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The Paradise Papers and slavery

 

Both reveal a global financial system that is relentlessly in favour of the rich while exploiting and dehumanising the poor. Scripture's joyful, justice-filled economics challenges the offshore finance model, and Christians need to pray for and articulate its vision, writes Michael Manning, a Baptist church member in the Isle of Man 

 
Slavery


The ‘Paradise Papers’ leak has named the Isle of Man as one of the jurisdictions facilitating tax avoidance (which is legal). The island forms part of a global offshore network of international finance centres, the hub of which is the City of London.

The reaction on the island to the media exposure has been instructive. The howls of the local media and the political and business class have been deafening. We are not a tax haven. We do nothing illegal. We are not as bad as Bermuda. We are a well-regulated, open and transparent member of the global community. The OECD has us on their white list. This is a conspiracy to damage the island’s reputation. This is irresponsible and inaccurate journalism.

The crescendo reached a peak when one of the local papers (all owned by the same company) ran an editorial as its front page with the title ‘Stand up for Mann’.

One of the ways you can tell you’ve touched an idol is the reaction you get when it’s challenged. One of the ways that small communities turn inwards and suppress dissent is by pretending that any criticism is an existential threat.

There is a great insecurity in any group that refuses to countenance that anything might be wrong. This fear, almost terror, of challenge leads swiftly to aggressive denunciations of the ‘opponents of offshore jurisdictions’ and is another sure symptom of the rule of the idols.

I think that there are instructive parallels with another global phenomenon. This too linked the rich Minority World with the Majority one in an imbalanced and exploitative relationship. This too brought incredible wealth to the home societies and allowed everyone to benefit from increased prosperity while gross injustice was ignored. Poor people a long way away, in countries that were never seen, were the ones who suffered. This system was linked through global trade and a set of institutions and conventions that maintained the status quo.

Crucially, it was seen as absolutely necessary to continued economic prosperity. To question it was to threaten the very existence of the nation enjoying the proceeds. That arrangement was the slave trade.

The analogy with the slave trade could be used as just another condemnation, another use of unhelpful and inflammatory language. I prefer to use it to highlight the fact that we are all complicit in a global financial system that is relentlessly in favour of the rich while exploiting and dehumanising the poor. We are all guilty, and pointing the finger at individuals is unnecessary and unhelpful.

The church played a key role in the abolition of slavery and many parts of it are vocal today about the need for tax justice. The church on the island has been silent on the issues of tax and has thus far not responded to the recent renewed focus. This is unsurprising, for many of us work directly in the offshore finance system and we all benefit from the wealth it has brought to the island.

How do we navigate challenging injustice with the pastoral responsibility for brothers and sisters? How do we refuse to compromise with the rule of the idols while we worship with those who hold very different views? The slave trade must have faced the same dynamic, with congregations having both ardent abolitionists and plantation owners worshipping together. How did they overcome this? I’d be fascinated if anyone has practical suggestions!
           
Meanwhile, the Paradise Papers have provided yet another compelling reminder that global finance has to change. It is hypocritical of the UK to pontificate about its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories while it positively encourages the offshore model through the City. Equally, it is self-defeating for a society like the Isle of Man to pretend that just because we are not one of the ‘worst’ places we are therefore immune from all criticism (what sort of argument is that?).
           
There will be justice in this land, and all lands. There will be a time without debt, when all may eat without money and without price. Scripture is filled with a subversive and joyful economics that not only challenges the offshore finance model but the whole capitalist project. The Kingdom of God is breaking in and one day will flood the whole world with peace and justice, love and joy, truth and freedom.

It is only as we begin to remember and pray and articulate that vision, together, that we will participate in its becoming ever more of a reality, here on earth as it is in heaven.
           
Lord, have mercy.

 
Image | Pixabay

 

Michael Manning is a co-ordinator of Graih (www.graih.org.im), a charity serving those who are homeless and in insecure accommodation on the Isle of Man. He lives with his family in a shared household and belongs to Broadway Baptist Church in Douglas 


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