Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Is rioting ever right?

 The cleanup begins

A riot is the language of the unheard” (Martin Luther King, Jr)

Unless you’ve been asleep for the last few days, you’ll know there have been some serious riots in London. Violence has been rife, homes have been burnt down and shops have been looted. Judging by the pictures, parts of our glorious capital now look like a war zone.

However, I’m ashamed to say that I felt somewhat removed from the situation until I heard the trouble was spreading to other parts of the UK. Enjoying a quiet cup of tea in bed this morning I was shocked to see that rioting had been happening round the corner from me in Liverpool.

Don’t get me wrong, I was saddened and angered the minute I saw these louts destroying people’s homes, endangering lives and demolishing business owners’ livelihoods.

But it certainly makes you sit up and take note when it’s your own community that’s under attack. When the family business you buy flowers from is broken into, when your friend’s car is set alight, when people are afraid to leave their homes.

Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you're a man, you take it” Malcolm X

The trouble started after the controversial shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan by police in Tottenham. I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of it here as I don’t know all the facts, but friends and family of the young father-of-four felt an injustice had taken place and decided to stage a protest. And that’s when the mayhem started…

So were family members wrong to stand up for what they believed? Should we do nothing when we sense unfairness and discrimination? Absolutely not. Jesus himself took a whip into the temple where corruption was rife. He turned over tables and literally chased moneylenders out of the building (John 2:15).

Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well” Mohandas Ghandi

So should we all grab our baseball bats and lighters and join the ‘party’? Again, absolutely not. The rioting has nothing to do with Mr Duggan. It has nothing to do with the grief of his loved ones. It’s not about politics or even racism (which prompted these provocative quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X).

It is purely about destruction and theft. It’s about anarchy and attacking the police. It’s about tearing down everything we as communities have worked hard to build; about stealing a piece of carpet while the flats above the shop light up the skies.

I imagine some of these ‘kids’ have been sitting around waiting for this moment, for any old excuse to make their mark, to move from a futile existence to a wrongly perceived position of power.

It’s easy to feel angry about what they’re doing, and we should. But we should also be asking ourselves why they are behaving like this? What is missing from their lives?

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programmes of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom” Martin Luther King, Jr

Rather than tripping ourselves up on our soap boxes, we need to show these people that enough’s enough. But meeting violence with violence is not the solution. We need to do more than talk about a ‘Big Society’; we need to get out there, clean up the mess and restore people’s hope.

Civil unrest is a symptom of a broken society and as Christians we can – and should – help to fix it. That might mean getting involved in community cleanup or letting a friend sleep on the couch for a few days. 

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” Jesus Christ

We need to meet people in practical ways, right where they are. But we also need to meet their spiritual needs.

The only way people will experience true freedom and fulfilment is by understanding that God has a purpose for their lives (Jeremiah 29:11) and that he loves them enough to sacrifice his only son (John 3:16) so that they can not only live, but live life to the absolute full (John 10:10).

Stealing a mobile phone might give the looters a day or two of pleasure, but hearing this good news has the power to change their lives forever.

Read more about this 'good news' in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

(On a slightly lighter note, this made me chuckle. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse: the niftiest looter in town.)


  1. Really good post Joy.

    I think the question is how we act when meeting peoples physical and spiritual needs isn't enough. How can we change the corrupt or un-just bits of our culture in a Christ-like way.

    To add another quote, it reminds me of the Dom Helder Camara classic "When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist."