Faith on Wall Street

In the third of our series on faith in the financial crisis, the Rector of Trinity Wall Street offer

The basic comfort of the Christian tradition is that God is with us. The pastoral response for those whose lives are being affected by the economic crisis is not that you won’t lose your job, or that the downturn will be short-lived. The guidance is simply a reminder that God is in our midst – that whatever happens, God promises companionship.

From our vantage point in New York City, the sidewalks are emptier, the stores and the restaurants less crowded. Pastoral counselling sessions are booked. And yet it is remarkable to me that people are still giving of their time and financial resources to good causes. We’ve not seen a downturn in financial giving, nor have many of my colleagues.

I would argue that the concern people have over their futures appears to have made us more alert to the needs of others – as paradoxical as that may seem. It is as though our old self-interest is being trumped by a concern for the other, and the realisation on the part of many that we are all in this together.

People often speak of the iconic status of our church – our historical lineage, our architectural presence, and indeed our location, looking down Wall Street these many years. And yet we are also iconic because we are a spiritual presence, a consistently welcoming house of prayer in the midst of a financial centre.

We are seeing more people enter the church for spiritual reflection. In these moments, many begin to realise that crises can be opportunities for a fresh start. I try to remind people to focus on what they can control, because in a crisis there is a tendency to feel as though everything is out of control: “I can’t control the economy. I can’t control my boss. I can’t control the stock market.” So what can I control? I can control myself and, to some extent, my primary relationships and my relationship with God.

The Church and all people of faith may have a role in shaping the new economy. This “new economy” phrase appears to be catching on, and I think that people are coming to understand first, that something new is needed, and second, that there is a chance for a fresh start. Admittedly, understanding and shaping this new economy feels a bit grand, and a bit far off right now. Now we are in the trenches, doing practical, detailed work. We're offering courses in coping with job-related stress. We’re offering guidance in how to look for a new job. We are offering pastoral counselling day in and day out.

And as always, our doors are open.

Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper is Rector of Trinity Wall Street, New York City

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.