…do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you…”
(1 Cor 6:9-11a)
As we enter the third decade of the 21st Century we must continually thank God for (if you will pardon the traditional masculine pronoun) “His” abundant grace in opening our eyes to the hypocrisy and sin of the Church in the past.
It was the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Her Grace The Most Reverend “Jo” Smith, who in 2019 took the brave step of reaching out to those in the Stealing Community who have been so shamefully mistreated by the Church for millennia.
On that occasion she spoke powerfully of the treatment meted out by those who called themselves Christians towards a community whose only “crime” was to take things from other people without asking.
Our Thieving brothers and sisters were compelled for generations to live secret and shameful lives, able to plunder their neighbours’ goods only under the cloak of darkness, such was the fear of exposure and reprisals. For generations these brethren were forced to burgle houses and ransack garden sheds only whilst the occupiers slept, so terrible were the consequences of discovery. This is to the lasting shame of the Church.
It chills our blood to think of the barbaric sentences that were once handed out to those whom we now realize were only seeking to live in obedience to what God had called them to be.
Today, of course, we fully embrace the members of the Stealing Community and welcome the diversity that they bring both to society and to the Church. We applaud their tremendous contribution to our nation and also to our economy - as the house insurance industry would certainly testify.
The other week saw the rightful hounding from his post of the CEO of an international conglomerate for seeking to prosecute someone who was lawfully shoplifting in one of his stores.
All right-thinking people will, of course, condemn his bigotry and prejudice. In these days of tolerance and respect for all we can no longer allow such behaviour in society.
It is scarcely conceivable to us to that there was once a time (I think it was about eighteen months ago) that people still expected to be able to keep their own property to themselves, and thought nothing of selfishly withholding their chattels from the rest of us.
Today, of course, we know that the only real sin is personal property as the scriptures clearly attest (Acts 4:32), and we must continually ask God’s forgiveness for the hoarding spirit of the past.
It was in 2017 that the Theft & Kleptomania Christian Society was founded in order to challenge the stereotypical view of Thieving that - like slavery before it - had stained the reputation of the Church for centuries.
This movement has done so much to open our eyes to the sin – and we must not be afraid of using the word - of those who have for so long denied equality to all. We especially salute the brave work of the TKCS in challenging the behaviours of those who have so brazenly misused the teachings of Jesus and of the Bible in order to condemn sincere loving Theft.
Since those dark days of 2017 we have seen much progress but much also still needs to be done.
Even today it is still not unheard of for 1 Cor 6:9-11 to be quoted in an attempt to show that Thieves are actually to be identified as “sinners.”
But we need to remember that it is only with the benefit of modern scientific research that we have come to our present enlightened understanding concerning Theft. For the apostle Paul, Stealing (or as he might have called it, stealing) was a sin, one that demonstrated an unregenerate heart. He used the past tense verb “were” to signify that - in his view - true Christians were those who had made a radical break with their past existence, having undergone the true change of heart that could be wrought only by God.
Of course we know so much more today.
It is fair to point out in his defence that the kind of selfish indiscriminate "stealing" that the apostle knew in the Greco-Roman Society of his day was a world away from responsible and loving modern Theft. The apostle could not have conceived of the kind of affirming, committed Filching and Purloining that we know in the 21st Century.
The ancient world had no inkling of stable parasitical relationships where two (or perhaps three or four) persons might freely undertake to permanently deprive each other of their property throughout the length of a long and stable relationship lasting as long as two or three years.
Paul was a man of his times. We must excuse him for that.
As always, it is to the example of the Lord that we must turn for a loftier understanding of these matters. Here we are unquestionably on solid biblical ground.
For was it not Barabbas –a robber – that our Lord allowed to go free in His stead (John 18:40)?
Now where in the Gospels do we see Him showing this incredible grace to any non-Thief? It ought to be manifestly obvious therefore that Jesus had a heart for robbers, and did all that He could to put right the injustice that they suffered in His day.
Moreover where in the Gospels do we ever see our Lord condemning the behaviour of the beloved disciple Judas Iscariot for his repeated pilfering from the money bag (John 12:6)?
Jesus was completely silent on this issue.
Since Jesus cannot help them in their persecution of Thieves, the bigots must resort to vague passages of the Mosaic Law like Exodus Chapter 20 and Deuteronomy Chapter 5 in order to justify their bigotry.
Isn’t it strange how people who attach so much significance to these obscure passages will completely ignore important and eternal statutes such as those relating to the mixing of fibres or the treatment of bodily discharges? What amazing inconsistency!
To be fair. the "eighth commandment" served well enough... for its day
For in a subsistence wilderness economy where resources were finite, we can perhaps see some wisdom in restricting the practice of petty larceny. But now that that we have entered into the Promised Land of affluence and prosperity for all, we can see how God has graciously allowed His Church to rise to an altogether higher moral plane. We have evolved a much more noble and truly Christian vision of tolerance and respect.
So let no one seek again to place us under the bondage of a Bronze Age suzerainty code that has long outlived its purpose. For we are not under law, but under grace.
Most of all, let no one condemn the many loving couples (or threes, fours or fives) who have vowed to steal only off each other for as long as they all shall live in the safe and affirming environment that we call Holy Thievery.
This is a scriptural practice that is vividly shown to us as operating within the 1st Century believing community itself where the writer to the Hebrews commends those who,
“joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods” (Heb 10:34).
How mystifying that the true intent of this verse should have been veiled for so long!
But instead the verse has been misused for centuries. There have always been those who can torture the text of the Bible until they can get the scriptures to confess to almost anything!
Be on the lookout for them.
Be on the lookout for them.
So let us too, joyfully accept the plundering of our goods. For there is no joy quite like the joy of being robbed blind by a sincere Thief. A joy that those who still labour under the repressed and outdated moralism of yesteryear can never know.
May that joy be ours today in our amazingly diverse community, the glorious Kleptocracy, that is the Church
Now has anybody seen my watch?