Priest Tells Congregation It’s OK to Steal from Big Stores! (Unbelievable!)

A northern England priest has provided a message to his flock – if you are truly needy, it’s permissible to steal from those big stores (who obviously are making such a huge profit, they’ll never miss a few items!).[i] Last I heard, one of the Ten Commandments was “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”

What’s going on here?

Reverend Tim Jones, of the Church of St. Lawrence in York, England, is justifying the advised theft of items the truly needy may need to ‘get by.’

Was the Reverend tippling a little much in the communion wine?

His intent was to drive home a point the countries’ social system, which should be providing for these needy individuals, has failed.  Since these homeless or needy are hurting for basic goods and services, they should bring attention to their plight by taking just enough to ensure their survival.  But don’t steal from the little mom and pop stores who are struggling to survive against the big box stores.  Do target the larger, more profitable stores who wouldn’t miss an item or two here and there.

Ok, let’s add up the math here.

Let’s say in his county there are about 100 homeless people, all visiting the big “Wal-Mart”-like store in their neighborhood.  They slip a package of ham and a half-loaf of bread under their trench coat.  And while they are in the cheese department, they slide a thin package of that expensive gruyere down their boots.  And, wait!  There’s breakfast tomorrow…let’s drop a small pint bottle into an interior pocket of that trench coat. OK, we’re done shopping.  And this needy person walks out with about twenty dollars worth of shoplifted food.  Now multiply it by the 100 homeless people also ‘shoplifting’ at this big store.  That’s $2,000 walking out the door, with perhaps the low profit margins of around 4% to the store, but they have to pay their suppliers $1,920 dollars for those goods that walked out the door.

Now let’s look at another piece of the math puzzle.

The store supports a bevy of clerical level cash register operators at a hair above minimum wage, let’s say $8.00 per hour.  At earnings of $320 per week (at a 40-hour week), this shoplifter has just walked out the door with the weekly salary of six workers ($320 a week times six workers = $1,920).  Those needy folks have just caused the store to have to consider laying off six of those cash register operators.  Now there are six more needy people on the street…

So what is wrong with this picture?

For the store to recoup this loss, and to retain all six of the cash register operators, it’s only choice – raise the prices on all the other goods in the store, or sell hundreds of thousands more in product, to make up for losses through shoplifters.  Who is hurting more – the homeless people, who could have walked to a local soup kitchen where they could have eaten for free and not committed a crime OR the store where they stole from OR the customers who shop at the store over the years because of low prices?

You be the judge.  Personally, I feel the priest could have come up with a better solution and a better idea than advising his parishioners to break a commandment because they are needy.


[i] Times Dispatch, December 23, 2009, pp. 1 & 12.

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