UK Christians Asked to Give Up Their Banks for Lent

Rosie Venner has been talking a lot about banks. She thinks it matters—to God.

“We are called to be good stewards, to love our neighbors, to seek peace, to act justly. Surely this should shape how we relate to money and where we bank,” she said.

Venner is a British Christian climate change activist working on the Money Makes Change campaign with the JustMoney Movement, a group that aims to be “the go-to organisation for Christians and churches” applying the teachings of their faith and the biblical calls to justice to the way they handle their money. Which brings her to British banks, and the choices they make when investing the money deposited by Christians who are concerned about the negative environmental effects of burning fossil fuels.

Barclays, for example, which is considered by some experts to be a key corporation controlling global financial stability, was the biggest funder of the fossil fuel sector in Europe from 2016 to 2021, some years investing more than 23 billion pounds (about $30 billion US) and investing in oil extraction in the Arctic Circle and the Amazon rainforest.

Altogether, according to the most recent data, banks pumped more than 733 billion pounds (about $942 billion US) into the fossil fuel industry per year.

Venner would like Christians to pull their money out of banks like that, because the Lord has shown us what is good and requires us to act justly (Micah 6:8).

JustMoney is partnering with a number of Christian climate organizations—Just Love, Operation Noah and Switch It Green—to encourage Christians to make financial changes during Lent. They’re calling it The Big Bank Switch. It’s an invitation for believers during the traditional period of fasting and self-examination to “align their money with their values by switching from a bank that funds planet-destroying fossil fuels to one that doesn’t.”

Those who sign The Big Bank Switch pledge to transfer their bank accounts to a green bank in late April. So far more than 100 Christians have promised they will switch banks. The activists hope to persuade 1,000 people to change banks by the end of the campaign.

“The very practical action of switching banks allows individuals to influence policies by removing our support for fossil fuel expansion,” said Stefan Spence, who has been heading up the campaign for Just Love UK. “Companies and governments rely on public support, so the clear message sent by The Big Bank Switch campaign will require a response. It’s an appropriate time, as other campaigns like Make My Money Matter are applying similar pressure, and in the last few years, banks have started updating their sustainability policies.”

Historically, Spence said, banks have based investment decisions solely on returns for shareholders and concerns about financial risk. The only ethical consideration was for legal compliance. As a result, banks sometimes invested their money in ways that their depositors find morally offensive. The money going to fossil fuel companies makes it less likely that Great Britain will effectively reduce carbon emissions, which for many Christians is an important ethical issue.

“As Christians, we understand that the earth and heavens were made to declare the glory of God,” Spence said. “The plants, animals, and people on Earth are beautiful and precious. God’s command to steward creation involves us caring for both people and the environment.”

He points to verses such as Proverbs 22:16 as clear Scriptural mandates. The Bible says God hates it when people try to get ahead in ways that make the rich richer and hurt the poor. And people who “sow injustice” will reap calamity (v. 8).

And banking doesn’t have to be like that, according to Spence. Investors could take ethical considerations into account as they weigh potential profit against financial risk.

Spence notes that this isn’t the first time Christians have used their finances to create social change. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, anti-apartheid campaigns effectively used boycotts to push corporations to stop financing projects in South Africa.

Operation Noah, one of the first Christian climate charities in the UK, has also spent a decade encouraging Christians and faith-based organizations to divest themselves of investments that harm the environment.

“This pressure does actually work,” said Cameron Conant, Operation Noah’s communication officer. “I think sometimes people can get disheartened and feel like campaigning doesn’t work, but I can say as a campaigner who has campaigned for a number of years now, it does actually work.”

Conant has seen many individuals change their view, but also points to success moving larger institutions. Last year, the Church of England divested of all oil and gas investments that were not in “genuine alignment” with agreed-upon goals of limiting carbon emissions.

The strategy, according to Conant, is to help people see that they do have an influence and to connect action to Christian faith.

“Who funds fossil fuels? Who allows them to happen? It’s our political system and banks,” Conant said. “We’ve tried to speak with a unified Christian voice to say this is something Christians should be united on, that we’re called to care for God’s creation, and that just like we shouldn’t be funding tobacco or arms or gambling as churches and as faith organizations, we shouldn’t be funding fossil fuels.”

And it may already be working. The Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Commitments Database shows that faith-based organizations are at the forefront of the divestment movement. And major banks are taking notice. Barclays announced last month that it will stop directly financing new oil and gas projects.

Holly-Anna Petersen said Christian Climate Action, of which she is a member, has also had a lot of success in urging Christian organizations to think more carefully about the impact their money is having on climate change. Recently, activists held a vigil outside the Church of England cathedral in Sheffield, urging the church to change banks.

“For Christian organizations that often do their own campaigning, to be the subject of a campaign was a bit uncomfortable,” Petersen said. “They also were quick to see the harm their banking was doing and so were very receptive.”

Christian Aid was convinced to switch banks too.

“It might be convenient to stay with the bank you’ve always been with. It certainly does take some effort to switch. But the climate crisis is funded and fueled by money,” said Ashley Taylor, Christian Aid’s senior advocacy advisor. “Doing what we can to help turn off that cash flow will be essential if we’re going to end the suffering of our brothers and sisters living with the worst climate impacts.”

Taylor encourages others not to underestimate the impact they can have.

“Actions speak louder than words,” she said. “It’s easy to declare a climate emergency, to say we care about the plight of those suffering and that we don’t stand with polluters. But by banking with those that fund polluters, we risk being part of the problem we claim to oppose.”

Venner said making that connection is key. She remembers when she first realized that the bank where she did business was part of the system she was concerned about. Her banking, she realized, was connected to the very issues she was praying about.

“I worked for an international development charity,” she said. “I met people from all around the world and heard the struggles of communities being moved off their land or having their livelihoods threatened because of mining, large-scale agriculture, or oil and gas projects. The finance that enabled those projects came from the banks I walked past on the high street—it was a direct link to people I cared about, communities I prayed for.”

This Lent, she hopes to help other Christians make that same connection with The Big Bank Switch.

“I think it’s coming at the right time,” Venner said. “Many Christians are concerned about the climate crisis and are waking up to the role of finance within this.”

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