Calm has been restored to the streets of UK cities. Last night saw greater numbers of police on the streets taking tougher measures against the rioters and looters. The situation was also helped by greater vigilance and some robust acts of self defence both on the part of shop keepers and that of the general community. Magistrate Courts were open throughout the night, mostly referring those under arrest to the Crown Courts where tougher sentences can be imposed.
The civil unrest has divided the nation. Most are simply shocked and appalled, but others equally angry are speaking up for the looters. The Prime Minister condemned the “sick” elements in a society gone wrong. Others are blaming the riots on society itself which has produced the levels of social deprivation leading so many to take part in acts of lawlessness.
The tough talkers scorn the mayhem by labelling its perpetrators as “thugs” and “feral rats” who are taking their “sick revenge” on society. Those with a more liberal social outlook assert that the ugly scenes are “hardly surprising” given the frustrations of the “ignored underclass” at the core of the riots. Given the opportunity, such people will certainly steal a large screen TV or a pair of designer trainers – “that’s just the way it happens”. They have no decent home and no prospects. They are voiceless and powerless, victims of a society that has forgotten them. To some, acts of arson, vandalism, looting and maiming are “understandable”, “excusable” or even “justifiable”. Others, are just plain angry and want the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
In this atmosphere of indignation is no co-incidence that seven out of ten top sports items currently on sale are baseball bats. Amazon reports that its sale of aluminium bats have increased by 6,000%. Violence breeds violence. Justice is one thing, but angry retribution only sets up a fresh cycle of misunderstanding and hatred. We must all take a long look at our society and begin to fix it.
In the weeks and months to come, there will be much debate as people position themselves on either side of the divide. Government policies will increasingly come under attack from its opponents. Community workers will speak out on behalf of the under-privileged. Counter arguments will be marshalled, pointing to the breakdown of the family, lack of discipline among the young and the need for a return to values of personal responsibility and respect for authority.
Either way we must take a long, hard look at ourselves and the kind of society we have made. There will be no quick fix. No one-stop solution. Long after every visible trace of the riots and looting has been removed, the scars will remain. It is easy to destroy, but much harder to build. Easy to hurt and difficult to heal. Those on either side of the argument must listen to the viewpoint of the other. We cannot solve this by needless perpetuation of the “us” and “them”. We are in it together.
Christians must take their share of the responsibility. We have allowed ourselves to be marginalized for too long. The self-imposed policy of non-engagement with society must end. We must take our gospel out there, where it really counts. By word and deed, we must become part of the solution and not just pontificate about the problem.
The Christian gospel is rooted in compassion and finds it highest expression in self-sacrifice. Jesus did not come to arm the poor to fight against the rich. Neither did he come to boost the complacency of those who are wealthy. He did not lead a just war against the Roman Imperialists. He did not raise a rabble army against slavery and injustice. But, neither did he give us a mandate to withdraw from these issues.
Jesus’ death on the cross was supremely an act of sacrifice in which he paid the price for our sins. Society cannot ignore the dark side of human nature and the Christian story of redemption points us all to the only solution. Changed hearts lead to a changed society. In Christ, anger is turned into forgiveness. Violence is transformed into determination to build a better future for all.