Punched in Burnley and Floured in Surrey: Forgive Them

Two very unpleasant items were released onto social media last week. The first was taken in Burnley and showed a 16-year-old boy casually chatting to a rough-sleeper before bending his knees and punching him to the head. The one filming the incident said he was ‘training his boy’. Seeing so vulnerable a man assaulted for no reason other than entertainment by a well-dressed youngster is sickening and despicable.

The second was a photograph taken in Bury St Edmonds, Sufolk. Several teenagers had taken some water and a bag of flour and tipped them over an elderly, disabled woman whilst she was sitting on a park bench. They then called over their friends to share their joy and be a part of their commemorative photograph. Sitting on their bikes, they smile and laugh while the old lady crouches in shame.


Are you angry? If so, then good. If not, read the above paragraphs again, imagining the homeless man was your runaway son or the lady on the bench your grandmother. That the vulnerable should fall prey to the strong is appalling. That the strong in both these cases are young men, well dressed and looking pleased, makes it all the more horrible. Something equally unpleasant, however, is the reaction these thugs received on the very social media with which they celebrated their crimes. The Burnley boy’s name was shared and a number of people wrote comments such as “i hope you get beaten half to death”. The police issued a statement requesting that his details are shared no more, and he has removed his online presence on account of the threats and abuse he has received. Meanwhile in leafy Surrey, the four teenagers are receiving police protection because of the death threats sent their way. People are angry at what they have done- as I am- as you are. But offering these young men violence for what they did only confirms to them that violence and domination are appropriate solutions to problems. What they did was horrid, and they deserve punishment. That we live in a society in which young people think it is okay to do such things is to our shame. That teenage boys are now in receipt of police protection and unable to leave their homes is a double shame. You and I have no power to forgive and absolve these attackers. That right is reserved for their victims and the God of Heaven, the Defender of the weak, against whom they sinned. We should, however, teach them that there is a better way: 

‘Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all’. Romans 12:17 (ESV).

When I was a teenager, I bumped into B., the drunken brute my mother had married when I was six. As a five-year-old, I was terrified of him. I saw what he did to my mother, and the social workers removed me from my family on account of what he did to me. Since then, I had become a Christian. Seeing him as a fifteen-year-old, he no longer seemed so scary. I stopped him, reached out my hand and shook his, and gave him a blessing. My friends and family were angry; they said I should have hit him or told him of all the damage he’d done. He had taught me to flinch when I saw movement from the corner of my eye, and to fear the opening of the bedroom door. But when Christ dwells in the heart, He empowers us to live a better way. He sets us free from the bitterness and hatred that gnaw away at our inner being. He gives us ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’.

These thugs must pay for what they have done. But I pray to God that their victims and their online judges-and-juries will not replicate the fear they inspired. The world has hatred and violence enough.