I'm writing this post 4 days into the riots that started in Tottenham, North London, and have now spread as far as Salford, Manchester, Birmingham and Gloucester. Twitter is ablaze with frantic on-the-scene citizen journalists caught up in the chaos, as we read about youths running amock in our streets, as if guided by some unknown force on their Blackberry smartphones, smashing up property, looting and mugging innocent victims.
In response to this crisis, Prime Minister Cameron has recalled Parliament tomorrow, having returned from his Tuscan Holiday to hold a COBRA meeting to discuss the next course of action. 16,000 police have now been deployed all over London, but copy-cat looting is spreading. Last night, three men were killed defending their neighbourhood by a hit-and-run driver, as well as another man shot dead in the Croydon area. The deaths of the three men in particular concern me, because despite their heroics, the job of protection is that of the police, who face cuts in the light of the recent economic downturn.
One positive outcome from this week is that the people of London have been using social media to arrange clean-ups of their communities; a sort of Blitz mentality. And yet this a reaction to a tragedy; to a problem. The question remains: What is the cause of this violence? How do we recognise it before it starts? And what is the role of the Church in tackling these issues?
I've recently been encouraged by Dr Rowan Williams' comments regarding justice, the cuts and the Big Society. Many have criticised him for his outspokenness, particularly those who would look at the issues regarding woman priests etc., but The Archbishop's role in the Church of England is a unique opportunity that Christians of all denominations should seek to emulate in their own sphere of influence. This last year, I served as a Councillor for Stoke-on-Trent, a city hit with a substantial cut to local services and to jobs. My faith in Jesus enabled me not only to speak hope into a place which has seen the collapse of industry, but one faced with incredible poverty, literacy levels at 50% in some areas, vast inequality and lack of aspiration. Isaiah speaks of believers rebuilding cities devastated by war and poverty; the cities which Christ calls us to serve and to uphold; cities which are now victim to crime and anarchy on our streets. This is a challenge that face us wherever we are.
I'm sure there are churches in these communities that have joined, and most probably, been central to the clean-up operations, but the Church has a wider role to play in influencing our communities. For too long, we have been on the defensive, scared of stepping on toes and appearing religious, out of touch. As one Vicar I know said "This is the Church's time to shine." When I look at the reactions of politicians, I cringe. The economic downturn, as well as the violence, have been met by scores of psychology experts, politicians etc. offering their professional opinions. Politics is not enough. The country, I believe, needs a new form of government (local and national) based on mutual co-operation between public and private sectors, charities and voluntary sector community groups. Short-term electionism and lack of long-term vision is hindering the growth of society, and our obsession with campaigning and political rhetoric is hiding the true answers to dealing with its problems.
Whatever the cause of these riots, both the Church and the Labour Movement must come out of hiding and hit these problems head on, or risk losing another generation of young people to violence and purposelessness.
(Author: Jeremy Dillon)
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