The Social Value of Profits and Wealth
In recent weeks, the Sunday
Gospel readings in the Episcopal Church have spoken about issues of business
profits and wealth. Our orientation as a
business economist means we take these commentaries seriously, and we might
have a different spin on them than theologians and clergy do.
On September 18, the 18th
Sunday after Pentecost, we had a passage from Luke 16 about a dishonest
manager. This person was being fired by
the rich man who employed him because he had cheated in running the business,
so the profits he generated were clearly in excess of what they should be. The conclusion to the appointed scripture is
the familiar, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the
one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
The next week, on September
25, we heard the well-known story, also from Luke 16, of Lazarus, the poor man,
who rested on the doorstep of Dives, a very rich person. Dives evidently refused even to share the
scraps from his dinner table with poor Lazarus.
The accompanying lesson from the Epistle is from 1 Timothy 6, which
includes the familiar, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”
Profits and wealth. It’s easy to use the Biblical readings we’ve
just mentioned to disparage those worldly concepts. At the same time, profits and wealth can be
beneficial, and in fact, they can contribute vigorously to the well-being of
not just the profit-earners and wealth-holders, but to the life-condition of many
other people with whom successful business leaders are associated.
This brief article will just
scratch the surface, but we feel like we have to try. The social value of profits and wealth seems
to us to depend on two important factors, how the profits and wealth were
earned, and what uses are made of them.
Profits: from Sound Business
Operations or from Price-Gouging?
The problem presented in the
first Gospel lesson above is that the manager earned profits through
cheating. The news recently has been
full of stories about profits earned by Mylan, Inc., through substantial price
increases on the Epi-Pen. According to
the Wall Street Journal, Mylan has raised the price 17 times in the nine years
they have marketed the allergy reaction first-aid shot injector, totaling more
than 500% to a retail cost more than $600.
We can’t say exactly that cheating was involved here, but it certainly
seems strange to need such large
increases for a product that
is not new. Indeed, the main medical
ingredient, epinephrine, is a generic chemical that has been around for years.
As we note, another criterion
for judging the appropriateness of profits is how they are used by the
company. If they are just used to
inflate the paychecks of top management well beyond some industry standard,
then one might argue that they are excessive.
Indeed, in this case, Mylan executives receive the second highest
compensation of comparable managers in drug companies. But Mylan is not the second largest drug
company; to the contrary, it ranked 11th in the U.S. in 2015 by
revenue and 16th by market valuation.
Our commentary here is hardly
meant to single out Mylan, but this case has emerged as a very timely and
visible example of what seems to be price gouging implemented toward less-than-noble
By contrast, we can argue in
favor of profits if they result from genuinely efficient business operations,
and if they are used toward positive ends.
We might assess a business’s
operating efficiency by measuring profits against output or revenue and
comparing that ratio to the ratio for a whole industry. We’d want to raise questions if the company’s
result is significantly higher than the whole industry as well as if it is
weaker. Another measure might be output
per worker. In both cases, we’d be looking
for competitive pricing and competitive performance results.
Profits Contribute to Growth
in Jobs and Business Investment
Profits can make important
contributions to business operations in successive periods. Very simple comparisons of Commerce
Department national income data show that for the total of nonfinancial
corporations, profits in a given year are highly correlated with employment and
with investment in new facilities and equipment the next year.
Thus, profit growth is a
suggestion that our business might be open to expansion. We can afford to hire more workers and they,
of course, would need more operating facilities. Or, without hiring additional workers, we
might still want to invest in improved models of the equipment we use. The company’s profits are the first source of
financing for expansion and investment in capital goods. Even if funds are raised from banks or
investors, those financers want to know that a company has good credit quality
and is prospering, so its profits provide an important backdrop for the
external funding sources.
In the cases where we’re
assessing profits against the performance of overall markets and demand for our
products, it would thus be strange to issue advice calling for profits to be
reduced. That recommendation would be
reserved instead for special cases when the profits are seen to come from excessive
pricing, improper reporting or other anti-market actions. Like the Epi-Pen situation.
