I have two thoughts on your comments about the financial scandal. First, you are of course right that it would be a bit unreasonable to expect God to be telling Mr Black which funds to invest in etc. But that is the point, isn’t it? I don’t believe that God is telling the leaders which fund to invest in, which house to buy, which job to take, how to prepare school lunches to get a good inspection report or anything else, but that is what THEY are claiming. Not only that, but they claim God tells them about these things for other people as well, so the members of the congregation ask whether they should marry a particular person, whether they should apply for a particular job or where to study at university.
The importance of incidents like the financial scandal is that it clearly demonstrates to all that the claimed discernment is false. That is of course pretty clear to all now with testimonies like that of Covlass confirming how inaccurate the discernment is, but I still find it really interesting when there is something like this which is subject to “scientific verification” if you like. Totally clear evidence that the whole discernment thing is simply a case of the emperor’s new clothes.
In terms of the actual scandal, you would be right if it was just a case of picking poor shares. Even “high risk” shares presumably would have the benefit of a potential high return so might be reasonable to some people. I think most would see it as a bit inappropriate to gamble with church funds in that way, but I agree it is in many ways a matter of judgement.
The reality is not so debatable however. My understanding is that this was at a time that public companies (BT I think, but I could be wrong) were being sold off. Every member of the public was “being given the chance to be a shareholder” and everyone could apply for a limited number of shares. I have no idea how much, but lets say it was 100 shares at £1 each.
Mr Black thought this was a great opportunity and (presumably assisted by Chris Jewell who was the treasurer) wanted to use the church money to buy more than 100 shares. The problem was that, although the church had the money, each individual could only apply for 100 shares. Solution – ask people in the congregation to sign their name on the application form. The church would provide the money (£100) and buy the shares. When they went up in price to say £150, which is what was expected, the church would sell them again and retain the profit.
A number of people did sign the forms and the shares were purchased but then fell in value instead of increasing
. Result, the church invested something like £1m and it was suddenly worth only £0.5m. This is not just bad management; it is dishonest, and might even have been illegal. Because it was such a heavy loss, it was of course noticed, but here is an interesting question – would it have been noticed if it had made a profit? If it had made money, I suspect it would all have been “God’s guidance” leading them to financial success.
I think some of the financial problems date back to that time, as I think that a number of people re-mortgaged their house to get the church out of debt. That may be the source of the “interest-free loans repayable on demand” that still appear in the church books (or may not, I don’t know, but how many organisations do you know that are based on loans that have no equity or interest arrangement and are repayable on demand?) It seems to me this whole financial scandal is quite a big issue and, above all, demonstrates that the discernment thing is not real.
On a more general note, Rensil, I think you summed it up when you said,
Re the callousness and uncaring attitudes in SMC, I have witnessed a lot of that over the years, especially concerning people with mental illness, which, in a similar way to the epileptic seizure story given by Cbarb, was usually spiritualised. The reason for ignoring someone or showing coldness towards someone was always that that was what God was telling the leaders to do and was usually because the person wasn't making the grade as far as leadership was concerned. These attitudes don't just affect the young, but also elderly members of SMC. I know an elderly member who suffered tragic circumstances and they have been left totally alone with no church support. I don't think they get pastoral visits or phone-calls, despite having supported the church for years, financially too. There are others in a similar position who just get conveniently forgotten. Doesn't the Bible say, to help widows in their affliction?
Yes, this is my experience as well, and I would like to resurrect one of the words Archbishop Laud used ages ago – unconscionable. To me, that sums it up entirely. No one with a conscience could do what they do - but they do not have a conscience, and are even proud that they don’t have a conscience. Jesus told the story of the lost sheep and how the shepherd would leave the 99 and go to look for the one that was lost. Struthers tells the story of the lost sheep and how God, in his infinite generosity gave them, the elite leaders, a “band of iron” that stopped them even thinking about the lost sheep. How good is that! No need to have a conscience folks, in the Struthers view, God is so wonderful he can take away the most troublesome conscience. That is why they can be callous, and why they can continue to lead a church even after that sort of financial scandal.