UK Priest Advises Poor People to Shoplift

Posted Dec 21, 2009 by Chris Dade
A parish priest in Northern England has been criticized for telling his congregation that it's acceptable for vulnerable people to shoplift.
An aerial view of York with York Minster in the center of the picture
An aerial view of York with York Minster in the center of the picture
Church of England parish priest Father Tim Jones was delivering his Nativity sermon at St Lawrence Church in York, a city in the North of England, when he departed from the traditional Christian message to deliver instead a message for those who may find themselves in dire financial straits.
Father Jones, officially the parish priest for St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, emphasized that he does not consider stealing to be a good thing and said that those who felt they had to steal should only do so from "large national businesses" and not "small, family businesses", but explained that he believes shoplifting is preferable to prostitution, mugging or burglary.
A 41-year-old married father-of-two, according to the Daily Mail, Father Jones has insisted that his advice to those he asserts society has failed is not a contradiction of the Commandment "Thou shalt not steal" because "God’s love for the poor and despised outweighs the property rights of the rich".
The York Press provides the full transcript of Father Jones' unexpected sermon, in which, after describing the terrible personal circumstances some may have to confront and advising them not to hurt anybody else, he said:Instead, I would rather that they shoplift. My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift. I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither. I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices. I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need. And I would offer this advice with a heavy heart, wishing that our society recognized that bureaucratic ineptitude and systemic delay constitutes a dreadful invitation and incentive to crime for people struggling to cope at the very bottom of our social order
Further on in his sermon, after reference to the belief that "God's love for the poor and despised outweighs the property rights of the rich", Father Jones added:Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift. The observation that shoplifting is the best option that some people are left with is a grim indictment of who we are. Rather, this is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt. When people are released from prison, or find themselves suddenly without work or family support, then to leave them for weeks and weeks with inadequate or clumsy social support is monumental, catastrophic folly. We create a situation which leaves some people little option but crime
A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police, recognizing the difficult circumstances that some members of society encounter, reminded people that shoplifting is a crime, observing also that support is available for those who are vulnerable.
Local Conservative Member of Parliament Anne McIntosh acknowledged the “over-commercialisation” of Christmas but stated that she could not "condone inciting anyone to commit a criminal offence”.
The Daily Mail spoke to Richard Dodd from the British Retail Consortium and Mr Dodd is quoted as saying of the sermon delivered by Father Jones:He's failing to appreciate that it's the job of our welfare system to deal with vulnerable people. That's how to deal with the vulnerable, not calling for them to steal from shops. Stealing is wrong and it isn't less wrong to steal from a big retailer than it is to steal from a small retailer. I thought this was a central part of every religion
Further comment came from the Venerable Richard Seed, Archdeacon of York, The Northern Echo reporting that the Archdeacon commented:The Church of England does not advise anyone to shoplift, or break the law in any way. Father Tim Jones is raising important issues about the difficulties people face when benefits are not forthcoming, but shoplifting is not the way to overcome these difficulties. There are many organisations and charities working with people in need, and the Citizens Advice Bureau is a good first place to call
Father Jones' previous brush with controversy was when he walked in to a store in York and began removing items bearing the Playboy logo from the shelves and throwing them on to the floor. He was protesting at what he described as the "cynical and wicked" policy of targeting children with items that bore the logo of a "porn empire".
The store, which apparently placed Playboy stationery alongside Mickey Mouse and Winnie The Pooh stationery, eventually stopped stocking the Playboy products.