Ministry to Business Managers
& Wealth Holders
A book on this whole topic is
called Anointed for Business, in which the writer, Ed Silvoso, argues
that, just as clergy have a calling to their ministry, business leaders have a
calling to their work. If they see it as
a genuine calling to a kind of ministry, perhaps they would be more inclined to
do their work with consideration for all the parties involved: their
shareholders, yes, and also their customers, their employees and even their
And what about the CEO or the
lead shareholder or anyone who has done well investing in a business and/or
stocks? Should they be required to
sacrifice the gains they have made through their contributions to society? Indeed, if their business is successful in
the long-term or their stock portfolio has grown consistently, is their
resulting wealth sinful? This is a huge
question, of course, and takes books and books, not just a couple of paragraphs
in a blog post. But our take on it comes
from two angles. First, In Mr. Silvoso’s
book, one of the chapters is titled, “God Loves Bill Gates, Too”. Absolutely.
And God probably loved Bill Gates before he founded the Gates
Foundation, as God gave Gates the gifts to develop the Microsoft systems and
form the company. Gates, of course, has
carried the principles of corporate structure and operation into his charity;
in operating the Foundation, he and Mrs. Gates have focused on the results of
their charitable work, not just performing it.
Thus, they try to do their charitable work efficiently so as to get the
greatest possible benefit from the resources devoted to it. This approach has changed the perspective of
many of the world’s charities, to the benefit mainly of those for whom that
work is done. This is clearly a good use
of wealth and hardly argues for diminishing it.
Second, the other point we
would make about wealth comes right out Jesus’ own work. On September 28 in the assigned Daily Office
readings, we had the story of Jesus’ calling of Levi, a tax collector, to be
one of His disciples (Luke 5: 27-32).
Levi did leave his desk to follow Jesus and then invited Jesus to his
home, where he gave a banquet that included his tax-collector friends. The Pharisees and scribes saw Jesus eating
with tax collectors and asked him what on earth he was doing with those awful
people. Jesus replied that He in fact
needed to be with those who are sinners;
they are the ones who need Him, not those who are already righteous and
trustworthy. So if indeed, we are
concerned about business leaders and how they lead and how honest they are,
then let us minister to them and work with them. Let us enlist them and show them about using
their resources for the common good.
All told, the points about
money, income and wealth are concerned with honest, careful and prudent operations
and using positive financial results to favorable ends. The money and the wealth are not evil
themselves, but it’s whether we use them constructively that matters.
We consulted several recent issues
of The Wall Street Journal for data on Mylan, Inc., as well as websites showing
various rankings of pharmaceutical companies.
Ed Silvoso. Anointed for Business. Ventura, CA: Regal Books. 2002.
Labels: Christianity, Economy
A Comment on the Riots in Charlotte
We’re working on an article about business profits and whether
they are ethical and Christian. In the
meantime, another important issue in society has come to the fore, yea, once
On Wednesday night, when the rioting in Charlotte was most
violent, I was watching on Fox News.
Their reporter Steve Harrigan was, as other networks' reporters, out in
the midst of the action. At one point, a
young woman came within range of his microphone and started to shout at
him. She was neatly dressed, with a trendy
fluffy hairstyle. This woman is,
however, a really angry person, totally frustrated with her treatment in life.
She exclaimed most articulately that she could be anywhere – on the way
to school or work or just sitting in her car – and get shot. It was a potent statement. At the same time, she expressed the skeptical
opinion that Harrigan wasn’t really showing her directly, but would instead
take her words and twist them around to his own satisfaction before quoting her
on TV. Although Harrigan tried, he was
not able convince her that she was in fact on live TV in front of millions of
viewers right in that moment. But her very
own words and her clear, strong voice helped us understand her feelings quite
distinctly. I heard her.
Where have we been since the mid-1960s? The first
African-American president and numerous others in leadership positions of all
kinds tell us that there's clearly some progress – and come take a look at my
own Episcopal church congregation on any given Sunday for a multi-racial crowd
of good friends – but we've obviously missed out someplace. . . . education,
family structure, business investment in their communities. Better law enforcement,
advocated by many, does help, but it treats only the symptoms, not the
underlying conditions. We need to work
on it all. Is there perhaps even a
personal outreach we can make?
