Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Sunday, January 10, 2010

shoplifting as a christian virtue

Father Tim Jones, parish priest at St Lawrence and St Hilda in York in Britain, has made international headlines by seeming to advocate shoplifting in a recent sermon:

My advice in these circumstances, when people have been let down so very badly by the rest of society, is that they should not hurt anybody, and cope as best they can. The strong temptation is to burgle or rob people – family, friends, neighbours, strangers. Others are tempted towards prostitution, a nightmare world of degradation and abuse for all concerned. Others are tempted towards suicide.

Instead, I would rather that they shoplift. My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift.

Now why would a Christian priest urge people to shoplift? Are there any circumstances that could possibly justify this criminal action? Is Father Jones suggesting that stealing is OK?

I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither. I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices. I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need.

Now it's beginning to sound downright marxist. Is Father Jones advocating, in a roundabout way, a brand of socialism?

No, actually, because the sermon is not really about shoplifting. It is grounded in the Magnificat, the song of Mary in the early part of Luke's gospel.

The recurrent theme of Mary's song is the faithful love of God towards his children, no matter how lowly, despised or lacking they may be. The phrases of her song are drawn almost entirely from the grateful pleading of the forlorn in Old Testament prophetic literature. It is a song which has done a huge amount to reinforce the Christian commitment to the poor and needy of society in every age.

But "commitment to the poor and needy of society" has always been easier to talk about than to put into practice. And that's what led Father Jones to make such a controversial declaration.

What advice should one give, for example, to an ex prisoner who was released in mid-November with a release grant of less than £50 and a crisis loan, also of less than £50, who applies immediately for benefits but is, with less than a week to go before Christmas, still to receive any financial support?

His advice, as we saw above, would be for them to take the things they need. It's not good advice, especially to someone with a criminal record. But what are the alternatives?

One might tell them to see their social worker, but they are on a waiting list for a social worker. Tell them to see their probation officer, perhaps, but the probation officer can only enquire of the benefits agency, and be told that benefits will eventually be forthcoming. One might tell them to get a job, but it is at the very best of times extremely difficult for an ex prisoner to find work, and these are not the best of times for anyone trying to find a job.

None of these options will provide food, clothing, or shelter. But a return to jail would, and so shoplifting begins to look more attractive.

There are, of course, ways to get the basic necessities without stealing:

They could perhaps get cereal and toast every morning from a local charity. Then could perhaps apply, and see if they are eligible for some limited help from the Salvation Army or other such body.

But such charity often has the unintended consequence of creating dependence. And that cuts to the heart of the gospel message. Jesus said he came to "bring good news to the poor," to "proclaim release to the captives," to "let the oppressed go free." But having to go to a shelter for cereal every morning is not freedom, and it is certainly not good news.

If a society cannot offer a better alternative than this to its most vulnerable citizens, it has failed. And that, ultimately, is Father Jones' point when he says the best option for the poor is shoplifting:

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.

Again, the gospel message confronts us with harsh reality. Do we believe Christ died for sinners? Or are some people beyond his ability to redeem? In the sermon, preached the Sunday before Christmas, Father Jones urged his congregation:

Prepare for the coming of Christ, for Christmas is almost upon us. But don't let your preparations be limited to tinsel and turkey, crackers, fairy lights and chocolates. Prepare for Christ by singing his mother's song, and taking her words to heart. Don't just sing about lifting up the lowly: help with the lifting!

It's a message we all need to take seriously.

Here's the full transcript of the sermon.

hat tip: PamBG

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At 2/24/2010 2:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it


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