Priest to Congregation: Steal! December 22, 2009

Priest to Congregation: Steal!

Umm… this must be an example of a church teaching morality:

Father Tim Jones, a 41-year-old clergyman at St. Lawrence Church in York, England, said that shoplifting — rather than prostitution or burglary — is sometimes the best option for poor people struggling to make ends meet…

Because burglary is very different from shoplifting?

At least the priest set limits:

“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,” he continued.

See? It’s all good now. Steal from Walmart. Just like Jesus would have done.

(Thanks to Tony for the link)

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  • mattincinci

    sounds a bit crazy but then again its coming from the church so it doesnt surprise me lol

    isnt encouraging people to break the law a crime also?

    i would question wether or not this actually happened seeing as though the article came from the dailyfail aka dailymail

  • Perhaps they should steal from the collection plate as it is passed around at church.

  • Or perhaps steal from the Catholic church – they can certainly afford it. Or Benny Hinn. Or any prosperity gospel or “Secret” promoter?

    Or perhaps the vicar shouldn’t be saying for his flock to steal at all…

  • Because burglary is very different from shoplifting?

    Actually, yes. Breaking into a home risks physical confrontation with the occupants, which can turn out very badly for both sides. Even when the burglary is successful for the thief, the victim feels a sense of violation at having had their space invaded and their personal possessions stolen.

    Shoplifting is physically and psychologically less dangerous, all round. Not that that justifies it, but just to play devil’s advocate: if employment is scarce, and social assistance inadequate, what exactly would you tell desperate people to do? Go read the article; it’s clear that’s who he is referring to.

    The rest of us can either pay higher prices at the stores; pay higher taxes to support enforcement and punishment; or pay higher taxes to support a functional welfare system. Take your pick.

  • phil

    Couldn’t the priest just purchase a fish and a loaf of bread, and then multiply it indefinitely to feed the poor?

    No stealing necessary, and it has biblical precedence.

  • Kate

    Jeff said:

    Perhaps they should steal from the collection plate as it is passed around at church.


  • The cost is passed on to us in the form of higher prices?
    Or, you could have the cost passed on to you in the form of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked with your collection plate donations.

  • That’s absurd as advice from an organization that is supposed to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

    However, my grandmother was orphaned and she and her brothers had to steal food. If anyone ever steals my groceries, I will know they need them more than I do and I will not be angry.

  • keddaw

    Why are people complaining about this, is it just to have a go at a church person? A church person who is avoidaing taking scripture literally and being human about a very real situation that desperate people find themselves in.

    I could not agree more that given the unenviable choice between prostitution, burglary, shoplifting and staving I would most definitely be going down to the multi-bilion dollar company to have some food. Not that I’d make much doing prostitution anyway…

  • Luther

    Why is he against prostitution? That is not prohibited in the 10 commandments? Then there is embezzlement…

  • Revyloution

    costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices,” he continued.

    I bet he is dead set against welfare. Because the state steals from the rest of us in the form of higher taxes.

    Eamon Knight, you nailed it. If there are social pressures, they will be released somehow. If we ignore a large disenfranchised underclass, they will react by becoming criminals or revolutionaries.

  • penn

    I don’t understand what the issue is. The first statement seems obvious to me.

    shoplifting — rather than prostitution or burglary — is sometimes the best option for poor people struggling to make ends meet…

    Do you not think shoplifting is a better way to make ends meet than prostitution or burglary? Prostitution and burglary both require significant risks that shoplifting does not.

    The second statement seems similarly obvious.

    “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,” he continued.

    He’s in essence promoting a criminal social welfare program. I have not ethical problem with that at all if actual social welfare and charity programs cannot help.

    It seems like you’re just picking on this odd sounding statement without actually thinking it through. There may be hypocrisy involved if his parish is not generous towards the poor, but there is nothing in the article to demonstrate that. To me it seems like a Catholic priest is actually standing up to legal authorities to actually help them in some small way by partially releasing them for the shame of resorting to shoplifting to make ends meet.

