After the riots (1)... the Church's response?

First published 2nd September 2011

The riots in early August led people to ask fundamental questions about our society and culture. As a Church, how do we respond?

In the first in a series of articles produced by ISR, Jon Doble, Director of ISR, reflects on the aftermath of the recent riots and some of the questions we need to think through as our response within the Diocese.

The news coverage of the recent riots was truly shocking and like many people I watched with a sense of unease as communities were torn apart and gangs of looters destroyed property and confronted police.

However, as the news agenda moves on, we are left not just with a sense of shock and concern but with a need to ask the long term questions of how we intend to put right what has clearly gone wrong.

While there has been an avalanche of editorial posturing there is an urgent need for some honest dialogue about our hopes and aspirations as a society and how we make real the values we profess. The Christian community has a vital role to play in this dialogue, and while there is a vital role for national Church leaders to engage in reflection and policy development, the challenge is also to all of us in the Church to ask what part we will play where we are in shaping a different future.

The Gospel has a radical imperative that propels disciples to new perspectives and understandings of how to live and act, and our response must surely be to raise questions and to help shape a better way.

Our core purpose is to grow communities of wholeness with Christ at the centre and the task of engaging with local communities is about building relationships not only with those who seem to be like us, but also with those who bring different perspectives to our shared sense of community.

For a big society to work, we need to help shape a good society first rooted in values of inclusion, love and wholeness, and we need to equip disciples to engage not just with sermons on Sundays but with the issues they face in their workplaces, communities and families.

There must be questions too about young people and how we listen to the experience of those who feel left out, disengaged and let down by a generation who have venerated a creed of personal gain and the acquisition of possessions.

There are questions for us as churches about how we grow and live out our ministry of service to others promoting the role of faith in developing community well being whether through community projects or through chaplaincies as outward facing ministries and in venerating the small acts of kindness and inclusion that mark the way of the Gospel.

Rowan Williams posed a fundamental question in his speech in the House of Lords which goes to the heart of the matter:

"Can we once again build a society which takes seriously the task of educating citizens, not consumers, not cogs in an economic system, but citizens.

How do we ask these questions in our local churches and think hard about economics and the theology of possessions?

Rowan Williams concluded his speech with a call to engagement and action which now falls to us to respond.

"I believe that this is a moment which we must seize, a moment where there is sufficient anger at the breakdown of civic solidarity, sufficient awareness of the resources people have in helping and supporting one another, sufficient hope (in spite of everything) of what can be achieved by the governing institutions of this country, including in Your Lordship's House, to engage creatively with the possibilities that this moment gives us.

"And I trust, [...] that we shall respond with energy to that moment which could be crucial for the long-term future of our country and our society."

Jon Doble

Director of ISR

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