Imagine you head to church on the Sunday before Christmas, expecting to hear a sermon on the birth of Christ or charitable giving or loving your neighbors. You sing a hymn, say a prayer, and then the priest opens his Bible, turns to Exodus 20, and says, "Thou shalt steal!"
You might think the universe had warped into the Twilight Zone, but this is exactly what happened to a group of churchgoers in England last Sunday. The Reverend Tim Jones told his congregation of (surely stunned) parishioners that, in these tough economic times, "...my advice as a Christian priest is to shoplift."
Yes, you read that right. Father Robin Hood says, "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,"; i.e., if you are starving, stealing doesn't count, especially if you take things from someone who already has plenty.
Or something like that.
Just make sure you only steal from "large national businesses", says Reverend Jones, because ultimately the costs will passed on to other customers. Avoid the small, family-owned businesses if you can.
For those of you who are getting your knickers in a twist, Rev. Jones thinks you should get over yourselves. After all, according to him, shoplifting is preferable to other acts of desperation like burglary or prostitution. And we wouldn't want people resorting to those things, now would we?
Well, of course not. But for heaven's sake (literally), how can this man not see that stealing is the absolute wrong way to go about meeting the needs of one's family? Where is Jones's sermon asking his congregation to open their hearts and wallets to help those who are destitute? Where is his advice to volunteer at soup kitchens, to help the unemployed find jobs, to offer their homes to the homeless? In other words, to engage in Christlike service?
I guess it's just easier to pass the buck. Rev. Jones wouldn't want his parishioners to feel compelled to sacrifice their own time or resources, so he advises the poor to run to the nearest faceless retail giant and take what they need. No one has to extend themselves to others, and no one (supposedly) gets hurt.
If Reverend Jones really thinks stealing is the best way to take care of oneself, I'm surprised he didn't offer a reformed version of the nativity as part of his sermon, telling his parishioners that the shepherds should have ditched their humble life among the sheep and run off with the gold, frankincense and myrrh. After all, the wise men were rich and didn't need it, and surely baby Jesus had no need for bottles of expensive perfume.
Now that would have been a Merry Christmas.