The front page of the newspaper showed a hooded figure backed by flames and the headline: Mob Rule. By the end of the day there were interviews with people armed with nothing more threatening than brooms and shovels clearing up the mess, helping businesses to re-open, to get the local economy going again. What are we Christians to make of this sudden eruption of violence and looting on the streets of our cities? What are any of us to make of it?
Is it just mindless violence perpetrated by a few bored teenagers with access to social networks enabling them to gather groups from a wide area, making small groups into large crowds, or is there something deeper going on?
While we would not condone the violence of recent days, to dismiss it without looking further into the communities from which it comes, is to miss something about the nature of the society in which we live. Our Christian message is one of hope but how hollow a message that must sound, when the reality of life does not offer hope. Our Christian way of being is life in community, but for many of those rioting this week there is no sense of community.
There are glimmers of hope, some provided by churches in these communities. The project run by High Cross United Reformed Church, Tottenham, "Peaceful Solutions for Conflict Resolution" helps young people to deal with conflict in peaceful ways. There is hope in the voices from communities heard over the past couple of days showing determination to "clear up the mess and get on with life". We have heard, too, from community leaders exasperated but basically proud of the communities in which they work and the progress which has been made there. We need to hear more of the good stories.
Whether we live in the areas affected or not, we have questions to ask ourselves. We might ask: "Where is God in all this?" At one level we can reply by pointing to the glimmers of hope outlined above, but at another level there are difficult questions about the structure of our society, the political decisions and the willingness each of us demonstrates to share the good things which God has given us.
Of course our prayers are for the family and friends of Mark Duggan, who tried to demonstrate peacefully and are horrified by the violence, for others killed and injured, and for the police men and women involved. Of course our prayers must be for the communities, and those working to offer hope and restore trust. But our prayers must also be for ourselves, Christians in communities, Christians in society, Christians with responsibilities because we are part of God’s world.
Frank Kantor, URC secretary for church and society, reflects on the riots here: http://jointpublicissues.blogspot.com/2011/08/reflections-on-riots-and-finacial.html
And Rob Weir, a Methodist minister ftrom Manchester, reflects on one positive post-riot outcome here: http://albatrosstakesflight.blogspot.com/
[This reflection originally appeared on the United Reformed Church's website: http://www.urc.org.uk/news/2011/august/where_is_god_in_all_this]