Martin Charlesworth
The debt crisis part four

Rays of Hope on a Dark Horizon

A short series on money and debt
When I started to lead a church in 1988, I conducted a little experiment. I went into the main shops on the central shopping street in my town and asked what credit facilities I could have with them. All welcomed me and offered thousands of pounds worth of credit each, with few questions asked.

At the end of the day, I added up all the offers I had received – the total was in excess of £20,000. Of course, I could have extended the experiment by going to other local shops, credit companies and banks, and the total available credit for retail purchases could have gone up and up.

That was the day I decided not to have a credit card.

That was the day I declared war on the credit revolution.

That was the day I knew it was all going to end in tears.

But what could be done? Churches needed to start addressing debt, so I decided to open a food bank in our church. Itwas the first simple step. We opened our doors to those in debt and gave practical help.

Since those early days in the late 1980s, the Church has woken up to the debt issue in a much bigger way. Two pioneers deserve special mention: John Kirkby, the founder of Christians Against Poverty (CAP); and Heather Keates, the founder of Community Money Advice (CMA). It is worth reading their stories on their websites. Many churches have affiliated themselves to one of these organisations and opened their own debt advice centres. Thousands have been helped as they seek to find a way out of the burden of unpayable debts.

Political change is also needed. Various governments have discussed curbing access to credit. Some useful legal controls on the process of giving and administering credit have come into place. However, there is still no real political will to take a drastic look at our credit culture.

More than anything else, we need a culture change. Easy credit has brought untold misery and false expectations of consumer spending. We need the warning voice of the church to be heard, bringing the wisdom of God to the debt crisis.