Profile - Rev Rob Hinton: Preaching love not condemnation for business men and women

GORDON Gekko's trademark striped shirt and hair gel may have been put back in the cupboard more than two decades ago but, as the banking crisis taught us, there are still lots of people who think greed is good.

So when it all began going wrong for them two years ago, the fall was hard and fast. But after seeing chief executives steer the banks to disaster and then retire on six-figure pensions, you can't help but

feel they had it coming to them, right?

As Rob Hinton is keen to point out, it's not that simple. The people at the top feel the pain of redundancy just as much as any lowly-paid bank cashier. So do their wives, husbands and children, all of whom have to suddenly cope with a dramatic change in their lifestyle.

Rev Hinton doesn't quite say "hate the sin, love the sinner" but he makes it clear he is there for everyone who has a problem, from the MD to the PA.

As Minister to the business community, his working life sounds far removed from that of the ordinary priest – a vicar without an ordinary parish, licensed at Yorkshire Bank's HQ – but he insists there are similarities.

"You have to be where people are," said Rev Hinton, who is based not in a church but in Club LS1, the members' joint which is one of the Leeds business community's favourite hang-outs.

"The church was not present here but Jesus was where people were. He met people who were the equivalent of the bankers. When Jesus met these people, he said, 'Can I talk to you and get alongside you?' He did not shout at them in the media for being the worst people on earth.

"If the Church is to have an effect on the way things are done, you want people to listen to you."

It all sounds very persuasive. After all, disputes, from politics to war, rarely get solved without talking to the other side, but didn't Rev Hinton's boss – I mean the Archbishop of Canterbury, rather than God – take a more trenchant approach when he denounced "unbridled capitalism" and the parts of the City which didn't show enough repentance for triggering the financial crisis?

Rev Hinton points out that the only person in St Mark's Gospel to whom Jesus says "I love you" is the rich young man and, while he is careful not to name names, he admits he has concerns about what has been proclaimed from the pulpit recently.

"I don't think the Church has treated the banking community with respect. While the practices were wrong, you have to love the people. To make a generalised condemnation of the banking community is not about loving people back to the right sort of life.

"But there is no doubt things were wrong and that people behaved with greed and there has to be some reform of attitudes. You change people through love and not through condemnation."

The temptation lingers, however, to condemn. When Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, claimed that bankers do "God's work" by creating more wealth for society, he was criticised just about everywhere.

Rev Hinton, who once had a cottage enterprise selling ecclesiastical shirts to the Far East, says he "didn't really understand" why Mr Blankfein said this, but declined to stick the boot in.

Rev Hinton's calm approach may not please those Britons who wanted to see bankers hung from lamp-posts but it is one borne out of experience. Two years ago, in his previous parish, he scored a notable triumph when he united with members of the Jewish community in a successful campaign to stop Waitrose from building an unpopular store outside Altrincham.

While his aims in Yorkshire are different, he remains a realist. He knows how hard it can be getting a foot in the door of a business, let alone when you start the job with Britain in recession, as he did

in November.

When he rang up one firm, the response of the chief executive's secretary was curt: "What do you want?" she asked. His answer, "I don't want any money", was evidently the right one as he got in to talk to them.

He has been to see the ethical director of Asda as well as the head of Marks & Spencer, in Leeds, in meetings that are not just about their staff, but them as well.

"It is not often that someone comes up to you and says, 'It is my job to care about you and it won't cost you a penny'.

"People in senior positions are under terrific stress. They are also in a position where it is very difficult to understand that. If you admit to being ill or under pressure, that is perceived as weakness. My job is to say to people, 'Come and have a chat or a drink at the bar' – there is a need for that."

Rev Hinton cites the example of one of his previous parishioners, in Altrincham, whose success in business meant he had a flash car and

a big house – but also had 36 CCTV cameras trained on his home. He couldn't enjoy his lifestyle.

That was in the boom years. Now, after Britain's longest and deepest post-war recession, there are fewer people like this but many more who got used to the good life before seeing it turn to ashes.

This is clearly one of the reasons the diocese of Ripon and Leeds brought in Rev Hinton. This part of Yorkshire, which saw a boom fuelled by personal and company debt, has seen thousands of jobs disappear since the credit crisis began two years ago.

Now the recession is officially over but with the prospect of

a hung Parliament, fears of a run on the pound and the certainty of post-election cuts mean there is plenty more pain to come.

More Yorkshire men and women will lose their jobs and, as Rev Hinton puts it, be "out of favour at the golf club".

His message to them will be that God loves them but he will still have to charm them into listening, just as they are getting used to more modest lifestyle. In finance, machismo is dead. Finally, society has agreed that greed is not good.


Title: Minister to the business community, diocese of Ripon and Leeds in the Church of England.

Date of birth: February 13, 1969.

Education: Birkenhead Institute High School, Merseyside; geography and social ethics degree at St Martin's College, Lancaster University; theology degree at Durham University.

First job: working in the housing office at Wirral Borough Council.

Most proud of: "getting through secondary school to get my A-levels and go to university".