Thou Shalt Steal After All

Dear me. Father Tim has got himself into a bit of a pickle hasn’t he?

A priest from North Yorkshire has advised his congregation to shoplift if they find themselves in hard times.

Father Tim Jones, the parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, said people should steal from big chains rather than small businesses.

He said society’s attitude to those in need “leaves some people little option but crime”.

However the Archdeacon of York said: “The Church of England does not advise anyone to shoplift”.

North Yorkshire Police described the sermon as “highly irresponsible”.

I have some sympathy for Tim (OK, I’m behind him all the way actually) when he states that those who condemn desperate people for stealing a loaf of bread as they walk home with their Go-Go Hamsters should really examine their conscience. And there is the fantastic point that a society that lets people get into this situation should ask itself how it can defend this neglect of people on the margins.

But to suggest the answer is shoplifting? I wouldn’t go that far, especially with a Saviour who’s response to sin is not just “I forgive you” but also “go and sin no more”.


6 Comments on “Thou Shalt Steal After All

  1. I always found it curious when people condemned ‘situational morality’ as the logical opposite to the God-Revealed kind. If God (unlike humans) sees all then surely He would see the difference between theft on the basis of greed or materialism, and someone stealing bread to feed their family? Yes, shop-lifting is wrong. Perhaps it would have been better for Fr.Tim to invoke the fregan argument? Is it *more* ‘Christian’ to waste such food than to engage in what is still (technically) shoplifting? Hmm.

  2. I’m reminded of the following passage from the Dutch Catechism:

    “In extreme necessity – such as danger of death by hunger, as has been admitted from the most ancient times – one may take other people’s things without asking permission. The earth is so much the common property of all that all have a fundamental right to have as much of it as they need to continue existing on it. ‘Those who are in extreme necessity have the right to provide for themselves from the riches of others’ (Church in the World, no. 69).”

    Also of Oscar Wilde’s remark in “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” that ” it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg.”

  3. In my Orthodox faith, sin is sin is sin. We don’t differentiate. We don’t give reasons or excuses.

    It makes sense to me. How hungry does one have to be to be justified in stealing food? How desperate for clothing to steal? Was Peter justified in denying Christ out of fear of death – the ultimate desperation?

    Everyone has their own particular set of passions and trials. It is a bit condescending and damning to tell another that his trials are unbearable.

    Condemnation is another issue altogether. As I understand it, we cannot condemn. Only God can. As for judgement, we can judge actions but not people. I can say ‘that is stealing’. And I can say that as a rich or poor man about what a rich or poor man has done.

  4. I remember an almost-identical story about 14 years ago. I still have the clipping from the Telegraph somewhere at home in England. It was a C of E vicar reported as saying that it’s okay to shoplift from large supermarkets. He was an elderly looking chap, I seem to remember.

    I think it’s only common sense that nabbing some food if you’re starving is justified. You’d be dumb to risk your health and even your life to avoid a far lesser evil.

    How many people in the West are really at that point is a different question, though.

  5. Thanks for the comments so far folks. Heard an interesting piece this lunchtime on FiveLive saying that most major towns in UK have day centres and soup kitchens, so there is little need for hungry to steal for food. Food (as it were) for thought.

    I’m with Dave – I wonder how many people are actually really in that position.

  6. Evening all,

    well, I think I’m with most of you on this one but find myself wondering why Fr Tim didn’t mention Matthew 25:35… or indeed suggest his parishioners offered themselves to the kind of day centres you mentioned, Peter.

    Also I think cerebusboy (Ryan?) has a good point about wasted food: I understand that some of the big chains do give surplus food to charities serving the homeless, especially at Christmas, but there’s a wider challenge here to all of us about the amount of food (and packaging) we waste, isn’t there? We take the earth’s abundance for granted then squander it…

    in friendship, Blair

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