  • writerdd that is very charitable of you but if anyone steals from me I am sure that I’d be angry even if I understood the reason. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being angry when you are the victim of crime even if the needs of the thieves are greater than yours.

    As for the priest why isn’t he working with the shops to provide food and clothing to those most in need? Plenty of big firms spend money willingly providing for charities. It is fantastic PR and it costs them very little. One of the local supermarkets, Waitrose (not sure you have those in America), has a token scheme to let customers vote for one of three charities every week.

    Also the church is exceedingly wealthy. It has organisational skills specifically in redistributing money and goods for charitable causes. It has an abundance of volunteers and the means to gather more. It has a built in incentive for members doing good deeds to encourage people to help out. Why are they inciting the poor to become criminals when they could do much to alleviate the need for crime?

    Anyone would think that they wanted to be thought of as sanctimonious hypocrites.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Revyloution: “I bet he is dead set against welfare.”

    You’d probably lose the bet, since this guy also wrote:

    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.

  • Claudia

    I think we should think before jumping to conclusions in this particular case. If you read the article he says:

    “My advice as a Christian priest is to shoplift,” Jones reportedly told churchgoers during his Sunday sermon. “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,” he continued.

    “I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need … My advice does not contradict the Bible’s eighth commandment because God’s love for the poor and despised outweighs the property rights of the rich.”

    He is not saying that shoplifting is a good thing. He is saying that it is preferable to other, more harmful activities like burglary or prostitution, if you are desperate and have no other way of sustaining yourself. That the need of the poor outweighs in this narrow case the rights of the rich. Quite frankly I agree.

    We get on the case of clergy for trying to make out the world in black and white, in good or bad, with no room for gray areas and complicated moral dilemmas. Here’s one trying as best as he can to find some middle ground (though the Biblical justifications are a little shady). I see this less as an example of hypocrisy than an example of someone trying to reconcile the oversimplified religious worldview with the real world needs of his parishioners.

  • liz

    i’m not gonna lie….i completely agree with this man.

  • Revyloution

    JJ Ramsey, you might be right. Its just that when I run into the religious, they typically rail against welfare programs.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    JJ Ramsey, you might be right. Its just that when I run into the religious, they typically rail against welfare programs.

    In the United States, the theologically conservative Christians are largely aligned with the political right wing, but this doesn’t necessarily hold true in other countries. Just because American Christians are more likely to be against welfare, it doesn’t follow that British Christians will do likewise.

  • Parse

    If you absolutely HAVE to break the law to make ends meet, then yes, shoplift the bare necessities of life. Loaf of bread, yes; latest CD, no. But, there’s a lot of stuff you should do before resorting to that – say, ask a church for charity, or at least stop tithing.

  • Britain has one of the most generous social welfare programs in the world. It’s so easy to get onto welfare (which is basically a free ticket to the good life) it’s pathetic. They treat their senior citizens like crap but give them enough to live on.

    Right now my husband and I are surviving on just his wage (he’s a maintenance man at a hotel). All of our “life costs” including food, clothing, transportation, gifts, entertainment and household goods (i.e. pet food, cleaning supplies et al) comes to $742 per month. In order to survive we have no cable, basic phone (we bought an answering machine to save $5/month on voicemail) and “light” internet. I see no excuse for people to steal in order to survive. Trim the fat off your budget and you can get along. Perhaps people could choose not to waste 10% of their income in the collection plate.

    Big corporations may make money hand over fist but this mindset of “their (the shoplifter’s) needs are greater than the store’s” is making excuses for illegal behaviour.. The owners of these stores probably started with next to nothing and, through hard work and business savvy built up their empires. If people steal from them with the mindset “they can afford it” then they’re ethically wrong. IMHO stealing is stealing whether it’s from your next door neighbour or Sam Walton (the owner of Wal-Mart).

