Bank opening

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
2nd October 2007

Tagged: culture work

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I have been banking with the Commonwealth Bank for more than 50 years. Like most Australian’s in my age group, I opened my first bank account at primary school. Each week in the classrooms of school, we put our pocket money into savings accounts – dutifully recorded in our little bank books. The Commonwealth Bank had a monopoly on these school accounts. It was the closest thing to a Government bank.

Over the years I have opened accounts in other banks. But I have always continued to bank with the Commonwealth. Like most Australians I have grown in my disillusionment with the banking industry. It has shown a distinct lack of concern for the little people with our small accounts. Banks have constantly reduced the basic services to customers while declaring incredible profits for their shareholders. They have discouraged us from saving our money. Rather, they have encouraged us to spend freely. We are now in debt to their obscenely expensive credit cards.

Still the Commonwealth Bank in particular seems to retain a customer loyalty. It still represents the stable responsible world of yesteryear. I for one have never left the bank of my school days.

It is therefore a matter of great sadness for me to read of the Commonwealth’s latest scheme to open their banking operations on Sundays.

This departure from previous practice is starting in a very limited fashion. It is not all branches. It is only in some areas. It will only use volunteer members of staff. But it is a major and significant change.

In one sense this is just another straw on the camel’s back. Not the last straw that will break the back—but a very significant straw. It is a significant next step in the commercialisation of our society. It is the next straw in the unconscious conspiracy to reduce our society to individualism and our culture to materialism. Soon nothing will unite Australians except our common economic system.

We should complain about it and oppose it.

Yet I suspect our complaints will fall on deaf ears. Since when have the banks listened to their customers or Governments restrained trade for the benefit of the community?

Opposition to banks opening on Sundays should not be based on Sunday being the day for Church. “Church self interest” is not all that different to “Bank self interest”.

Which day of the week is the community’s “rest day” is not really important. The fact that in Australia the “rest day” has always been Sunday speaks of the Christian culture upon which our society was and is based. (A Christian culture that secularist historians are determined to obliterate from memory.)

Australia has steadily moved away from Government imposed Christianity. The invitation to share in God’s rest with Him and His people requires a voluntary response. People need to fellowship with God and His people because they want to – not because the society requires them to.

Opposition to this innovation should be based in God’s law of the Sabbath—but not as most people expect.

The Sabbath law of God speaks to the very nature of the human condition. It is something that is applicable to all people and all nations. We cannot be a functioning community if we do not have time for each other. Making time for each other requires everybody to be freed from responsibilities at the same time.

The Bible gives several different reasons for obeying the Sabbath law. In part, we obey because the Sabbath reflects the creator in his creation. In part, it is because God demonstrated in His rest that there was more to life than work. In part it is because the world and its inhabitants need rest and cannot work continuously.

The distinctively Jewish and Christian part of the Sabbath law was the invitation to share God’s rest with him – at first in the Promised Land but finally in the salvation Jesus won for us. But leaving aside this wonderful privilege, a Sabbath rest is good for all people and society as a whole.

And in providing time to rest we must in particular look after the weakest members of society. They, in particular, must be given time to enjoy rest with everybody else. As God said of the Sabbath: “On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant or your female servant or your livestock or the sojourner who is within your gates.” It is not just the master of the house who needs rest; it is all the people in the household who need to rest with each other.

The people most affected by this proposal are the staff. In time it will be more than volunteers serving on Sundays. Already families are under time pressure because of work intruding on weekends. Be assured the shareholders will still enjoy their weekends.

It is a sad testimony on modern life that shopping has become a chief recreation for people. Weekend trading feeds our obsession with possessions. Opening the banks only adds to the pressure. With automatic tellers all over the land, why do banks need to open on Sundays? The kind of special banking needs like home loans and credit card inquiries are not everyday activities. They can be organised at other times of the week.

It is specious to suggest that opening a few banks for these specialist concerns will not in time open up other banking activities as part of normal Sunday trading. There is no way this practice can be contained only to the Commonwealth bank, or only to the banking sector. Why not open the stock market? Why not operate all commercial interests seven days a week? Why not operate all government departments seven days a week? Why have weekends at all?

To oppose this new development is not to “impose Christianity on the community”. To allow this new development is to continue to “impose materialism and individualism on the community”.