In what I perceive to be the Christian challenge to these riots

The whole (well, most) of London is in shock after another senseless evening and night of rioting on the streets: cars burnt out, shops smashed up and looted, buildings burnt to the ground.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to these senseless acts of violence – a political protest this ain’t.

My initial reaction, like most others, was one of disgust – these “human” rioters are more animal than human; there is no similarity between them out there on the streets looting and middle class me sat in front of the TV (which was bought legitimately).  I still think these mindless acts should be condemned…I still think the police should be supported throughout this, the rule of law upheld, and the looters/rioters bought to justice.

But, as a Christian how should I be feeling?

Aren’t these rioters, as well as being rioters, also my brothers (and sisters)?  Aren’t they also created in the image of God, don’t they also, somewhere, hold that spark of the Spirit within them, as I hope I do?  Weren’t we taught to love our neighbours as ourselves, and also to love our enemies?  To bless those who harm us, to bless and not to curse?  Whatever I might feel about certain people’s behaviour, they are human every bit as much as I am, and not simply animals…

I’ve been reading Harry Williams’ “The True Wilderness” which is a collection of his sermons from his time at Trinity College, Cambridge.  It’s a fantastic read, and portrays a version of Christianity and God which I definitely resonate with.  Yesterday I was reading his sermon “Deeper compassion for humanity”, and it is directly applicable to the current situation in London.  Here’s a bit of it where he ponders on an encounter with a kleptomaniac, but it might as well be with a rioter/looter/arsonist.

Suppose for instance that we come across a kleptomaniac.  We may be enlightened enough to realise that simply to condemn him as a criminal does no good to anybody.  Instead we may think of him and behave towards him as somebody who has a disease called kleptomania, like a man who has the measles.  

But this apparently enlightened, clinical approach is in fact an attempt to prevent ourselves from perceiving how much we have in common with him.  For his stealing is an attempt to compensate himself for an intolerable sense of having no value, and this sense of having no value follows from his never having been properly loved.  It is true of all of us that in this way or that way, to this degree or that degree, the love we needed to feel our own value has been withheld.  And so the spectre of valuelessness haunts us all, waiting to spring.  And quite a lot of the things I do are attempts to avert my gaze from this ghost who would take from me all reasons for living.  

True, my own way of compensating myself for the threatening sense of valuelessness is not that of the kleptomaniac.  I do not go around shop-lifting [also read rioting/looting/burning].  But I see to it nonetheless that I accumulate quite a lot of riches [to compensate]

And he then goes on to list many of the things that we middle class, respectable citizens do to heap up the riches of respectability and popularity.  All perfectly acceptable in our modern, capitalist culture of course!  However, the fact remains that we and the kleptomaniac/looter/rioter/arsonist have more in common than we think.  We all feel valueless in some way and do something to compensate for it.  It is only by recognising that we all suffer from the same wounds that we can find some common ground with the “other” and be able to communicate with them.  We know we suffer from those same wounds because we’ve been there ourselves.

Williams says that instead of remarking “There, but for the grace of God, go I” when confronted with the other, it is much more honest to say “There, by the grace of God, I have been and I am”.  He concludes by saying that “[O]ur identification with the other person brings to our lives and to their’s the power, the joy, the victory which is already ours and all mankind’s in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

Difficult?  Yes.  Insulting to some?  Probably.  Incomprehensible to many?  Almost certainly.

However, I think there is a genuine challenge here to all Christians (and in reality to all people) to respond with Love and not with hate; even in the face of such senseless violence.  Can we do it?

2 thoughts on “In what I perceive to be the Christian challenge to these riots

  1. Brilliant! That’s the best post on the whole sorry business that I have seen so far.

    There is another angle, too. I have been banging on at some length on Facebook about the responsibility of politicians to provide a moral example. Whether people are consciously aware of it or not, they are influenced by what they see, especially from people in positions of leadership. If people see MPs take what is not theirs in the form of fiddling expenses, that is an influence on them. How well they are able to counter that influence depends on a number of factors; the fact that it is an influence doesn’t mean that everyone succumbs to it, nor does it remove personal responsibility. Nonetheless, it’s an influence that should not be there, and both should and could be changed.

    • I agree (with the latter paragraph, I really can’t comment on the first!)

      People are not given a “level playing field” in terms of behaviour when those in power in politics, the media, even the church set such a bad example. Not an excuse, as you say, but absolutely an influence…

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