Labels: American Society
Floods & Fires -- and HELP!
In an eMo earlier this week, Barbara Crafton mentioned Episcopal Relief & Development as a worthy recipient of contributions for aid to people needing help following disasters. That gives us a particular opening to urge specific contributions toward their Disaster Relief Fund following the flooding in Louisiana. The flooding was really awful, the worst disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the recovery has just started.
On a Fox News program the other evening, we saw an interview with Tony Perkins, the head of an evangelical Christian organization, the Family Research Council. I don't know exactly what that group does, and the group's work was not the subject of the interview. Mr. Perkins was featured that night because he lives in Baton Rouge, and he and his family had had to row away in a canoe from their flooded home. This put a personal feeling to that whole situation. They went first to a Baptist church, which was actually too crowded to take them in. But a member of that congregation took them to his home for shelter. Then we saw a picture of the campus of Louisiana State University - LSU - immersed in water. What can you say?
Soon, we got an email from Episcopal Relief, urging gifts toward their relief effort. We replied the next morning. We like Episcopal Relief a lot, because they come in the midst of the disaster and then they also hang around to help rebuild too. With no apology, we urge you to pitch in. Here's a link: http://www.episcopalrelief.org/
Yesterday, we heard again about Episcopal Relief, that they are also working in California with the fires. They are providing gift cards to people who had to evacuate briefly during the fires themselves or for longer periods because their homes were destroyed. Our local churches there are providing space for training for people who can provide support in the protracted aftermath: helping the volunteers understand what people feel whose homes have just vanished.
All the more reason to donate.
Or, if you're not Episcopalian, you might think of Samaritan's Purse, which is also doing major work in Louisiana: https://www.samaritanspurse.org/
. They have teams of volunteers helping with recovery efforts. Their work was even the subject of a TV commercial asking for donations. This Billy Graham-founded organization isn't shy about requesting your help for these people. They sure need it!
Labels: American Society, Christianity, Episcopal Church
A Threesome: Some Prayers, a Prime Minister, and a Parable
Prayers for Police and for Peace
In these tense days of troubles among African-Americans and law
enforcement officers, we suggest these prayers from A New Zealand Prayer Book*.
FOR THE JUDICIARY AND
God of truth and justice;
we ask you to help the men and women
who administer and police our laws;
grant them insight, courage and compassion,
protect them from corruption and arrogance
and grant that we, whom they seek to serve,
may give them the support and affection they need;
so may our people be strengthened more and more in respect and concern for one another.
We make this prayer through Jesus Christ. Amen.
ON THE 25TH
SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST: For Our World
Universal and unchanging God,
we are one, unalterably one,
with all the human race.
Grant that we who share Christ’s blood
may, through your unifying Spirit,
break down the walls that divide us.
we ask through Christ our Mediator. Amen.
May To Become U.K. Prime Minister
July 13, the U.K. will get its second woman Prime Minister when Theresa May, currently
Home Secretary, assumes that higher office.
As we wrote last week, David Cameron resigned immediately after the
Brexit vote on June 23; he will do that formally July 13 by presenting himself
and his letter of resignation to the Queen; he will inform her that Ms. May is
available and in his view would be worthy of the appointment. Later in the day, Ms. May will be presented
to the Queen.
give you this follow-up information for a couple of reasons. Obviously, it is an important step forward in
the U.K.’s new sense of itself. Ms. May
favored remaining in the EU, but she seems always to have understood what
people wanted in breaking away and will work carefully on that process. Comments we saw about her indicate that she
is a most conscientious worker in government and concentrates on the substance
of matters, rather than the perks and personality points of holding
office. “I don’t tour the TV studios,”
she has stated.
brings us to the second reason we want to give specific mention to this
development. We are struck by the “adult”
attitudes of the U.K. leaders at this time.
