Earlier this month in the midst of election craziness, The Detroit News took what could have been a simple crime story about a rash of church robberies and interlaced the article with theological themes, historical trends and even sociological explanations.
The theme about forgiveness is a bit presumptive, but it nevertheless provides the story with a voice that emphasizes the fact that robbing churches impacts a community a bit differently than your average heist:
Many of the devout in Metro Detroit know the Bible says Jesus Christ both condemned and forgave thieves. But some of those who attend churches targeted by burglars recently say they are busier with the condemnation part.
And before they move on fully to the forgiving, they are organizing community watches near their churches, asking for the police to become more involved, dipping even more deeply in their pockets and offering their expertise to help secure their houses of worship.
“A lot of people felt they were violated, and I heard a lot of them say that they just could not believe that someone would stoop so low to steal from a church,” said the Rev. George Williams, of St. John Neumann, a Catholic parish in Canton Township. “I mean, all we do is help people.”
Generalities such as “many,” “some,” “they” are nice ways to build a theme, but there is no way to know if that claim is precisely true since it makes no specific claims. Also the analogy regarding Jesus Christ and thieves is not supported by any references. The Gospels say that Jesus spoke of thieves in the pejorative sense from time to time, and he also forgave the thief that was next to him. But where (and maybe I am missing something) did Jesus ever specifically condemn thieves?
But back to what I generally liked about the article. Instead of simply reporting on the incidents, the reporter makes an effort to explain what is going on in the community. From personal experience, my home church has experienced a rash of expensive burglaries, and I am well aware that theft from a church hits a little bit closer to home than mall shoplifting:
The irony of burglaries in churches has been long noted, and social scientists say it is unclear whether there has actually been an increase in the activity.
“I think these incidents are simply a reflection of the condition of the surrounding areas,” said Irshad Altheimer, a professor of criminal justice at Wayne State University. “If the rest of the community is failing, in some way, the problem is going to spill over to an institution like a school — in the case of school violence — or a church.”
Knowing that this trend is present in downtown Indianapolis, I would be curious to see whether other communities are experiencing similar trends. Unfortunately, I don’t have a local newspaper article yet, but I’m hoping that something will show up soon explaining this sad trend.