By John Ellis
I hope one reason we have a lay Assembly Moderator is to increase the chances of Moderators having personal experience of the discipleship dilemmas that arise for an employee. Most employees work for organisations where they feel they are only a small cog in a large machine and their influence is limited. Sadly, surveys report that most local churches in Britain give very little help to Christians wrestling with the ethical challenges that arise at work. When I visit churches, I notice the intercessions are much more likely to focus on those who are ill than on those facing almost impossible burdens at work.
So it was a pleasure to be invited to the launch of a striking new book Crash Bank Wallop. This is the story of Paul Moore, the former head of risk management at HBOS – the megabank that resulted from the Halifax merging with the Bank of Scotland. Several years before the bank crashed disastrously in 2008, he warned its Board that the bank was relying on practices that were ethically and financially profoundly misguided. He was fired.
The book describes the turbulent journey into which he was then catapulted. It included suicidal depression. It included blowing the whistle publically on former friends and colleagues and shouldering the consequences. And in his mind all he had done was the job HBOS had been paying him to do.
While the details of the products HBOS sold may be complicated, the essence of the issue is starkly simple. Should an employee always tell the truth? Or are there times when saying what others want to hear is good enough?
Paul Moore is clear that the vast majority of HBOS staff were people of integrity wanting to do the right thing. Nevertheless he now sees how the ethos of the bank had drawn staff away from their personal values towards a sick internal culture. When a culture becomes embedded in any large organisation, be it a company or indeed a Church, it takes clarity and courage to criticise it.
When Paul first told his wife that he had been sacked and his career was ruined, he was astonished by her reply: “It’s all part of God’s plan for you.” A Roman Catholic believer, he found solace for the dark years that followed in Job and the Psalms. Today he also believes God has used the personal disaster for good and that he is richer in those things that are beyond price, even though his income may be much smaller.
Maybe we should spare a thought and a prayer for someone who is currently grappling with issues at work that offer no easy answer.