Boris Johnson, who seemed to be a leading candidate early on, and Andrea
Leadsom, the other finalist for election as Conservative Party leader, both
pulled out to allow the selection to take place with the least controversy
possible. At this point in time, with
much uncertainty, having the election process as brief as practicable helps
significantly in both domestic and international affairs, and we are impressed
that egos have not gotten in the way and that everyone has seemed to be in line
to move forward, despite the shock of the Brexit vote outcome. Concluding the Prime Minister decision
promptly will permit more time on the substance of the conditions for the U.K.’s
departure from the EU, and Ms. May seems to be someone who will give ample
consideration to all concerns in this important step.
the 3rd Servant Was Right To Bury his Talent
Gospel selection assigned for today’s (July 12) Daily Office readings in the
of Common Prayer is the parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14-30. A man of wealth is going off on a long
journey and decides to let three slaves manage some of his funds while he is
away. To one slave, he gives 5 “talents”,
to a second slave, 2 talents and to a third slave, 1 talent. The first two make investments or form businesses,
and each doubles his money. When the
master returns, he is very pleased with their performances and promises them
promotions. The third slave buries his
talent in the ground; he doesn’t lose any money, but he doesn’t gain anything
either. As we know, the master is upset
at this action – or non-action – by the third slave; he takes back the talent and
throws the slave out on the street, leaving him penniless and homeless.
some dialogue this morning with Barbara Crafton, she and I both realized that
there might be times when the third slave actually did the right thing in
burying the talent. Last week in Japan,
for instance, that government issued 10-year bonds with a yield of -0.243%; that is, there is negative interest
on the bonds, so that investors are paying the government a fee to keep their
money safe for 10 years and return it to them.
Similarly, in Germany, a recent auction of 30-year government bonds
carried a negative yield of -0.76%. So
investors there also are paying the government to keep their money for them and
return it at the designated time.
simply by burying the talent in the ground and returning it to the master at
the proper time, the slave might have fulfilled an important function, keeping
the master’s money safe and keeping it from eroding in value.
– you knew there had to be a “however” – the broader economic environment that surrounds
these negative bond yields is hardly one that produces many business
opportunities that result in doubling someone’s active investment. So it’s unlikely that the other two slaves
would have been nearly as successful in this scenario. The German stock market
is down 13% from a year ago, the Japanese stock market 21%. The U.S. market is up, but by only 1.3%. Investors would have done all right with
gold, at a gain of almost 15% from a year ago, but a broad index of industrial
and agricultural commodities is down 13%.
lesson for investors in these differential results is that we need to assess
the whole environment and be aware of the risks. As Barbara wrote in her own comments on this
parable, the underlying issue is not money but risk. For the three slaves and for us, probably the
best answer is a mix of assets with varying risks. We see that sometimes, burying the talent in
the ground can be the best thing. And
perhaps all of the time, at least some of the funds should be in something with
a guaranteed outcome. Otherwise, nothing
is totally sure.
Labels: Christianity, Financial Markets, People, World
What the _______ Just Happened Between the U.K. and the EU?
The people of the U.K. voted in a referendum on June 23 that
tells their own government they want to disaffiliate from the EU. This outcome was clearly a major
surprise. Even though, as we pointed out
a couple of weeks ago, results of opinion polls had gone back and forth in the
months running up to the vote, no one really expected the Leaves to come out
ahead. But they did, 51.9% to 48.1%.
First, why did this happen?
Second, what happens next? Third,
do we know what it all means? What follows is hardly complete, but we’ll try to
make some response to these questions.
First, why did
people want to leave the EU?
There seem to be two main proximate causes: discomfort with immigration
and impatience with EU bureaucracy. In
our commentary on June 20, we noted that many people in the U.K. are concerned
about immigration, and we drew a parallel to the interest in Donald Trump in
the U.S. elections. We’re hardly the
only observers making this comparison. Citizens
of an EU member country can live anywhere in the EU they want at any given time,
and these days, among other implications, this causes nervousness about terror
threats. Notably, however, the U.K. does
not have the most liberal border policy it might have; it is not an adherent to
the EU’s so-called “Schengen Agreement,” which allows totally free travel,
basically passport-less, among almost all the other EU countries. But EU citizens can move into the U.K. without
undergoing any approval process.
