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Friday 11 May 2012

When is a sermon a sermon?

The Bank of England should have done more to prevent the banking crisis according to its Governor, Sir Mervyn King, speaking in the Today Programme Annual Lecture at the beginning of the month. But, he continued because banking regulation had been removed from its powers, the Bank of England was limited to ‘publishing reports and preaching sermons.’  ‘And we did preach sermons about the risks,’ he said, but the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street should have ‘shouted from the rooftops.’ The inference is clear: the preaching of sermons doesn’t change anything.
King gave his lecture a three-part structure: what went wrong? What are the lessons? What needs to change? The way forward he offered was similarly tripartite: regulation; resolution; restructuring – his 3Rs helpfully alliterative. Here’s a speaker who knows the value of mnemonic devises.
Early on in the talk there was a jokey aside addressed to a Today programme journalist – a nice human touch. Throughout there were simple pithy and memorable phrases: ‘take away the punchbpowl just as the next party is getting going;’ ‘a case of heads I win, tails you – the taxpayer – loses;’ ‘shouted from the rooftops.’ Here’s a speaker who can translate hard ideas into down-to-earth and catchy phrases.
And all this carefully illustrated not only by reference to recent events but also via appeal to historical characters: Montagu Norman, late 1930s Governor of the Bank of England and US President Roosevelt speaking in 1933.
Banking may not be the subject that immediately comes to mind as the topic for an engaging and memorable speech, but this certainly was. King’s presentation, in its delivery, content and structure was immensely listenable. In fact you could say it was a sermon, or at the least a lecture that employed many homiletic strategies. Perhaps preaching has more significance than even the users of its techniques appreciate.

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