    Also, if someone stole my groceries from me, it would mean my family going hungry. There is no room in our budget for error AT ALL. If you think your need is greater than mine so you steal from me, you’re an asshole. /rant

    PS I apologise for the aggressive tone of this comment but I’ve been dirt poor going to the food bank for food (in the past, not now) and I’ve been robbed and it gives you an awful, sick feeling inside. I promise I’ll be back to my usual tongue in cheek self next time I comment. (BTW this is only my opinion I do not claim to have facts et al to back it up)

  • AnonyMouse

    I’m sure that the usual reaction to this man’s advice would be some kind of moral outrage – after all, he’s advising STEALING, and both society and religion have roundly condemned stealing for centuries.

    But come on. Believe it or not, there are actually people out there who CANNOT afford to make ends meet – not because they’re paying for cable TV or toys for their kids, but because they just don’t have enough money. Especially here in the United States, where our public care system is pretty much crap. Meanwhile, this same country is awash with a glut of excess – excess toys, excess food, and excess money to be spent on it.

    I now point you to a historical figure: Robin Hood. Aside from running about the forest, being portrayed once as a red fox, and wooing the Maid Marian, he is best known for stealing money from the rich to give to the poor. I know absolutely no one who would condemn this character from his thievery – even from my fundie relatives, the harshest opinion you can get is “well, stealing is wrong, but his heart was in the right place.”

    It is my opinion that where morals are concerned, preserving one’s own life should be a fairly high priority. Should you mass-murder to save yourself? No. Should you steal from a needy person to save yourself? Absolutely not. But if you ignore for a moment the most popular thought-terminating cliché, “But it’s ILLEGAL!” is there something so wrong with stealing from a society that has more than it needs – indeed, more than its wealthy can use? The law should not be considered the ultimate moral authority any more than the Bible.

    I’ll be honest here. I’m a fairly generous person, but I’d rather help others voluntarily. I’d be annoyed if someone stole from me – especially if it was something I really needed or wanted. But I respect others’ need to survive, and if that means taking from me – unless it compromises my own survival – then I respect that.

  • Polly

    …rather than prostitution or burglary

    What happened to begging as an option?

  • mikespeir

    Hey, I just might convert now. How poor do you have to be?

  • Mak

    Sounds like advice I would give. Except, you know, I probably would have pamphlets with lists of food banks, soup kitchens, and other helpful organizations on them. Ask before you take.

  • cypressgreen
  • cypressgreen

    Now, having read it all, my 2 cents:

    1. Why does he “advise” shoplifting in his sermon? Does he really think the people that statement applies to are even going to church?


    Instead, I would rather that they shoplift…knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices.

    So, if we can’t get people to donate to the needy voluntarily, or get laws passed to help them more, it’s OK to basically force others to help?


    They could beg…the likelihood is that, found begging, they will quickly be in trouble with the police, and therefore in breach of their parole.

    And if they’re caught stealing, it’s all OK with the police?


    Others are tempted towards prostitution, a nightmare world of degradation and abuse for all concerned.

    IMO, prostitution is morally superior to stealing. If I steal, I take from others; if I sell my body, I am making money with a renewable commodity that only I own to begin with. And there’s no degradation or abuse involved in theft?

    There’s so much wrong with this sermon that it makes me just want to scream!!!

  • Spurs Fan

    I kind of like the idea of shoplifting from Wal Mart…

  • Chris

    Really surprised to see how many people are jumping on this guy. This isn’t really something you expect coming from a priest – usually you’d get commentary on moral absolutes. It’s sad that not many people are really thinking about what he’s saying and are displaying a somewhat obvious bias against him just because he’s a priest.

    I like this guy – I mean it. Look, sometimes these things aren’t black and white – he’s acknowledging that there are people out there who are at their wit’s end and are going to commit a crime regardless. Then he gives guidelines to what they should do IF they have to turn to crime. Stealing isn’t always morally indefensible. Of course, other options should be explored first, but it’s not like I wouldn’t shoplift if it meant i’d die or my family would starve or be trapped in an unsafe environment. And welfare programs, while they may feed you, may simply not be sufficient in other basic-needs ways.