In addition, a country’s membership in the EU means that it
participates in the EU’s joint regulatory system, which amounts to a huge
bureaucracy. The EU administration
consists of seven different bodies, most of which are headquartered in
Brussels. These include the European
Council, which is the summit of the heads of each member nation; the EU
Parliament & Council of Ministers, which together constitute the
legislative body; the European Commission, which is the executive branch; the
Court of Justice; the European Court of Auditors; and the European Central
Bank. Since the U.K. has its own
currency, it does not participate in the Central Bank.
The functions of each of these institutions are classified
by “competences”, some of which are “exclusive” to the EU, some “shared” with
member nations’ governments and some “supportive” of member governments. A few examples might give some sense of the
reach of the EU into each member’s internal affairs. Clearly, since the EU is a free-trade zone,
customs regulations are “exclusive” to the joint organization, and many
international agreements are also reserved for the joint system. Much commercial policy, including antitrust
laws, is managed by the European Commission, which has just brought new charges
against Google, for instance.
Much of the “shared competence” work also involves
businesses, such as consumer protection, energy and the environment and
agriculture. Social policies and public
health matters are also managed by the Commission. Among the “supportive” competences, the
Commission helps members with disaster response, tourism and education, among
Thus, there is a lot of bureaucracy – the Commission itself
has 32,900 employees – and many kinds of business decisions are governed or
influenced by policies, not made in London, Paris or Madrid, but in Brussels by
people who may not be directly associated with the specific country having a
Again, then, we see the parallel to the Trump model in the
U.S. Many people in the U.K. – more
than had been understood – want to “take their country back,” to bring
decision-making powers back home.
All this is no small matter.
As you might imagine, trade is very important to the U.K. economy. Total exports of goods and services were 27%
of GDP last year, compared to 13% in the U.S.
Imports of goods and services were 29% of GDP, compared to 16% in the
U.S. Of goods exports, 55% go to the EU,
and 47% of imports come from the EU. If
they lose export market share and also have to pay duties on imports that now
enter without such fees, that will be costly in several ways. Of course, one of the goals is to help
domestic production by making imports more expensive. So there are potential offsets.
Further, some private economists estimate that 3 million
jobs are presently associated with EU trade, constituting about 10% of total
employment. The stakes are high.
The referendum vote on June 23 was not the enactment of a
law, but the expression of a viewpoint.
Now the U.K. Parliament must pass legislation instructing its government
to invoke an article of the EU organizing document, Article 50 of the Treaty of
Lisbon of 2007. This will set in motion
specific negotiations for the withdrawal of the U.K.; these negotiations could
well last for two years and that may be extended. Even before Parliament acts, however, the
U.K. government will need to outline its needs, surely in consultation with a
variety of business and other private institutions. Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will
resign to permit new government leadership to execute these very fundamental
changes. Two candidates have emerged in
preliminary Conservative Party voting; a final choice will be made in
Thus, nothing structural will happen right away. Surely there has been an immediate and
dramatic reaction in financial markets as a result of the shock of the unexpected
vote result. However, where market
valuations move from here depends on many factors currently unknown. Some of the dust has settled, and the
best-known stock index, the FTSE 100, is now running slightly higher than prior
to the announcement of the vote result. In
contrast, the foreign exchange value of the pound fell immediately, and it has
not recovered; it presently down 13%, to about $1.29 from $1.50 on June 23. These differing market reactions highlight
the overall uncertainty. This exchange
rate movement already means the U.K. exports have become cheaper. The Motley Fool website points out that a
trip there for U.S. tourists and business travelers is now already cheaper. However, it just got much more expensive for
U.K. residents to go anywhere else.
Third, do we know what
this all means?
Not really. There is
no explicit timeframe for concrete actions, although we note with great
interest that the Conservative Party is moving promptly with its election
process. And while the Article 50
authorization for the U.K. to leave the EU supposedly has a two-year time
limit, associated negotiations on accompanying trade policies could drag out
far longer than that.
Such basic questions mean economic growth, already sluggish,
of course, is well likely to be restrained further. Forecasts range widely, from a roughly 1% hit
to growth in the near-term to 3 or 4%.
