LONDON (Dec. 22) For some 3,500 years, the 10 Commandments have included the easy-to-follow instruction, "Thou shalt not steal." But one British Anglican priest thinks that ancient command is now out-of-touch with our recession-hit world and has suggested it be changed to something more flexible, such as: "Thou shalt not steal, unless you're short of cash."
The Rev. Tim Jones issued his new religious edict on Sunday, while addressing worshippers at the Church of St. Lawrence, in the northern English city of York. He told parishioners that poor people struggling to survive should steal food and other essentials from shops, rather than raise money through prostitution, burglary or mugging.
"My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift," he said, as originally reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post. "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."
The Rev. Tim Jones says the 10 Commandments could use tweaking during a recession, like maybe some stealing is acceptable for those otherwise going hungry.
Keen to make sure that independent retailers wouldn't fall victim to a holy shoplifting spree, Jones set down strict guidelines for would-be Christian criminals. "I would ask that [people] 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," he said. "[And] I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need."
Local police condemned his sermon as sinful, telling the BBC that "shoplifting or committing other crimes should never be the solution" for people in difficult circumstances. If everyone in poverty stole from stores, the police added, "this would make the downward spiral even more rapid, both on an individual basis and on society as a whole."
U.K. storeowners -- who pay out $5 billion each year on stolen stock -- were similarly unimpressed. "You'd expect a vicar to appreciate the difference between right and wrong," says Krishan Rama, a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium. "It's the job of our welfare system, which retailers support with the billions they pay each year in tax, to help vulnerable people. There are no excuses for stealing."
Jones also received a telling off from his boss -- no, not that one, but the more temporal Archdeacon of York, the Venerable Richard Seed. "The Church of England does not advise anyone to shoplift, or break the law in any way," the Archdeacon announced. "Father Tim Jones is raising important issues about the difficulties people face when benefits are not forthcoming, but shoplifting is not the way to overcome these difficulties."
The controversial vicar later appeared on British television to clarify his position, and claimed that he had "never said it is OK to steal. It is a dreadful thing to steal." The sermon, Jones said, was in fact only meant to encourage worshippers to give more to charity, not incite them to snatch cookies from the corner store.