UK church draws flak for ties to investment bankers

(Photo: HTB)Steven Furtick, Lead Pastor of Elevation Church in North Carolina speaks at the HTB Leadership Conference.

The explosive growth of London's Holy Trinity Brompton church has got the world talking.

The Anglican mega-church boasts several thousand weekly attendees, and, according to the church, its wildly popular 10-week introduction to Christianity course, Alpha, is being taught in tens of thousands of groups across the globe.

Its annual leadership conference draws upwards of 5,000 people internationally.

But in the last week, it's been this very conference that has drawn ire for the church.

The two-day event, hosted in London, featured a variety of guest speakers. It included two executives from the investment bank Goldman Sachs International.

Brian Griffiths, the bank's vice chair, spoke in a panel discussion about how to be a person of faith in the business world.

Benjamin Grizzle, a Goldman Sachs' executive director, spoke at a similar panel geared for young adults.

United States lawmakers have fingered Goldman Sachs as a primary villain in the financial crisis that swept the country in 2008.

Griffiths drew additional criticism in 2009 when he defended Goldman Sachs' plumping up compensation packages for employees by 46 percent while the global economy had the worst growth since World War II.

"We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all," Griffiths said.

Christianity Uncut, a loose coalition opposed to the "injustices of capitalism" in the UK said it was displeased that such representatives would be invited to speak at a church event, and immediately organized to hand out flyers outside the final night of the conference.

"We're appalled that a church is giving a platform to these people and worse still, marketing them as great leaders and role models," they wrote on their blog.

"Jesus didn't lead like this. It doesn't matter how good you are at communicating - it's the message that counts."

This is not the first time HTB has come under fire for its cozy relationship with the financial world.

In 2011, the British newspaper The Independent ran a feature about the ties between evangelical churches and financial institutions, giving special mention to the church.

"Over the past decade, a specific type of evangelical Christianity has taken hold … foremost among them is the Alpha course, whose extraordinary expansion has been funded in part from the deep pockets of former Lazard chairman Ken Costa," Alex Preston wrote.

To date, HTB's vicar, Nicky Grumbel, has never publicly addressed criticism of the church's relationship with the financial world.

The HTB Leadership Conference ended on May 14 with teaching, worship and flash mob dancing at London's Royal Albert Hall where the audience were also joined by people watching a live stream in more than 70 countries.

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