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UK Riots: A Response

More and more talk has been heard in the media about the ever-increasing gap between the rich and poor, in London and the UK, as a major contributor to the recent London riots. With multi-million pound homes being built in the boroughs of London and more and more shops setting prices to match, some of the lower socio-economic citizens are feeling like they are being pushed out of their own suburb (see ABC News). High prices are set for rent and sale of properties, high prices for food and services, combine with high rates of unemployment (around 10% in some areas) and a government who is cutting funding for social welfare due to the current economic situation and massive debt, result in communities where people have little or no money to buy the ordinary requirements and still want the luxuries. Education is also harder to obtain for people from poorer families, and a dysfunctional or broken family structure only adds to already concerning list of social issues (see Guardian Article). People are unable to afford the designer jeans or big screen TVs and so when the opportunity arose to fight back against the system and take what they want, the opportunity was jumped on by hundreds.

Although those involved sound a bit like victims of an unjust system, it does not in any way excuse or condone the behaviour of the last week. But the situation of an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor is not isolated to the UK. Indeed in some countries around the world the gap is so large that the rich are rich by any measure and the poor are some of the poorest in the world. However, even in developed countries and even in Australia we see similar symptoms of a system which promotes hand-outs which dis-empower the poor and make them reliant on a system which, in the end, will enable them to move out of a cycle of poverty and disadvantage.So what is a response, not only to the situation in London and the UK, but in any area where a similar situation exists?

We must approach this issue as people who have an understanding of the Cross and as people who have been transformed by it. We must see the Cross and how God treated us when we were destitute, poor, broken and dysfunctional. When we were broken, Christ came to make us whole. When we were poor and destitute, Christ became poor so that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). Christ came and gave up all he had in heaven, to become a poor man in Galilee, without a home, without money, died a death of criminal and was buried in tomb he didn’t own. Christ took on our sin and gave us his riches of righteousness… all this when we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10). We were totally undeserving of any compassion, grace, forgiveness and mercy. Yet Christ came and gave up all he had for us. When we are transformed by this Gospel, we see the poor in a new light. We know that we ourselves were poor and God was extravagant with his generosity and lavished his grace and mercy and compassion on us. We too must see the poor this way and lavish grace, mercy and compassion on them in extravagant generosity.

Riots may get the issues in the headlines, it may bring to light some injustices of society, but only extravagant generosity, radical mercy and compassion, and a community which seeks justice and loves mercy and walks humbly with God (Micah 6:8) will have any lasting impact. Only people who have been transformed by the Cross will be able to act in a way which seeks the flourishing of others at their own expense and seek to empower the community to act with the same generosity, humility, servanthood, grace, mercy and compassion. A community like this can empower society to release people from disadvantage and poverty because they themselves have been transformed by the Cross and have been liberated from poverty and brokenness in Christ.

I don’t think I have covered all aspects or adressed the whole issue. What are your thoughts?

UK Riots: What’s fueling it??

From reading a FB discussion I was directed to a BBC News video where a BBC reporter interviewed two females who seemed to be involved in the UK riots. While they were somewhat affected by alcohol (at 9.30am!!), their response as to why the riots were occuring was somewhat insightful.

One girl said, “The reason we riot is because we’re showing the police we can do what we want. That’s what it’s all about, showing the police we can do want we want and now we have.” But when questioned about why they were trashing local people’s shops and why the riots were affecting people in thier own community, one girl said, “It’s the rich people, the people who’ve got businesses, and that’s why all of this has happened, because of the rich people. We’re just showing the rich people we can do what we want.”

The original violence appears to have stemed from the police shooting of a 29-year man in Tottenham, North London (see News Article). However, the rioting and looting that has extended to areas outside of London, including Manchester and Liverpool, do not appear to be directly related to this event. The events in Tottenham may have been a catalyst but now something else appears to be driving the unrest and violence. Perhaps this girl’s opinion sheds some light on what may be going on under the surface.

The interesting thing about these statements is that these two girls are angry with “the rich”.  However “the rich” are not the mega-rich millionaires of London but “the people who’ve got businesses”. A British government comissioned report in 2010 noted that the gap between the wealthy and the poor in the UK was the widest it’s been in 40 years (see Report). It suggests that the richest 10% are around 100 times better off than the poorest 10% of society. In addition, the UK’s social mobility (the ability to move between social or economic status’) is the lowest in the developed world. This means that poor families in the UK have a greater chance of struggling on a low income than poor families in other developed countries. Whether or not this gap obviously exists between people such as these girls and their local business owners (as opposed to reported gap between the bottom 10% and the top 10% of wealthy people), I can not say as I do not have nearly enough knowledge on Bristish politics and social issues to make that kind of judgement. But what is apparent is, for some, the feelings of oppression and resentment towards those in power (ie police and government) and those with power (ie the wealthy) obviously exist and appears to be contributing, in some instances, as a motivating factor for the continuing violence and rioting.

Even if the gap between rich and poor is not the primary motivating factor, the idea that all this violence is a result of opportunistic thugs and vandals I think is perhaps a little simplistic. No doubt there is opportunistic thuggery that needs to be condemned, and I am in no way wanting to make those involved any sort of heros of some more valiant cause. It is what it is – out of control thuggery, inexplicable violence, rioting and looting. It is damaging the community, familes, businesses and individual lives. But it all must point to deeper resentment, a dissatisfaction with the status quo and feelings of hopelessness across generations. The shooting may have been the catalyst, the riots may have lead  to opportunistic violence, but perhaps they are just a surface expression of deeper and more concerning issues.

What should our response be as of a follower of Jesus?

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