London Riots 2011 – the Church’s Response

A woman jumps from her flat. Croydon, London Aug 8 2011. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/

We’ve all been appalled by the news footage of looting and theft in London and other cities in the UK.

We’ve seen cars burning, shops being broken into, buildings on fire, violence. We’ve seen who are doing these things – largely young people who clearly don’t have an internal restraint.

Groups of hundreds have been moving up and down local high streets, smashing windows and stealing whatever they can.

The Church
Obviously pastors and elders all across London will be evaluating both the measure of their impact amongst young people as well as what they could or should be doing in the future.

Many churches have worked hard to create respectful, relevant community engagement. Kings Church, Catford and Jubilee Church Enfield (both in boroughs where looting took place) are just two examples of vibrant, growing, multi-racial churches with strong youth groups. So this post is not intended to be a corrective to those churches who are making a difference. See here for a statement by Tope Koleoso, Pastor at Jubilee, Enfield.

Some may be questioning whether a concert-and-motivational-talk type of ministry is really penetrating London’s population – and whether a far more robust ministry both on Sundays and in the midst of the communities is now more obviously necessary. Time to serve.

And it seems that as the British media, and the culture generally, has pushed evangelical Christianity into a corner, and as the church has submitted to this marginal role in modern British life, something of a beast has been growing in its place – and we’re seeing something of the fruit of that in the behaviour of the young people involved in these looting sprees. Why would we expect a Christian ethic to be in place when we’ve repeatedly displaced the Christian message?

[Added later]: Former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone was interviewed on Sky News (evening, August 9th) and, comparing the mischief his contemporaries got up to as youngsters, said: ‘Something’s changed in the last thirty years. We’ve got to find out what it is, and then tackle it!’ (Sky News Live Broadcast)

No God – no authority
The logic seems to be: ‘If there’s no God, there’s no ultimate authority, there’s no real basis for any other form of authority – therefore, we can take the moment and go for it! Why not?’

So how has the church actually grappled with these issues in the past? One obvious example that comes to mind sprang up in London itself – through William and Catherine Booth and the movement of unashamed evangelism they created: The Salvation Army.

Your view of the Salvation Army today may be of something that is very tame – closer to the St John’s Ambulance volunteers than the SAS.

A Return to Unashamed Evangelism and Social Engagement
I want to suggest that church leaders and believers looking on at this problem today could do well to learn from the London-based Salvation Army of yesterday.

They were crystal clear on preaching the gospel, not just from ‘the pulpit’ but actually in the communities they were reaching, and their ranks were filled with self-sacrificing Christians who were determined to meet the needs of the disenfranchised and marginalised. Many of the early full time officers were younger than 23.

The Salvation Army Crest – Blood and Fire!

So, I hope you’ll excuse me by putting a link here to a pretty thorough overview of their early methods and successes. It is based on years of research and is a message I brought at a Newfrontiers conference in the UK, in 2010.

My hope is that as you hear what the Booths and others did, the Holy Spirit will strengthen your resolve to actually make a difference in our cities. If you want to skip past Booth’s formative years, jump in at around 20 minutes.

Here’s the message: The Salvation Army – lessons for us

Click on the image below to see a fascinating video about what led Gavin McKenna out of gang life and into helping troubled teenagers:

Youth Worker and Ex-Gang Member Gavin McKenna talks about why he left the gangs

© 2011 Lex Loizides / Church History

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9 thoughts on “London Riots 2011 – the Church’s Response

  1. I was caught in the Hackney (N. London) riots/looting last night 8/8 and found myself reading about the beginning of Wisdom in Proverbs 1 this morning: About sinners who (literally):.”..ambush the innocent….fill houses with spoil….run to evil..hasten to shed blood..”

    But – they “ambush their own lives” and violence “takes away the lives of its possesors” while Wisdom says “he who listens to Me shall live securely…” .

    Feels like the church is the essential voice as “Wisdom shouts in the Streets and lifts up her voice in the square” since “He has become for us Wisdom”.

    John (CCK Brighton)

  2. Great to see this article relatively high on the google list. These types of outbreaks are never the problem, but only a symptom.
    I hope that the reassessment which takes place in everyone exposed to these types of acts takes place in the heart of every pastor and Christian leader in England.

    I believe it’s time to strip away every extraneous element that has attached itself to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    His message is the singular message of gifted righteousness. It is the singular message which does not betray the logic of an obviously gifted existence.
    The reception of the Holy Spirit as a moral compass can be understood by anyone who has experienced an impulse which overrides their normal tendencies. The gospel is real, and it works. Let’s not muck it up by imposing unnecessary elements. Let’s understand in Christ what really matters, and let the rest find it’s proper place by the wayside.

  3. Many thanks for your article and the link. It is interesting that as a youth worker with over 25 years experience I am having to reinvent how I approach youth work and evangelism. Up until the late 90s my practice was rewarding and encouraging. I moved to Cornwall in 2001 and have had very little fruit since that move and it almost seems that God has gone! There are a lot of factors that could come into this introspection but I believe an understanding of culture and how that effects my world view certainly needs readdressing.

    To explain further using a concept used in the past – trains and cars. Trains explain the 60s and 70s and possibly some of the 80s model. You got on the train, someone else was driving, you had a job for life, if you were born into poverty then you lived in poverty. The 90s and 00s brought cars. Cars meant you were now the driver, you had a choice about where life took you etc. You could change jobs, although getting a job was not always a dead cert.

    Consumerism was the new thing. You no longer saved you bought on credit card. Christianity was no longer a religion it was more about what did it do for me. In this culture I believe looking at the past and seeing how it worked is ok but ultimately I believe we need to look again at how we relate and how culture impacts what we do.

    This is a journey I have only just started and maybe I’ll revisit this post in a few months time to let you know how I got on!

  4. Christianity for the poor and socialy unfit.

    The real problem is lack of Christianity in national leadership and morally bankrupt capitalism.
    The Social contract is that “the power to create credit” shall be left in the hands of private enterprise(private banks) as they will be honest and responsible custodians , thus protecting ourselves from our very own venal politicians who will turn us into a dreaded socialist state.

    We now have a situation where private and personnal greed, set in contract (concrete), between management and owners, management having taken control and superceeded owners interests. In the context of Banking, the power to create credit, that soveriegn right, left in private hands for responsible direction, has been highjacked by management and served up as bonuses and short term get rich quick schemes, leaving the nation bereft of substance.

    Jesus also overturned tables at the temple, showing righteous outrage at the money changers and church leadership for their wickedness.

    From time to time his children will vent frustration when laid on layer after layer, year after year and balance and sense shall be restored.

  5. I am pleased to have found this site as the absence of comment from “The Church” of all denominations has concerned me but Iam upset that it is necessary.

    Please Lord help your children to think of others before themselves.
    Let them find ways to act that will enrich their communities and those who live and work there. Help us all to work together, giving of our time and skills for the good of all. Let us help the disadvantaged and sick, not push them further down so that they are vulnerable and weak.
    Above all led us rid our society of the ” get something for nothing culture” and the viscious pratice of damaging property and communities in wanton arson and looting.
    Please pray with me…….

  6. Hi John Mark,
    I’m sorry about the missing minutes at the end of the message. It has been up online for over a year, and was also copied to Jubilee’s website. It was only after posting it on the blog that I learnt it was incomplete. I have been in touch with the good folk at the Newfrontiers website and they are seeing if they can retrieve an original recording.
    As soon as I have it I will post it!
    Apologies.
    Lex

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