“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Wherever you live in the world, I’m sure you’ve heard about the riots in cities across the United Kingdom. For the last few nights, large groups of people, mainly young men and boys, have taken to the streets. Homes, businesses and cars have been burnt, shops have been looted, and skirmishes have broken out. What started as a demonstration about the shooting of a young man in Tottenham, a district of London, has spun out of control. It’s all rather distressing.
Watching the television reports, reading the newspapers and listening to the politicians, it’s clear that the vast majority of people in the UK are very angry, upset and disappointed by what is happening in their country. Politicians and the media join with the rest of the population in dismissing the people rioting as “feral youth,” “yobs,” “hooligans,” “petty criminals,” “scum,” “chavs” and “the underclass.” Perhaps these are fair descriptions. After all, smashing up shops and stealing plasma televisions is not the kind of activity one would associate with ordinary, decent human beings.
But what should the Christian response to this horrible scenario should be?
Today’s verses have been going round and round in my head for several months now, and I have written a handful of articles on the concept of “#justlove” and preached a sermon on this topic too. Jesus, in these verses, states that the second most important commandment is to “love your neighbour as yourself.”
If we’re called to “love our neighbours,” maybe we should love the looters.
Rather than labelling them, rather than demeaning them as human beings, perhaps we should just love.
Maybe that’s what has gone wrong.
Maybe that’s why our society seems to be imploding.
Because we haven’t loved.
Andrew Neil, a prominent political journalist and commentator tweeted yesterday (Tuesday), that “surveys suggest that in areas like Tottenham as many as 80% of families have absent/no fathers. Similar to worst ghettoes in US.”
Many of us have been quick to judge the looters, quick to label them, and quick to distance ourselves from these people. These people are not like us, we think. They’re anti-social idiots, morons who should have been shown some discipline. How could the parents allow their children to behave in this way?
Perhaps, though, instead of labelling and judging, we should look at ourselves. We might seek to distance ourselves from these people, but these are members of our society. We live near these people, we encounter them in the streets, in the cinema, in the shops. We are connected to these people, whether we like it or not. These people are our neighbours. The very neighbours that we’re called to love.
Maybe, therefore, we should examine ourselves before judging too quickly.
As Christians, as a Church, we are called to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
Where were we, then, when our society was breaking down?
What have we done as Christians, as Churches, to model community to those around us?
Did we reach out to single parent families with love?
Where were we when these young people were growing up?
There are many Christians in our country who do amazing work with the poor and needy in our society. There are many Churches who run effective youth groups and support our young people. But there are even more who do nothing.
What these riots say to me is that, somewhere along the line, we have failed as a society.
We have failed as a Church.
We have failed as Christians.
We need to take a good look at ourselves and question how we live out our faith.
Does our faith in Jesus Christ underpin how we live?
Does the gospel inform our every action?
Can we honestly say that we love our neighbour?
If we call ourselves Christians yet do not allow our faith to shape how we live and what we do, then we might us well not bother. James, in his letter, wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).
Just as Jesus got out into his community and ate with the people who were despised and rejected by society, we need to do the same.
If we want to transform our society, if we want to prevent the riots we’re seeing now becoming a regular feature of our lives, we need to take action. We need to get out of our Churches and into our communities. And we need to do it now.
We need to be investing our money in projects that will engage and inspire young people as they grow up.
We need to be giving our time to voluntary projects that transform our bleakest communities.
We need to ensure that Christian men provide male role models for the many children growing up without a father.
And we need to pray.
We need to get on our knees and repent on behalf of our society for the way that we have turned away from Christ.
We need to pray for renewal, for the Holy Spirit to convict our collective society of our sin, and for revival.
This is a time for the Church to be strong, to take a lead in society. This is not the time to be hiding away, to be embarrassed of our faith. This is a time for us to be confident of the gospel that we proclaim.
Above all, this is a time for us to love. To love God for what he has done for us, and to be inspired by that love to love our communities.
Let’s not label and judge the young people running amuck on our streets, but let’s love the looters.
Maybe if we had done that in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this mess.