Bank chief was 'scarred' by ridicule of faith

Former Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens wins 2018 Faith & Work Award

Former Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens

By Stephen Cauchi

July 5 2018Former Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens AC, who has been awarded the Faith & Work award for 2018, told the award dinner he had been “scarred” by ridicule of his faith while he was in the role. The Faith & Work award is jointly presented by Ridley College; Ethos, the Evangelical Alliance Centre for Christianity and Society; and the Centre for Research in Religion and Social Policy at the University of Divinity, supported by Reventure.

Mr Stevens told the audience that he had been intensely criticised for raising interest rates during 2008, a period which coincided with a speech he gave about faith and work at an Easter function at Wesley Mission in Sydney.

“One reporter from a TV network stuck a microphone in my face as I was leaving and asked how it was Christian to raise people’s home loan rates,” Mr Stevens said.

“One news organisation wrote up [my speech] as ‘Stevens claims God-given gift to steer the economy’.

“In addition I had quite a number of very unkind letters and emails, saying how foolish I was to believe the things I had said, and what a disgrace it was that the Governor of the Reserve Bank could say and even think such things.

“These people clearly felt I was unfit to hold the job. The anger in those messages was greater than anything else I received in all the years I worked in the Reserve Bank.”

Economist Professor Ian Harper, who is on the board of Ridley College, told the dinner in his opening speech that Sydney’s Daily Telegraph had run a photo of Mr Stevens with the headline “Is This Australia’s Most Useless Man?”

The piece was “utterly without warrant… an outrageous slur”, said Professor Harper.

A Christian himself, Professor Harper recalled how he would have “a prayer and a sandwich” with Mr Stevens while they were colleagues at the Reserve Bank. He described Mr Stevens as a man with a “hard head, steely resolve and a soft heart”.

Mr Stevens said the criticism in 2008 “was, for a time, rather scarring”.

“I admit that I became even more cautious about what I said of a personal nature after that. I was very guarded about accepting invitations to speak at church functions.”

Mr Stevens, who attends Heathcote Engadine Baptist Church in southern Sydney, said his faith had “grounded” him during critical life moments.

“Faith sustained me,” he said. “I felt that the grounding was helped by continued participation in the life of our local church, where we have been attending since 1987.”

He described himself as “an ordinary church member, including being on the church cleaning roster and vacuuming the sanctuary. It’s actually good to stay grounded”.

He praised the support of his pastor, Ian Wooley, “who had the sensitivity not to make additional demands on me”. “A lot of people prayed for me. I often struggled with the feeling that I wasn’t good enough to do the job, that I was facing problems I didn’t know how to solve.

“There are, perhaps for all of us, moments when so many things seem to be going crazy that our inner faith is all we have to sustain us.”

Mr Stevens told the audience that he was “not actually very good at evangelism” and that there had been only a few occasions in his professional career when he had personally witnessed to colleagues.

He also said he did not feel “called” to be a central banker. “I didn’t go into economics out of a desire to reform the world; I did it because that is what I had the HSC marks to get into,” he said.

Nevertheless, he felt that if he had chosen the wrong career, “God, being God, would surely be able to let one know”.

He said he had given much thought to how a Christian should run a secular organisation.

“In my view, the upper echelons of a secular organisation do not constitute your personal pulpit. I am certain that some of my Christian friends found this quite disappointing. But I was not running a faith-based organisation. I was the leader and the public face of an organisation employing people of all faiths and none.”

He said that if he was to be seen as having religious motives as Governor, the credibility of the Reserve Bank “would be damaged… in the eyes of the largely secular citizenry”.

But Christians in leadership positions could still let show their faith in more subtle ways, he said.

Worldly leadership was focussed on “leaders being celebrities… their Facebook posts and Twitter feeds cultivate the public persona of the celebrity-hero”.

By contrast, the Christian idea was of the leader as a servant. “Christ himself was the model, as in the well-known passage where he washes the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.

“We don’t literally wash the feet of our subordinates, but the point is that their welfare, and an environment in which they can succeed to the limits of their abilities, and can themselves be whole, fulfilled people, is our concern.

“It is not about the leader. It is about everyone else in the organisation, and those whom the organisation serves – be they shareholders and customers, the citizens of the country, whoever.”

The Faith & Work award honours Christians who over a lifetime have integrated their faith and work. The dinner was held at Ridley College on 25 May.

Past recipients of the award include the inventor of the bionic ear, Graeme Clark; former deputy Prime Minister John Anderson; former Age religion editor Barney Zwartz; and former ABC managing director Mark Scott.