    It’s like giving the sex talk to your young kid – you definitely don’t want them to have sex yet, and you stress that, but you power through it and still tell them about safe sex because what’s way worse than having sex is doing it stupidly. Similarly, the priest is acknowledging the inevitability of crimes that are going to be committed, and he’s telling people how to minimize the damage.

  • cypressgreen

    @ Chris- While I understand your point that “he’s acknowledging that there are people out there who are at their wit’s end and are going to commit a crime regardless,” he doesn’t need to go another step forward in giving advice on which sketchy behaivor is their best bet.
    I think his job as a spiritual leader is to bring the problem to his church members’ attention and encourage them to help, pointing out that desperate people will be forced to beg, steal, prostitute themselves or what have you without the loving support of the community. And pointing out that their help will prevent these persons from commiting acts which harm themselves and others (now or after death).

    Isn’t it more noble to work hard to help prevent sinning against god than to say, “Meh, it happens. Gotta sin against god? Here’s your best bet.”

  • Jen

    Here’s the problem I see that isn’t being addressed:
    What about the workers at the retail store you are stealing from? If you steal from a Wal-mart, Sam Walton’s family will still continue to have mansions, and the cost of all that shoplifting is going right off of the backs of the minimum wage slaves who work there, in the form of cut hours and fewer benefits. Before most retail locations pass on the cost to the customers, they first usually pass it on to their employees. Those employees, presumably, will have to turn to shop lifting until only the Walton kids will be actually paying for anything.

    For the record, having read the transcript, he is specifically talking about recently jailed people, which, admittedly, is a terrible position to be in. Last week on NPR I heard that former prisoners have an unemployment rate twice that of the rest of us. However, shoplifting while on parole is a terrible, terrible idea. And in the entire sermon, he suggests visiting the vicar as a temporary means but does not mention the church funding going to help these people.

    All in all, I still don’t like it, but it’s not quite as bad as Fox News said.

  • I keeping picturing Jesus trying to sneak a 40″ plasma out of Walmart in his robe.

  • With the security in most big stores, the option of shoplifting will definitely give you the food and shelter you need…in jail.

  • wow. Just wow. No further comment needed.

  • No one of consequence

    Shoplifting seems biblically encouraged.

    Fill up on grapes and grab some grain!

    Deuteronomy 23
    24 If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket.
    25 If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.

    Security should turn a blind eye… or at least leave stuff where it is easy to grab…

    Deuteronomy 24
    19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.

  • muggle

    What a freaking total jerk asshole!

    I can’t believe any of you are defending this gigantic hypocrite who should be preaching to his congregation to help these people out instead of telling people to “sin” if they’re down on their luck. He’s basically saying fuck you to them. Don’t even think about asking us good Christians for aid. Go to hell!

    What you really think he’s gonna say anything other than that if they get arrested while shoplifting and beg for bail money? I don’t. I don’t think he has altruistic motives at all. Quite the opposite.

    You say he’s just being realistic? Fuck no. He’s just letting his parishioners off the hook, most likely so they can give their money to the church instead of the poor.

    What a freaking jerk asshole!

  • Pseudonym

    I would really, REALLY have liked to hear the sermon in its entirety. While not condoning shoplifting, I have a feeling that we might all be missing some context here.

  • Chris

    Look – i’m not saying the priest is 100% right and is making a positive difference in society. I AM saying that what he’s doing can be legitimately defended. We’d need more information to really figure out if what he’s doing is making a positive impact. We have no way of knowing if 99% of his sermon was pleas to the community to help those in need and for those in need to seek social services before committing a crime.

    If this was the only content of his speech, then I’d agree that it’s probably not doing much good. But we don’t have the full picture.

  • Chris, here is the full transcript. Father Jones does say

    Instead, I would rather that they shoplift. My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift.

    and it is well in context to the general message of the sermon. Essentially I read this as society doesn’t care for the poor so it is excusable for them to steal. Shoplifting is the least harmful form of theft so the poor should steal from supermarkets rather than from individuals.

    Sure we could defend the actions of someone desperate who resorts to theft but should we?

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