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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Sycamore Gap outrage: how to respond to cultural vandalism

The nation awoke on 28 September to the news that the iconic ‘Sycamore Gap’ tree on Hadrian’s Wall had been illegally felled.

The news of its demise was met with an outpouring of righteous fury across news channels and social media platforms. This was a crime committed with no obvious motive, against a much beloved natural feature. This was cultural vandalism.

And the strong reactions have revealed how much cultural vandalism stirs emotions.

Flowers have been laid at the scene, thousands upon thousands of comments have been left condemning the act, and social media has gone to town thinking about the kinds of consequences those allegedly responsible should face.

For the 16-year-old boy and a man in his 60s who’ve been arrested, recommended punishments have included enforced community service, lengthy prison sentences, and, in some cases, even violence.

The ‘mentality of the mob’ is something that has been previously discussed in Christian forums, with the emphasis on how Jesus-followers should choose to react and behave when the swirling tide of public opinion is raging.

Luckily, we have a remarkably suitable example from Scripture to turn to. When Jesus arrives in Jericho at the beginning of Luke 19, he looks up into the branches of a sycamore tree on the side of the road and sees a small man.

Zacchaeus may well have been accused of first-century Palestinian cultural vandalism. Zacchaeus was a tax collector for the Romans. And his reputation among the community made Jesus’ decision to go and eat at his home more than a little surprising!

What does cultural vandalism look like in your context, in your neighbourhood, your workplace, or even among family and friends? Where do individuals exhibit reckless conduct at cost to the wider community, workplace, family unit, or friendship group? A colleague who trashes a project people have poured time and effort into, a child who goes out of their way to make their sibling’s life much more difficult, or a community art project defaced with graffiti.

For Zacchaeus, Jesus’ heart of compassion and desire to see him saved leads him to take the unpopular course of action – drawing close. In the face of people’s wrongdoing, we must make effort to view the individual as our heavenly Father sees them, deeply, deeply loved.

And as a result, Zacchaeus is transformed, making restitution for wrongs, and committing himself to serving the common good. In the face of cultural vandalism, what could that sort of transformation look like on your frontline?

Sam Brown
Church Advocate, LICC



  1. Love the sycamore link, thank you!

    By Robert Grayson  -  6 Oct 2023
  2. It is known that harsh treatment and prison
    have little effect on changing behaviour or attitudes and in many cases make it worse what needs to happen is real
    rehabilitation. This starts with Understanding why this happened is the first step and education in to the value of the environment would maybe help those guilty from repeating their actions.

    By Paula Groves  -  6 Oct 2023
  3. This is very helpful. There’s a lot of vandalism going on in our village at the moment but we don’t know who’s doing it. Having read this article if I could find out I’d like to invite them round or out for a meal.

    By Ginnie Cates  -  6 Oct 2023
    • This is really cool. I love it!

      By Sam Brown  -  6 Oct 2023
  4. Love this article – really well done ! I am constantly challenged by Jesus non violent subversion of what culture says and his captivating for the ‘other’ – so this is a great example to meditate on – thanks so much ! X

    By Rachie Ross  -  6 Oct 2023
  5. Interesting comment although the word Luckily should not be used when introducing Scripture.

    It may have been better to use the word Thankfully.

    By John McClure  -  6 Oct 2023
  6. In John 8 a woman caught in adultery is brought by a mob plus religious leaders to Jesus they are wanting to stone her. Jesus challenges them by asking those without sin to throw the first stone. Eventually everyone walks away. We need to be careful in judging others. Yes it was an act of vandalism but we need to think about our lives and then as in Micah 6v8 Act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly before our God

    By Jeff Smailes  -  6 Oct 2023

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