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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, September 01, 2002
    Challenging the lynch mob mentality
    "Who is better, who is worse, who is without sin?" sing Lies Damned Lies on their new cd. On my mind today the lynch mob which met the police van carrying Maxine Carr, the woman implicated in the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, and the lynch mob mentality which I've grown weary of hearing over recent weeks. From church people too.

    In this week's New Statesman Theodore Dalrymple observes that "many of the adults in that mob were themselves responsible for the abuse of children: by neglect, by abandonment, by serial step-parenting, by alternating arbitrary discipline with gross overindulgence, by violence and all the other means by which contemporary British parents condemn their children to a life of asocial egotism and continual, sordid crisis." The "ersatz emotion over the death of two little girls", he writes, "is the product ... of profound and entirely justified guilt."

    I had to use more temperate language in my sermon this morning, and so I attempted to challenge the the lynch mob mentality within the church by entreating our folks to revisit Paul's passage: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." I told the stories of Gordon Wilson, the man who forgave the Enniskillen bombers as an example of one who had, and Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa as a structural example. Asserted Tutu's maxim "Goodness is stronger than evil". Warned against our embracing the slow death of retribution. And a number of people thanked me for sticking my neck out; more than the usual 'nice sermon, vicar' respondents.

    Oh, that we could all revisit justice in the spirit of Gordon Wilson, who facing the loss of his daughter in that bomb, said,

    Those who have to account for this deed will have to face a judgment of God, which is way beyond my forgiveness ... It would be wrong for me to give any impression that the gunmen and bombers should be allowed to walk the street s freely. But ... whether or not they are judged here on earth by a court of law ... I do my very best in human terms to show forgiveness ... The last word rests with God.