Unpacking the U.K. Riots

A British Christian comments on the unrest in the U.K. and how the Church can help.

Crowds on the street, burnt out cars, bricks being used as weapons, police in riot gear. Sounds familiar, especially during a year of political unrest that has seen such extremes of reaction against unjust governments. But this was the United Kingdom last week after what started as a reaction to a recent shooting by police turned into an opportunity for organized gangs to steal from neighbors and destroy the streets they walk every day.

I live about 30 minutes outside of London and while I was not affected by any rioting, I watched along with everyone else as the news unfolded. As reports came in and pictures started to appear, it was simply unbelievable to see the blatant destruction and disregard for community and property. London will never be the same again.

While the riots have died down, the war of words continues as politicians, community leaders and the wider communities of the U.K. ask, “Why?”

I don't live in Tottenham (the area where Mark Duggan was shot), so I don't know the politics in that area or the feeling of unrest and distrust that exists between the police and the large black community. But if I try to put myself in that situation, then I recognize there's something in me that agrees with making a stand and fighting against injustice dealt to me or my friends—certainly when a person is shot dead, the details are glossed over and nothing is communicated about what actually happened. In that case, then yeah, I would be angry. But would I riot?

Ever start to look under a rock and find more questions than answers?

There is clearly more than just this one incident that caused the riots last week and, while we shouldn't just let deaths go left unchecked and unchallenged in our society, there is more going on. We are all feeling the pinch financially. Some have lost jobs and houses, while others can't afford that third holiday a year they were used to. It's also meant cuts in national and local governments—funding for services  communities rely on to get them through and some basic fundamental structures like the police.

In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron has talked about the “Big Society,” and at first no one knew what this all meant, but what has unfolded is a series of cuts and hope that the third sector (charities, churches, community groups) will bear the burden of those cuts by filling in where local government departments can no longer provide needed community services. Skeptics might say the Big Society is more about budget than building a stronger sense of community locally and nationally; others see this as a massive opportunity.  

What I think we saw last week in London and in other cities in the U.K. was a collective response born out of a lack of hope—hope for anything better than what people are experiencing now. There were some greedy opportunistic people there as well, people caught up in the moment. There are stories of London gangs who would normally fight against each other teaming up to steal whatever they could and destroy whatever and, sadly, whoever got in their way.  

But a generation of young people are growing up who feel they have no stake in society—so why bother? Their actions spoke loudly last week. And again, we ask why? I believe it's how we have communicated to them that life is about the haves and have-mores. They’ve been told to think about themselves, get themselves up the ladder and opportunities will open up for them. We can't think like this anymore. Things are not the same and may never be like they were in the "good old days."

Whose responsibility is this?  

It's ours.

It's mine.  

As a parent of a 4-year-old with another baby due in February, I will do my part to speak and demonstrate a better way for my children but I also believe I have my part to play in speaking into my wider community. Some have blamed parents, others have blamed teachers and others still the politicians. But let's not talk blame. We can't change what happened—it's done.

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My response, like a lot of my Christian friends, is to pray—our hearts broken for specific situations and the whole nation. Many churches in London and the other affected cities were involved in the clean-up process, in blessing the emergency services, in leading prayer gatherings and continuing to do what they do day in and day out in their local communities.

There are more budget cuts to come and other financial dangers looming. But I firmly believe the Church in the U.K. has an opportunity to shape and implement government policy and to see communities mended and healed—to not just fill in where there are missing gaps, but be part of some foundational work in our health service, education and community needs. We can be and need to be more effective in bringing hope to the nation.

Mark Pape is a Schools and Community worker, and occasional blogger. Living and ministering in Essex where he lives with his wife and 4-year-old son. You can connect with him at http://about.me/messianicomplex




bgrace88 commented…

They feel they have no stake in society, but we've taught them to climb the ladder?? That sounds like they have a stake....

I thought this was going to end by saying that we can give these youths a purpose in life by sharing the love of Christ--by helping them find their identity in Him. Sorry, but no government policy is going to cure the sin of man.


Anonymous commented…

BIG thumbs up to Relevant for covering a UK story! I'm a UK reader of both mag and website, and appreciate you giving this important coverage.

This is a big opportunity for the church to step up and reach out. Cameron is spot on about Britain being a 'broken society'. Politically the 'Big Society' is a nice idea. It's everyone's job to make it a reality though.



Rob commented…

I feel you're doing the young people of the UK a grave disservice by trivializing the economic difficulties they are currently facing and the burdens they will likely bear for their foreseeable lives - which, due to their very age, they have had little to no part in creating.


E23 commented…

Interesting read. My worry in this whole matter is the issue of discipleship if people in communities were discipled and not simply evangelised would we see these issues on such a large scale?


Guest commented…

Budget cuts are not to blame. If you want to help people you need to cut the entitlements and have them actually work instead of relying on the tax money of those who do. The more free money you throw at people with no strings attached the more you make them a slave to the system and incapable of providing for themselves. Unfortunately, this kind of nonsense is not going to be unique to the UK and is probably a sign of things to come in the US. The gov/central planners need to stay out of the way and let the free market provide jobs and wealth for the people.

As for Duggan, he was a known drug dealer and had a weapon on him. I have not seen the police report (I'm not sure whether the details have been made public) but I'm sure the police did not just shoot him for no reason. It is likely he reached for the weapon or pointed it at the police. In that case the police have no choice but to shoot him. Try putting yourself in the police officer's shoes.

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