FEBRUARY 22, 2010 11:07AM

Priest's shoplifting advocacy a rightful indictment of us

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"My advice, as a Christian priest is to shoplift"  

- Rev. Tim Jones (Daily Mail

Harper's Magazine ran a reprint of a December 2009 sermon by Rev. Tim Jones, Church of St. Lawrence, York, England in this month's edition under the title of Desperation Theology.   

Reverend Jones goes to great lengths to thoughtfully deconstruct the argument that the poor should be able to, with the help of the government, family and gumption elevate themselves from poverty.  

He begins by examining the plight of the newly released prisoner, though it can be the same for who Jones says are "[people who] find themselves suddenly without work or support," embarking on a constant effort to achieve the impossible:

"What advice should one give, for example to an ex-prisoner who was released mid November with a release grant of less than £50 and a crisis loan 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?  This is just the situation that presents itself at the vicarage door.  What would you advise?"

What follows is Jones dismantling misconceptions about the poor through a litany of questions - or "advice" - often lobbed by people not faced with prospect of poverty:

  • See your social worker
  • Get a job
  • Ask your friends and family for money
  • Eat at soup kitchens
  • Consider a loan shark 
Reverend Jones then draws the conclusion that most people fall through governmental cracks, have no family or friends that are capable of or willing to loan money, cannot secure a job, or rely on charities and loan sharks for a long term solution to their financial problems.  This leads people to:
"The strong temptation to burgle or rob people — family, friends, neighbors, strangers.  Others are tempted toward prostitution, a nightmare world of degradation and abuse for all concerned.  Others are tempted toward suicide." 
As a remedy, Reverend Jones finally concludes:
"...I would rather they shoplift.  My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift"
This is not a statement he makes lightly, nor is in one rebuking God's 8th commandment.  Jones asks that people not steal from small, family owned businesses, only "large national businesses" (read:  WalMart USA).  The potential shoplifters are then asked to not take more than they need for any longer than they need. 
Addressing the 8th commandment, thou shalt not steal, Rev. Jones says:
"The mother of Christ reminds us what Jesus shows us: that God's love for the poor and despised - and who in our society is despised more than a newly released prisoner? - outweighs the property rights of the rich"
This is quite a claim, one that may be hard for American's to swallow, in a land where corporations are people and property rights (or any right) of the rich are held paramount by the rich and the confused living from pay-check-to-pay-check average Joe alike.  
Rev. Jones concludes his sermon with words directed at us all:
"Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift. The observation that shoplifting is the best option 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."

What do you think?  Click here to take my completely unscientific poll.

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I certainly think that, in cases of need, theft of necessities should be met with compassion and understanding, and I think that it is very easy for a rich person to tell someone who's not doing so well to just "get a job, ya bum!", but I think advice like this is extremely problematic in an entitlement society like we have now.

When people are thinking to themselves, "I need and am entitled to the same luxuries everyone else has," I suspect this advice to will be taken the wrong way by a lot of people. I think it might be better if this gentlemen was, instead of advising people to steal, advising people to be compassionate towards those who steal.
Right from the pages of Victor Hugo.
Wow. This is a lot to think about. I think it's a slippery slope; that one might be forgiven for stealing food to feed one's family, but who decides what someone "needs?" Of course, if we lived in a world in which everyone's basic needs were met, the issue wouldn't even arise....
What a bad idea.
If someone is so out of options, they decide to steal -- then they don't need a priest's help.
Even criminals will tell you not to steal. It's just a bad idea on every and all levels.
If someone absolutely has no other outs, they don't need any social support for their actions.

If you watch the show 24, torture seems quite effective. I don't think so. I'm sure there are people of the cloth that think it is a good idea to torture heathens to obtain info to protect real Americans.

Anyway, stealing is a bad idea.
Just read that excerpt in Harpers yesterday. It's a profound and important statement for the Reverend to have made. Whether or not you agree with his advice, you can't argue with his conclusion, that the system he describes is forcing people into crime of one sort or another and needs reform.