It was the evening of the 6th August 2011 when the London riots erupted. Two days before, the death of Mark Duggan had created significant anger which finally exploded into widespread civil unrest, rioting, arson and looting.  Other towns and cities were affected as the unrest spread. There were injuries to both the public and the police. Five people lost their lives. As of 15th August, 3100 people had been arrested and more than 1000 were charged. 3443 crimes in London were linked to the disorder with £200 million worth of damage done to property. In the subsequent analysis of the causes, suggested contributory factors were; poor relationships with the police, social exclusion, family breakdown, government cuts, unemployment,  gang culture, failure of the penal system and criminal opportunism.

How do such troubled and volatile communities change? And what is the responsibility of the faith community in rising to the challenge of social transformation?  The answers begin with each of us as individuals. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners USA has said, “The world will not change until we do; personal and social transformation are inextricably linked together.”

It begins with a fuller understanding of what we believe. That God is Lord of the nations as well as of his own people; that all people are made in the image of God; that the Fall impacted not only people but the creation also; that salvation is the holistic restoration of both humanity and the created order; that discipleship is engagement with the world, not separation from it; that there is no sacred secular divide; that as the church we’re to be incarnational as we seek to model the mission of Jesus in a broken society.

Tom Wright has written, “The mission of Jesus is always a word and deed mission.”  Jesus spent so much of his time doing things and then explaining why he was doing them. Transformation came with the doing. Explanation followed. The renowned Southern Baptist, Vance Havner,  reportedly said on one occasion, “ We are not going to win this world by criticism of it nor by conformity to it but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.” Community transformation begins with the individual believing and behaving differently. When we engage in social action, we create a context which is about  love, forgiveness, healing and a new creation. The early church lived engaging lives, prompting questions about their motivation and strength. For Tom Wright, community transformation is about empowering and encouraging people on the ground to look at their community and ask, “ What would it look like if God was in charge here?  What are the signs of hope here?”

Of course, transforming communities means the faith community working in partnership with all who desire a safer, kinder shared future. Social action is not solely the domain of the church, which has often been left behind on this issue. A national faith-based charity, Redeeming our Communities,  is about to launch in Northern Ireland. This group  seeks to bring together agencies, churches and communities to work together towards a safer, healthier shared community. When a whole community owns the need for and the possibility of change, transformation can and will happen. Will you be part of the change?

Gordon McDade.

Gordon is a Pastor at Down Community Church and a freelance consultant.  

Redeeming our Communities
Surprised by Hope: Tom Wright. (SPCK, 2007)
Treasury of  Vance Havner. (Baker, 1988)