The effects on specific businesses are also uncertain. Some analysts believe that international
banks might leave London to better concentrate their work in Europe
itself. But other analysts point out
that Parliament might take advantage of newfound flexibility to effect tax
reductions, making the U.K. more attractive to businesses than locations on the
These notions apply broadly – even to the Arts. We were startled to find a commentary in the
weekly email from New York’s classical radio station, WQXR, titled “How ‘Brexit’
Affects Opera and the Arts.” The drop in
the U.K. exchange rate has already had a major impact on the value of European
singers’ salaries when they perform at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, for
instance. British conservatories also
have two scales for their tuition fees, EU and non-EU, the latter as much as
twice the former. What will happen to
those fees when the actual “Leave” takes place and will European students still
come to study there?
People from other EU countries who currently live and work
in the U.K. face uncertainty. They will
no longer have automatic authorization to live there. Some of them have already applied to the U.K.
Home Office for permanent residency or outright citizenship. Some may have to leave.
Another issue is that Scotland voted heavily to Remain in
the EU, and its government is already trying to figure out if there is a way to
handle that. The “United Kingdom” might
then be less “united” if Scotland remains while Great Britain leaves.
The distress over the vote and the nasty campaign ahead of
it, marked by the tragic murder of MP Jo Cox, has brought a response from
Church leaders. As we in the U.S.
struggle with our own political divisions, we might take note of the following
selection from a Church of England litany for these days:
our nation in the days and months ahead
to walk the paths of peace and reconciliation.
Hear us, Lord of life.
Lord, graciously hear us.
to our leaders wisdom and sensitivity
to work for unity and the common good.
Hear us, Lord of life.
Lord, graciously hear us.
and restore to wholeness whatever has been damaged by heated debate.
Hear us, Lord of life.
Lord, graciously hear us.
and support the anxious and fearful
and lift up all who are dejected.
Hear us, Lord of life.
Lord, graciously hear us.
+ + + +
Various issues of The
Wall Street Journal and associated website www.wsj.com
U.K. economic data from the Office of
National Statistics. Sourced from Haver
Analytics, Inc., databases.
Dominic Webb and Matthew Keep. In
brief: UK-EU economic relations.
U.K. Parliament: House of Commons
Library. Briefing Paper number 06091, 13
June 2016. www.parliament.uk/commons-library.
Sean Williams. “8 Ways Brexit could directly affect you and
your money.” June 27, 2016. http://www.fool.com/investing/2016/06/27/8-ways-brexit-could-directly-affect-you-and-your-m.aspx. Some of Williams other ideas besides cheap
trips to the U.K. also include the fact that anticipated sluggish economic
performance will keep interest rates low, making mortgages cheap and keeping
credit card rates from rising. However,
the sluggish economies could also keep house prices under pressure.
Fred Plotkin. “Operavore: How ‘Brexit’ Affects Opera and
the Arts.” www.wqxr.org/#!/ July 1, 2016.
Labels: Economy, Government Policies, World
Legends & Lies: The Patriots
We’re working on some commentary about the dramatic vote
results in the UK “Brexit” vote about membership in the EU.
Meantime, especially as July 4 approaches, we want to call
your attention to a very interesting TV show on Sunday nights. Legends & Lies: The Patriots
showing on Fox News at 8:00PM. While
this is a Bill O’Reilly production, it has absolutely nothing to do with contemporary
politics. It is indeed about the
American Revolution. The first two
episodes dealt with the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s
ride. This week we’ll have stories about
Ben Franklin and the battle of Bunker Hill.
The material includes some dramatized scenes interspersed with
commentary by O’Reilly and by university history professors who are experts in
Our regular readers know that we are fascinated by the
Revolution and that we talk about it every year at this time. So this TV program obviously fits in to Ways
of the World
themes. The series
will run all summer on Sundays at 8:00PM.
Again, it’s on the Fox News cable network. Check it out; we think you’ll enjoy it.
Labels: American Society
Jo Cox and the EU
Most of what you’ve
been hearing about since June 12 pertains to the mass shooting in
Orlando. Clearly we are upset about that
horrible tragedy. But we want also to
give attention to a not-totally-unrelated event in northern England on June 16.
