"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."
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