A recent court story showed how a Kenyan cleric was arraigned for, among other charges, stealing and impersonating another man and withdrawing over Sh400,000 from the latter’s account.
A second attempt to withdraw an almost equivalent amount the same way at that same bank was futile, according to prosecution.
While this is not the worst thing a man of God has been arraigned for, it brings to mind possible extents to which Biblical statement that love for money is the root of all evil could be applicable.
With a justification that no institution can thrive without money, many religious organisations also focus on wealth acquisition. Nothing wrong with this; if anything, the Bible and Quran (to quote a few religious books) have tips on how to make money and be happy. Ecclesiastes 11 gives tips on ways to invest. The same Bible commends a wise man who invested and multiplied the wealth his master left in his care, and condemns the one who kept safe his bit and returned it as was given when the master sought it.
In the Quran, several verses in Sura 2, 3, 4, 9, 30 and more emphasize discipline around money, true charity acceptable by God, and what money cannot do. Hebrews 13:5 then says: “Let your way of life be free of the love of money…”
A 2020-2022 study dubbed Oxford Faith-Aligned Impact Finance Project, focusing on 360 Abrahamic and Dharmic aligned religious groups, established how rich certain religious institutions were. The study found “Christian aligned capital to be $260 billion, Islamic sovereign as $3 trillion, Islamic private finance as $1 trillion, Dharmic capital at $300 billion and Jewish capital $16 billion”.
Quite some wealth that is no doubt behind the good things faithful and non-faithful enjoy from the institutions, including healthcare, education and financial empowerment.
Over the last few years however, focus has also been on how religious institutions make money. Some were found to invest in fossil fuel projects, a huge driver of global warming.
By 2022, a good number of faith organisations had withdrawn their funding, in billions of dollars, of fossil fuel projects following pressure from activists and scientific evidence that it was the right thing to do.
Others however, according to reports by climate activism groups, gave lip service. For instance, a report by Dayenu, published in December 2022, with facts based on public tax information and financial statements, showed several Jewish organisations still investing in fossil fuels even after promising to divest, with up to 5.5 per cent of their combined $34 billion funds tied in oil, gas and coal firms. Several Christian and other faiths are also culprits.
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Just as the preacher who drops the ball and steals from a fellow child of God, it is irresponsible for a religious institution that claims to save souls to invest in fossil fuels. An easy way for religious organisations to help combat the climate crisis is by funding sectors that improve rather than worsen creations’ wellbeing.
Fossil fuels cannot be kept in the ground if religious institutions, like banks and insurance firms, still give capital to investors in dirty energy.
Faiths have a moral duty to champion just transition to renewable energy by divesting fossil fuel projects, funding reforestation, creating green jobs and ending pollution and biodiversity loss.
Faiths must build capacity of their flock to act responsibly and not destroy environment. How faiths earn and use money, just as is the case with individuals, reveals their true values. This must not entail birthing of another evil.