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Pastor: OK to shoplift as a last resort

British clergyman's advice to the destitute ignites a firestorm.

By Karen Datko Dec 22, 2009 5:01PM

The Poverty News Blog called this “news of the weird”: With a “heavy heart,” a British pastor said it’s OK to shoplift from big chain stores -- but only if you have no other choice. It’s a “least worst option,” preferable to robbery or prostitution, he said.

The hometown Press in York reported on what Father Tim Jones told parishioners:

"I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither. I would ask that they do not steal from small, family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices. I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need."

His advice wasn’t well-received in many circles. The Press called what ensued a “furious controversy.”


Jones was speaking specifically about a recently released prisoner who was destitute and came to the church seeking help. You can read the full Sunday sermon here.

  • The Venerable Richard Seed, Archdeacon of York, said, "The Church of England does not advise anyone to shoplift, or break the law in any way.” He added that people who need help can find it from social service agencies.
  • Anne McIntosh, a member of Parliament from Vale of York, called shoplifting "a crime against the whole local community and society."
  • The local police called Jones' sermon remarks “highly irresponsible.”
  • The British Retail Consortium was also very critical. A spokesman for supermarket chain Asda called Jones “one psalm short of a sermon” and said shoplifting deprives store employees of bonuses.
  • In an online poll, 75% of Press readers who participated said Jones was wrong. No polls yet of readers in the U.S., where property crimes were down 6.1% in the first six months of 2009. (Murder and manslaughter dropped 10%.)

What do you think? Is shoplifting ever acceptable? We suspect the media-savvy Jones made a sensational statement to draw widespread attention to the plight of the very poor. He added:

"Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift. … Rather, this is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt."

He told the BBC, “Shoplifting is a dreadful thing but sometimes that's all we leave people with."

In other words, this holiday season, remember to give to those who need it most.


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