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06 July 2012

Truth in the hidden

Truth in the hidden

Last year, Barclays' chief executive Bob Diamond, told the Treasury Select Committee that there had been a period of remorse and apology for banks but that this period needed to be over. Admittedly I was in Holland that week, which may account for the fact that I missed what must have been harrowing scenes of public apology and the succinct formulation of ethics and praxis to restore banking to serve the common good.

However, one year on and it's clear that the period of remorse was too superficial to generate the much-needed change. This week's high profile resignations of Barclays' chairman and chief executive over the Libor scandal, show that the cracks in the system cannot be covered by such a whitewash. For, one year on, the walls are collapsing.

In 2011, Bob Diamond declared in his BBC inaugural Today Business Lecture that "culture" was the critical element in responsible banking and the best test of it is "how people behave while no one is watching". As Mervin King, the governor of the Bank of England, pointed out this week; while no one was watching a culture flourished which allowed for "excessive compensation", "shoddy treatment of customers", "mis-selling" and "the deceitful manipulation of a key interest rate". Huge cracks are appearing in the wall. The effects of this thoroughly corrosive culture are felt far and wide. If we'd measure the corrosion footprint of the industry, similar to the way we track the carbon footprint in the environmental arena, it would show the effects on households, businesses, and beyond.

The former Barclays' chief executive is right. We need truth in the hidden. The psalmist reflects that God desires truth in the inner parts; He teaches us wisdom in the inmost place. Aware of the corrosive nature, the deceitfulness of the human heart, the psalmist is quick to express his utter need of God: "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." No whitewash will do. It needs a profound cleansing, followed by the formation of a pure heart and the renewal of a steadfast spirit. Such a period of remorse, God will honour. He will take pleasure to bring prosperity and rebuild the walls (Psalm 51:6-18).

Working truthfully is spelled out in the letter to the Colossians. Even when the eye of the master is not upon you, your attitude and work should be characterised by "sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (3:22-24)

In such a culture, all will flourish. As far as banking is concerned, Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, pioneer of micro-credit and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, demonstrates how banking can change the world for good. Ian Hislop's program When bankers were good showed the philanthropic culture forged by Victorian financiers. Many of those who were evangelical Christians, were guided by the word and the Spirit to alleviate suffering and build a better society.

Our union with, and need of, Christ is the core of the Christian life and the means of overcoming all that is corrosive for the individual and for society. Having been equipped with everything for life and godliness, may we continue to struggle faithfully to seek truth in that which is hidden. In addressing our crisis of leadership in public life, Christians need to set an example by living with integrity. As C.S. Lewis said, "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching." For the cultivating of culture begins in the heart.

Marijke Hoek
, co-ordinator Forum for Change