22 December 2009

Let the Poor Shoplift

A rather interesting news item today from Britain that made it to the international talk show World Have Your Say concerns an Anglican vicar in Britain - Father Tim Jones, parish priest at St Lawrence and St Hilda in York - who suggested in a sermon that someone who did not have enough to eat might shoplift from large chain stores.

However, the actual sermon is a lot more complex than such a simplistic message: read it here.

Father Tim even said near the end of his sermon:
Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift. The observation that shoplifting is the best option that some people are left with is a grim indictment of who we are. Rather, this is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt.
I came across the actual sermon after reading about it on the internet and after hearing the talk show on the radio. Now, I have a real problem with advocating any kind of theft or justifying it as right.

But let's pan out and read the rest of the sermon and it's context which was - in my view - clearly born of personal experience on Father Jones' part. Most of the opinions I've read on the internet say something like "Stealing is wrong, but the church should help people". In another context, I have repeatedly stated that the Church universal simply doesn't have the resources to cope with large structural issues of poverty, unemployment and medical need.

So what is the correct response of the Church in the context that Father Jones outlines? And is there REALLY nothing at all wrong with putting someone on the street with £50, no home, no employment and no resources? And before you answer that it's Father Jones who should be responding to this man's needs on behalf of the congregation, consider the fact that this then devolves the responsibility of discipleship onto the vicar, leaving the individuals in the congregation free to not walk alongside this man and to tut-tut about his inability to take responsibility for himself.

I don't agree with preaching that its OK to steal. It isn't. But Father Jones is spot-on when he calls society to "no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt".

Like many real-life situations, when you have more of an understanding of the actual context and experiences of individuals, you realize that there are often no easy answers. That should humble us, I think.


David said...

Good comment Pam. Agree with much of what you say. What does worry me though is the priest saying anything that could be contrue as incitment to risk a criminal conviction. Identity issues have become such a focus in the UK that any blemish can hang around on various files for a long time.

Rev Tony B said...

What annoys me most is the number of attacks from biblical scholars who have taken his words right out of context. I'm not at all surprised when that is done by complacent capitalists, but scholars should know better. I suspect Tim was a bit naive to think he wouldn't be misquoted and misrepresented - but at least he's got folk talking! It's up to the rest of us to seize the issue and turn it back where it should be: concern for the poor.

PamBG said...

David and Tony, thanks for your comments. Only just seen them but happy new year to you both.