by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Jesus was and is present on the riotous streets of London, of that I’m firmly convinced.
But whose side is he on?
Read any of the news coming out of the UK, out of her churches, and you’d believe that Jesus was on the side of the state, of law & order. And perhaps he is. It’s widely known that Jesus wouldn’t dare to turn the tables on those in power, or call the established order into question.
He wouldn’t, would he?
By the sounds of a prayer circulating throughout the Church of England, you’d think that Jesus and the state were in cahoots:
We pray for peace in our communities this day.
We commit to you all who work for peace and an end to tensions,
And those who work to uphold law and justice.
We pray for an end to fear,
For comfort and support to those who suffer.
For calm in our streets and cities,
That people may go about their lives in safety and peace.
In your mercy, hear our prayers,
now and always. Amen
Prayers for peace and justice and calm on our city streets. Prayers for safety. These are all good things.We should pray for peace and safety. And we should do something about the integrity of our neighbourhoods.
For those of us who dare to call ourselves Christians, we should be concerned about the fates of our neighbours. Not just the neighbours who are quiet and keep respectfully to themselves, mind. The neighbours who suffer in silence as well as the neighbours who suffer out loud.
Who, you may be asking yourself, is my neighbour?
When I first read this prayer, and much of the commentary from people of faith in the news, I notice a lack of concern for the conditions that have led to this so-called “callous disregard for the common good of our society” as Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols put it.
How common is this good? And if said good is common, should it not be common to all? Should we not all share in the common wealth?
Perhaps that’s asking too much.
What of those who have been compelled to riot? What of those who are victims of the widening gap between rich and poor? What of those who have felt (rightly or wrongly) that the only way to draw attention to such injustice is to use violence?
What if the good is not so common as we have been led to believe?
What if the holes in the social fabric can no longer be patched?
What would it mean to pray for an end to fear, for comfort and support to those who suffer? What would it mean if I stopped seeing myself as the subject of this prayer, and replaced it with the face of young men and women who truly are suffering?
In an opinion piece earlier today, Laurie Penny shared:
Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of not seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news.
In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:
“Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?
And here I am, pontificating about this disorder. And I’m doing it knowing that there’s a part of me that would find it easy to pray with the church “for an end to fear, for comfort and support to those who suffer,” and to note that I’m the one suffering from disturbances to my workaday life.
And yet my prayer, in the midst of this, is that the church would play a reconciling role. That it would reclaim its mission not simply in preserving the rule of law, (Romans 13, I’m so over you!) but in becoming a voice from and of and amongst and for those who we have pushed to the margins.
As Su McLeod so passionately writes:
Listen to the disenchanted young people, hang out with them, be with them, be vulnerable with them, be broken with them…God knows you might even catch a glimpse of their beauty.
Can this beauty be recovered? Can we see one another as children of God? And if we were to do so, how would that change the way things are?
And so, where is Jesus in the midst of London’s unrest? He’s with the vulnerable. He’s amongst the disenchanted. Oh how he doesn’t condone the violence, but he suffers all the same. He is vulnerable. He is broken and beaten and battered and torn. He’s been wrongfully accused. Perhaps we need to go and find him, and to welcome him home.