and important beliefs about the nature of what you are doing."

Now Matson says that what he has found remarkable is the large numbers of "young Turk" Christians who are no longer willing to keep their heads down from Monday to Friday while serving Mammon.

City-based charities are also reporting a growing interest in their work. Peta Sweet, director of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group, which encourages lawyers to spend some of their time working for free, says people seem to feel a need to do more than just take home a fat bonus at the end of the month. "They are looking for something more ethical, or spiritual."

The big-bonus culture is high on the centre's agenda. "Should a marketplace be propelled by performance at all costs with the huge rewards that go with it?" asks Matson. "When someone receives a bonus what is the most constructive use of it? Is it an empowerment to philanthropy or the chance to get a second Porsche?"

Sweet thinks many City lawyers would take the Porsche and not give the matter a second thought. "I have been into the large City firms to talk to their trainees and they sit there with their Rolex watches and gold cuff-links and look at you as if you are from another planet."

The centre admits there are many temptations and conflicts for Christians working in the dog-eat-dog world of the City. But Matson wants to encourage leading City figures to follow more Christian economic principals. "The great wealth creators aren't emerging as the great philanthropists as they did in the industrial revolution," he says.

He also understands how Christian economic theory can play a practical role in the City. "Adam Smith, or any free market economist, will say you need transparency and honesty and reliability in the marketplace to survive. So, on economic grounds, we would argue that there needs to be a reversion to individual principles, like "my word is my bond", rather than "if you get away with it, it's ok".

But Matson is well aware of the City's resistance to a Christian message. In 1993 he was elected as a City alderman on a platform of Christian reform but was "blackballed" by the Corporation of London. "It ended up in the courts where I won a judgment to show they were acting illegally," he recalls.

Today, he places great faith in young City Christians who want more from their political leaders than just a casual affiliation to the church: "A lot of young people see that things are not what they should be and a healthy number of them are beginning to realise that it's not with the government to deliver heaven and earth."