I am sure that you, like me, watched the news on Monday night with a mixture of shock, disbelief and sadness. It seemed unreal to see London in flames, crowds recklessly looting and destroying high streets and to witness such anger and aggression against our police force.
We have since seen these scenes repeated in other major cities across our nation. It is clear that something in our society is not right. Our Prime Minister has said the same as he acknowledged that ‘It is clear that there are things badly wrong in our society,’ and as Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, states, ‘Something’s changed in the last 30 years. We’ve got to find out what it is.’
How do we respond to such scenes? For those of us who are parents, how do we talk with our kids about these things? Many have felt fearful as they have observed a nation out of control. Others have felt angry. As a Christian, I need to do what the writer to the Hebrews encourages us to do - fix our eyes on Jesus. Our God is not surprised by the events that we have seen, they have not caught him off guard or unaware. Our God is sovereign and in control and Jesus is still building his church.
Of course the events of the last few days have highlighted significant issues in our nation. Many social commentators and politicians are talking about issues of respect, family, community cohesion, opportunity and hope. All of these themes are central to the Christian gospel.
In fact, it is in moments like these, that the church has an incredible opportunity not only to speak out but also to bless and serve. The central heartbeat of scripture to 'Love God and Love your Neighbour' is utterly relevant for the UK today. We do not have an outdated or irrelevant message, the gospel is the hope of the world and the church is God's chosen vehicle to display his wisdom.
One caution I would share is that we do not allow this to become an opportunity to demonise young people. I, in no way, am seeking to defend the actions of those who have caused such fear and destruction. However, it is clear that men and women in their 20's, 30s and 40s have been arrested in connection with the violence and looting. Our news reports regularly refer to this as being an issue with "youths". Yes, the majority of those involved were young people - but we have to ask who are the instigators and the role models. Hearing that an 11 year old has been arrested only raises the question in my mind of who he is following.
There are many young people in our society who are making a positive contribution. We need to be careful that the events of the last few days do not allow us to bracket "youths" together as one group. We need to guard ourselves from the attitudes that some of our national papers project, assuming that any young person who wears a hoodie is looking to loot a shop. And we need to ask the bigger questions of young people's opportunities, parenting and role models. These are the issues that need tackling.
Finally, let me suggest a few things we can do in response:
This Saturday morning (13 August), at 7.30am, at The King's Centre, Burgess Hill, members of TKC will be gathering to pray for our nation. It is essential that we pray. Not only when the news is bad, like the last few days, but continually. And we need to pray for our nation's leaders. It is very easy to find ourselves entering into the rights and wrongs of decisions made by those in power. The Bible urges us, because of the cross, to submit to and pray for our nations leaders. Let's be people of prayer.
Also, let's thank God for the fact that events like these are rare for our nation. In the majority, our nation is one of law, order and peace. Many people around the world live with the threat of violence and war every day. These scenes are shocking to us because they are rare for us. But we must not forget those who live in our word for whom this is an ongoing daily reality.
What an opportunity there is, in the wake of such violence and destruction, to offer an alternative to our local communities. To be people who serve, cultivate and create rather than trash, destroy and loot. The church can lead the way, as it has done through history, in the way that it contributes to our communities. In September, at TKC, we have an opportunity through TKC360 (see link below) to serve Mid-Sussex in very practical ways. We hope to have scores of volunteers serving in areas of our community that need support. Why not sign up to get involved?
3. Pray for and bless our police force
Our police men and women are rarely thanked or encouraged for the amazing work they do. Let's be different. If you see a police man or woman in town, why not go and speak with them and express your appreciation for what they do. Pray for those who serve in the police in our church and encourage them. I heard a great story of a family in London who went to the local police station in Peckham with a tin of home baked cookies - small acts can communicate alot!