This Thursday, June 23, people in the U.K. will vote on whether
to remain in the EU or leave. The EU is
an association of 28 European nations enjoying free trade among each other and
whose citizens can move freely among the countries, living anywhere they choose
at any time. Nineteen of these
countries, obviously not including the U.K., also use a common currency, the
There is dissatisfaction among some U.K. citizens over
belonging to the EU, such that when he ran for re-election to Parliament in
2013, the current Prime Minister David Cameron promised that Parliament would
authorize a public election over whether to stay in it.
This hardly sounds like an issue that should spawn
violence. But as the voting date has
approached, two vociferous camps have emerged and campaigning has been raucous
Still, the nation – and many others – was shocked last
Thursday, when Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament supporting the Remain camp, was
shot and stabbed in front of the public library in her town of Birstall.
Violence. What is it
about these days that political disagreements seem to be spurring such deadly
violence? The gentleman who murdered Jo
Cox on Thursday was known to have mental problems, but still, outright killing
is extreme. Tommie Mair even used a
sawed-off shotgun to do this in a country where almost all guns are outlawed,
and most police don’t even carry them.
We have to talk first about Jo Cox herself.
An extraordinary person.
She is from Birstall in Northern England, just north of Leicester and
south of Nottingham. The region is a
factory community; it includes a large Muslim population, apparently mainly
from India, as workers were needed for factories. Jo Cox’s father worked in a factory. She apparently always presumed she would do the same. But she had the opportunity to attend
Cambridge and she was the first member of her family to attend university. She spent 10 years as an aid worker,
affiliated with Oxfam, the Gates Foundation and the Freedom Fund, this last an
organization that fights modern slavery.
The Wall Street Journal explains that in Parliament “she pushed
for international action to help Syrians who had been caught up in fighting
there .” She was also a vocal proponent of the UK staying in the EU.
She lived simply, with her husband and two children on a
houseboat, and, according to The Economist
magazine, she commuted
to Parliament on a bicycle. Ms. Cox was
on her way to conduct constituent appointments at the local library in Birstall
when she was attacked. A witness reported
that the attacker shouted “Britain first” as he struck her. In Mr. Mair’s court appearance, the
prosecutor stated that he had said, “Britain first,
keep Britain independent, Britain always comes first.”
Perhaps coincidentally, “Britain First” is actually
an organization committed to banning Islam in the U.K. The group denied responsibility, however,
although they are concerned that immigration is the root of many of the U.K.’s
current problems. When asked to state
his name during his court appearance Saturday, June 18, he replied, “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”
Thus, we seem to face three forces here. First, the awful killing of a highly regarded
public servant, popular in her community and respected in Parliament. A bright, relatively young woman, age 41, who
obviously had much to say and do toward the benefit of the people she
represents. Second, a raucous, divisive
campaign about whether the U.K. should Remain in the EU or Leave it; indeed the
groups in support of each side are “Remain” and “Vote Leave”. Polls show sentiment is almost evenly divided
and oscillates from one preference to the other, so it is not at all clear
which will come out ahead in the vote.
Campaigning was suspended altogether from Thursday after Jo Cox’s death
through Saturday. Third, there is the
immigration issue. Being part of the EU
means that immigration into the U.K. from Europe is relatively easy.
This last issue, immigration, even strikes us as bearing
some resemblance to at least one of the factors in the Donald Trump campaign in
the U.S. Trump’s supporters tend to
blame immigrants for some of our problems, similar to the U.K. citizens who
blame immigrants for whatever distress they are feeling.
While we have no answers to any of this, we can offer you a
prayer concerning the U.K. vote, published by the Church of England back in
April. It is obviously directed at
this specific issue, but its themes can apply to many topics of public debate:
God of truth, give us grace to debate the issues in this
referendum with honesty and openness. Give generosity to those who seek to form
opinion and discernment to those who vote, that our nation may prosper and that
with all the peoples of Europe we may work for peace and the common good; for
the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And among the myriad
tributes to Jo Cox, here is one offered at a prayer service at a church in
Birstall last Thursday and published on the website of the Diocese of West
Yorkshire and the Dales:
Labels: People, World