It seems that the "just theft" saga refuses to go away. Ruth Gledhill’s latest offering here.
Whilst I don’t condone theft per se, Rev Tim Jones does have a valid point, doesn’t he? I think that it’s all well and good for us to be simply outraged (of Tunbridge Wells or elsewhere) that a priest would condone shoplifting, but how much experience do we actually have of the particular situation Tim Jones is talking about? He’s talking about trying to live off £100 for 6 weeks, in winter. I think the point that Tim Jones is trying to make is that, in this case, shoplifting is the least of many alternative evils.
The inconvenient truth here is that there are some people living in this country who are not only let down by the system, but are kicked down repeatedly. The vicious circle of homelessness is, for many, inescapable – with no address people can claim no benefits; with no benefits, people can not find anywhere to live and therefore have no address.
And, oh, the bitter irony of the shameful waste of food in drenching this priest with tinned spaghetti. My mother used to say something like "There are children starving in Africa, you know, etc etc". Well, here there are people starving on our own streets, in our own parishes and communities. Perhaps Mr Stot should have thought twice, sought out someone in need of that food, and not gone in for such a publicity-seeking stunt.
So, what should our response to this whole messy state of affairs be? Julian Baggini in his post here draws on the image of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Yes, Valjean starts by stealing a loaf of bread out of desperation, before becoming an habitual thief and criminal. Baggini unfortunately omits to tell the whole of Jean Valjean’s story. The turning point comes when Valjean attempts to steal the silver from the bishop. He is caught by the police but is rescued by the bishop who tells the police that the silver was a gift to Valjean. He gives Valjean two silver candlesticks in addition to the silver stolen by Valjean. Although it takes some time to have its impact on Valjean, this sacrificial kindness from the bishop eventually takes effect, transforming Valjean’s life. He repents of his ways. If this isn’t a potent metaphor for what a Christian’s response to the world should be, I don’t know what is…