Shoplifting: It’s not Prostitution!

Anglican priest Rev. Tim Jones has advised his congregation to shoplift

The Rev Tim Jones said in his Sunday sermon that stealing from successful shops was preferable to burglary, robbery or prostitution.

He told parishioners it would not break the eighth commandment ‘thou shalt not steal’ because it ‘is permissible for those who are in desperate situations to take food that they might not starve’.

But his advice was roundly condemned by police and the local Tory MP. Father Jones, 42, was discussing Mary and the birth of Jesus when he went on to the subject of how poor and vulnerable people cope in the run-up to Christmas.

‘My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift,’ he told his stunned congregation at St Lawrence and St Hilda in York.

‘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 anymore than they need. I offer the advice with a heavy heart. Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift.

First question: If they are advised not to take more than they need, what does this have to do with the run-up to Christmas (which, while I love it, is completely about wants, not needs)? 

Second question: Did he mention anything about non-criminal options, such as offering to work for the church in exchange for charity, seeking out jobs that might otherwise appear below one’s dignity, or wise spending habits to ensure that you don’t get in trouble in the first place?  Maybe he did, and it just didn’t make the article.  I hope. 

Third question: Did he say anything about seeking forgiveness, and making up for these wrongs when you are able?  I can agree that stealing food is an acceptable alternative to starvation, but I think that, even so, the stealer should be sorry for the transgression and consider it a debt to be repaid, before one purchases, say jewelry or an I-pod. 

Rev. Jones also had a bit to say about society (bear in mind this is liberal, social-net savvy Britain, not the cold, evil U.S.):

‘Rather, this is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt.

‘When people are released from prison, or find themselves suddenly without work or family support, then to leave them for weeks with inadequate or clumsy social support is monumental, catastrophic folly.

‘We create a situation which leaves some people little option but crime.’

The father of two, whose parish has a wide mix of social conditions, said his advice to people in dire circumstances is that ‘they should not hurt anybody and cope as best they can’.

He added: ‘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.

‘The life of the poor in modern Britain is a constant struggle, a minefield of competing opportunities, competing responsibilities, obligations and requirements, a constant effort to achieve the impossible.

‘For many at the bottom of our social ladder, lawful, honest life can sometimes seem to be an apparent impossibility.’

I’m intrigued about the What Would Jesus Do aspects of this.  As far as I recall, Jesus never condoned stealing or compulsory “charity.”  He never called for a social safety net, nor can I think of any scriptural suggestions that stealing is acceptable. 

Maybe I’m wrong.  In fact, I’m hoping to start studying the Bible some next year in an effort to answer some of these questions.  But, to my understanding, we have a moral requirement to help those in need, but I know of nothing that says that we have a moral requirement to force, under threat of violence or by the trick of shoplifting, others to do so.

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