It would be unfair to label an entire community or nation based on the behaviour of a handful of miscreants. At the same time however, it would be unwise not to seek out and observe the link between the conduct of those miscreants and that of the wider society.
Over the weekend parishoners at two Anglican churches turned out to worship at their respective churches only to discover that thieves had desecrated the buildings, making off with vital pieces of the public address systems.
What little information we have does not lead us to conclude that the criminals were individuals who had a specific problem with the church or religion and their actions were intended to send some message. They did not deface the building or any of its contents, they did not leave messages scrawled on the walls, they did not burn Bibles or hymnals: they took electronic equipment that they could sell. It is reasonable to conclude that their motive was money.
Oh how our society continues to change. We do not advocate the breaking of anyone’s home or business, but we can think of a time when a thief would think twice about entering the house of God, whether a sprawling edifice like a cathedral or the old wooden village assembly whose floor swayed when worshippers danced, to commit a crime. They would pillage a home first.
In fact, there was a time when, whether or not we went to church, we did not speak loudly when walking by and a service was in progress; the loud music in the village stopped when the church doors opened; even the drunkard at the village shop was never so consumed that he did not know when it was time to contain the colourful metaphors.
Not today! Services are paused routinely so noisy motorcycles can speed back and forth through the neighbourhood as they wish; drunkards, marijuana smokers and gamblers gather around churches during services and conduct their own noisy and blasphemous sessions; and members of the public casually stroll pass churches engaged in loud, riotous and caustic conversations and worshipers dare not look at them with consternation.
None of these scenarios suggests that these persons would condone breaking into a church and stealing its possessions, but when in its day to day conduct a society shows, at best, disregard for the church, and at worst, utter contempt, its offspring are certain to push the envelope farther.
They are born less sensitive to the church and things Christian or religious, and their upbringing only serves in too many cases to add to the desensitising. Things we once took as basic human values — being our brother’s keeper, honouring our father and mother — we no longer even pause to consider, so, as the Bible states, if we can’t love man who we can see, how will we love God who we have not seen.
Only one or two persons might be responsible for breaking into churches, but it is an indictment on the wider society when churches have to be equipped with burglar bars and elaborate security systems in order to secure their property.
It is a situation that will only compound itself over time, since in such an environment church officials can’t risk leaving the doors open all day long as sanctuaries while the buildings are unattended; and the fewer opportunities communities have to interact with their churches the greater will be the gulf between them. The wider the gulf, the greater the likelihood of such untoward incidents occurring.