CHRISTIAN COMMENT: Making a balanced judgement

Hillsborough. Those three Ulstermen – a dad and two brothers – killed by toxic slurry. Where? A farm near Hillsborough.

And in the same week-end we had the report on the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans killed 23 years ago. Where? Hillsborough Stadium.

A very sad, very sobering place-name.

Yet – even though the events from Ireland are recognized by everyone as no more than a tragic accident – those that occurred in South Yorkshire all those years ago are now known to have been anything but.

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Some – mainly families and close friends of the dead – had long recognised that something had gone seriously wrong.

But, officially, according to the published record of what happened after Liverpool’s football match against Sheffield Wednesday, it seemed as though it was – at best – just one of those unfortunate things.

At worst, it was claimed as almost “just desserts” for a crowd of ill-disciplined and violent hooligans.

How different it now appears.

One-hundred-and-sixty-four separate changes were made to the factual accounts. Why? To shield the police – and other emergency services – from any blame, any accusation of negligence or incompetence. To obscure the fact that the ground itself should long have been condemned as a death-trap.

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The families rightly feel vindicated. In the aftermath of the report’s publication they are pressing ahead with proceedings against those who might be held responsible, including the police and local council.

What about us? How should we react? Outrage – that a force designed to protest the public should act like this? Certainly. A desire to see justice done? Of course. A call for all those responsible to consider resigning? Probably. An end to any trust in or co-operation with police or others who may abuse their authority? I don’t think so...

At the moment, there is little sign of an hysterical backlash, a general call for blame and punishment to dealt out immediately.

What there is, seemingly, is a call for those who know they did wrong to admit it and then, perhaps, to resign. But little sense of anything more extreme.

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This response, coinciding with widespread outcry at the publishing of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge, could be a sign that we’re getting a bit more level-headed about right and wrong.

Maybe we’re seeing a shift to greater thoughtfulness, less of a knee-jerk reaction to strong stories. Maybe.

What I do know is that God expects those who follow Jesus to set an example of clear-headedness, what the apostle Paul calls “sober judgment”.

He writes this to one church: “Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering (this really is the way to worship him). Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.

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“Readily recognise what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God will bring the best out of you and produce a well-formed maturity in you.”

If we can begin to assess with “sober judgment”, these terrible events may have at least one good outcome.

By Nigel O’Dwyer, who lives and works in Worthing