My mother being a regular attender at her local Presbyterian Church had the opportunity today to sign a petition to the Prime Minister; the same petition is available online. The Presbyterian moderator Dr. Donald Patton has also issued an open letter which was printed in the News Letter and is available (here) on the Presbyterian Church website. The moderator is undoubtedly correct to appeal to local politicians and the Prime Minister about the plight of the savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society. It is also undoubtedly true that the government’s pledge to support the banks helped produce the run on the PMS which precipitated this disaster. However, the PMS seems to have followed a very flawed business model by investing almost exclusively in commercial property.
The Moderator in his letter explains: While the central Church is meeting acute needs by offering limited grants through benevolent funds accessed by Ministers, it does not have the resources to respond to major needs except the General Assembly decides otherwise. The Presbyterian Church has stated on a number of occasions (completely legally correctly) that it is entirely unrelated to the Mutual Society. As such the moderator’s actions are laudable. There is, however, a very big BUT: that but is that the PMS was very heavily advertised in numerous Presbyterian Church publications, there were articles extolling its virtues on a number of occasions. As such, although the church bears no legal responsibility, I would submit there is a very substantial moral responsibility to savers in the PMS; many of whom were people of modest means.
In the part of the letter I quoted above the moderator states that it cannot respond further … except the General Assembly decides otherwise. I would submit that along with petitioning the government the Presbyterian Church’s call would acquire much more moral weight if Dr. Patton convened an emergency meeting of the General Assembly in order to attempt to find further resources, if necessary by mortgaging or selling church property, some of which is valuable. In the current market they may well get less than they would want for such properties and as I have already stated they are under absolutely no legal obligation so to do. However, especially in this, the 150th anniversary of the Year of Grace, it would be a potent symbol of the church’s commitment to society and would be a powerful witness to the Grace of God and the seriousness with which God’s moral laws are viewed by the Presbyterian Church.