The church must fill the moral vacuum

Earlier this week we witnessed wrongdoing on epic proportions. But unlike the floods caused by tsunamis or the damage by hurricanes, these scenes were entirely man-made; not so-called acts of God, but deliberate havoc wreaked by our own young people and on some occasions the not so young.

How did it come to this? Have the ideologies adopted by society contributed?

The consumerism of today’s Britain which tells me that I find value in the accumulation of wealth and possessions and the secular-humanism which tells me there is no higher moral authority than myself, are the dangerous cocktail that have shaped the mindset of many.

If I am the arbiter of my own morality and I define my value in material things, then what is to stop me from looting a high street shop in search of some self-worth? But we must recognise that many of the scenes we saw this week had no deeper significance than to relieve boredom by showing up the police, having fun on a long summer evening.

Nevertheless these over-arching ideologies have failed our youngsters. But so too have the institutions which have traditionally provided a moral compass to young people. The government, the media, the police and financial institutions have been discredited by their own misdemeanours. The education system, and even the family, has let them down.

The looting, arson and violence perpetrated by mainly disaffected and disillusioned youth this week cannot be justified. Their behaviour contravened the laws of the land, but there exist higher standards of right and wrong than those which have been written in parliament and the courts.

The Bible has a word for wrongdoing – we don’t like to use it these days - ‘sin’. Our financial institutions have been guilty of greed; our MPs theft; and our media deception. The rioters have been guilty of many things, but perhaps the fault lies with the fact there is a vacuum in moral leadership to which they should look as examples of right and wrong.

The Church has not always got it right, but up and down the country local churches are leading the way within their communities by offering another way for these young people, running food banks for the hungry, debt counselling for those struggling financially, volunteering as Street Pastors for revellers who need a helping hand or a listening ear while on a night out, as well as running youth clubs, mentoring schemes and children’s projects for young people who have nowhere to go.

Around the UK lie pockets of deprivation where young men and women in our cities are without hope. The education system has failed them and they have little prospect of employment. To many, the gang is the place in which they find acceptance, validation, a family and a community.

Our past failings are not an excuse for us to watch from the sidelines now. Up and down the country, Christians have joined their communities by liaising with the police, politicians and their local councils; by getting involved in riot clean-ups, talking to their neighbours and providing supplies for their emergency services.

Now is the time for the Church to step into the space vacated by other institutions and offer leadership. It is up to us to point the way to the Creator in whom we can find true worth and perfect morality.

Steve Clifford is the General Director of the Evangelical Alliance