Richard Turnbull: When it comes to business, the clergy and the flock see things very differently

Committed churchgoers – defined as those who attend weekly – have a considerably more positive view of business and the market economy than those who lead them and teach them.

This is the result of polling conducted for the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics. Savanta ComRes polled six audiences between 10th May 2021 and 5th August 2021 to secure their findings: the general public, regular churchgoers, business leaders, Muslim and Jewish people, and Church leaders. They also conducted in-depth interviews between 10th May 2021 and 5th August 2021 with ten Anglican and Catholic bishops. The total sample size was just short of 3,500 people.’

The result show that those who preach to the flock hold opinions on business and enterprise, tax and society far removed from those who listen in the pews, if they are still listening. Perhaps the faithful are more in touch with God?

According to the polling, 51% of church leaders viewed higher taxation as a better way of achieving a fairer society than lower taxation.

This is probably predictable as nobody really seems to make the case for a low-tax economy in this day and age. Perhaps the case needs to be made afresh? There would certainly be an open door among the faithful; only 34% of weekly churchgoers had the same rose-tinted view of high taxation as the clergy.

There are things to celebrate, not least the widespread trust in small, medium and family businesess and their contribution to society, but the dislocation between clergy and flock reveals an underlying loss of confidence in the nation and in the economy by many church leaders.

A mere 30% of church leaders believe employers care about their employees; yet, among the regulars that figure is 54%.

Maybe the church is not setting a good example in the treatment of those that work in the spiritual domain?

Meanwhile amongst ordinary worshippers there appears to be much more appreciation of their employers. Seventy-five per cent of church leaders think business leaders are paid too much. Amongst monthly churchgoers this is 59% and the weekly number, at 65%, is close to the general public average. This might reflect the poor pay conditions of the clergy.

The message is the same when it comes to trust in multi-national corporations.

Unsurprisingly the church leadership has bought into the narrative that multi-national corporations are somehow evil, though I don’t suppose clergy use Amazon any less than everyone else. The congregation members are, perhaps, simply more realistic. Multi-nationals deliver what we want, they do so on the basis of size, global reach and capacity to deliver. They are, for the most part, good employers and invest in the countries where they operate.

But what about the tax? The popular storyline of the Left is that multi-nationals pay little or no corporate tax and that this somehow constitutes a moral scandal, whilst still pressing the ‘order now’ button on Amazon.

This line fails to take account of total tax take and the wider economic contribution of these businesses – ideas perhaps more familiar to the flock than the shepherds?

For example, according to PwC’s 2020 Total Tax Contribution survey for the 100 Group of Finance Directors, for every £1 paid in corporation tax these businesses paid £2.89 in other business taxes, irrecoverable VAT, employers’ national insurance, business rates and petroleum revenue tax. In addition, for every £1 of corporation tax paid, these companies collect £8.34 of taxes on behalf of the government, mainly PAYE, national insurance, VAT and customs duties – collect it, that is, free of charge. Not to mention the jobs and the investment.

The faithful in the pews probably understand this better than the preacher. Only 30% of church leaders expressed trust in multi-nationals; 73% of the weekly regulars did so – a big gap by any standards.

Disturbingly there seems to be among clergy a loss of confidence not only in many aspects of the market economy but also in the nation itself. In response to the question whether Britain was an attractive place to do business, only 46% of the church leaders thought so, compared to 66% of the congregation members.

Church leaders are out of touch with Christian opinion. Clergy convey a lack of understanding of key aspects of business, display excessive reliance on the power of taxation and government, and lack confidence in larger and global businesses – and indeed in Britain as a nation. A message is being preached that is not believed by most of its recipients.


This article was first published in Christian Today.

Richard%20Turnbullweb#1# (2)Dr Richard Turnbull is the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics (CEME). For more information about Richard please click here.