Throughout my adult life, it’s been the reason why I always try to remain impartial to people’s past when getting to know them (even if it’s really messy or they think they’ve done something really bad), and it proved a great foundation for me when I came to know Christ, already understanding the concept of forgiveness for all people – the worst criminals included – when they admit what they’ve done and show repentance or change in their lives.
I would be lying, therefore, if I didn’t say I was shocked to hear that grime star Stormzy was slammed by a former Metropolitan Police (Met) detective for confessing to crimes he committed before leaving his gang life behind for one on the stage.
It’s not the first time that the rapper has alluded to what he got up to in the past, but this time, he was incredibly brave in describing himself as “reckless and stupid”, admitting to mugging a pizza delivery man and stealing his moped. Speaking on a US radio show, Stormzy said he was a “hood rat” and added: “No-one batted an eyelid. A robbery, a stabbing, a fight in the middle of the road, jumping in the cab and bumping the cab driver…at the time it was normal.”
Instead of showing support for his frank and honest admission, former Met murder detective Stuart Gibbon accused Stormzy of going into “unnecessary detail” on the nature of the crimes – which are “still happening” across the UK, adding: “He could have stuck to the line: ‘I used to have a lifestyle of crime and look at me now – I’ve turned it around’. He doesn’t say there is anything wrong with it, which there is.”
The detective worried that it would spark a series of copy-cat crimes, explaining that young people often take “what [Stormzy] says as gospel”. But in focusing on the crimes themselves, I fear the cop may have missed the point entirely – Stormzy isn’t admitting to his crimes because he’s proud of them, because he think it’s cool or because he wants young people to follow in his footsteps, he’s being honest to show how much a person can change in Christ, to help our young people know that they are already forgiven in him and to highlight the huge issue of the amount of vulnerable young people dragged into “hood rat” lifestyles due to a lack of alternatives.
You don’t have to look far to find more evidence of these sentiments. Stormzy spends an hour in the form of his latest album Heavy Is The Head explaining that the “holy blood of Christ” never let him down, pulling him out of dark times during his “meaner start” in life, being a “target” on the streets and having witnessed friends “lost to the streets” through violence – while crediting his success to Jesus in chart-topper ‘Crown’: “Amen in Jesus name, yes I declare it.” By revealing the extent of his crimes in great (and not unhelpful) detail, Stormzy is showing the great forgiveness of a God that our young people so desperately need.
Despite having grown up with honesty instilled in me, when I first began praying, I always found myself filtering out the stuff I’d done wrong and I struggled to admit to it and bring it to God. I thought that while there were things that my parents and friends had forgiven me for in my rebellious teens, God may not forgive me in the same way. Of course, I was wrong – but it took me a long time to figure that out. Imagine then how good the news of forgiveness must be for other young people like I once was, for the “hood rat” kid that Stormzy admits he once was.
Detective Gibson isn’t wrong when he says that crimes like those Stormzy admits to are “still happening” and that young people are still making the same mistakes. But, funnily enough, acknowledging the problem doesn’t solve the problem. One of the best ways to tackle a problem (especially those like youth violence and crime) is to discuss it, and look into why people are caught up in it – to make us think about how we can help and then come together as a community to change. If artists like Stormzy weren’t initiating the conversation, however controversial or brutally honest it may be, would we be igniting change?
Everyone is entitled to their opinion on Stormzy (and his music, though I’m likely to argue with you on that one!) and I’m certainly not defending muggings, stabbings or any violence that he may have been involved in. What I am defending is a man who, through his faith in the forgiveness and acceptance of Christ, through his knowledge that Jesus loves even the worst bits of us, is willing to be open about where he came from in order to see change.
Why not discuss this with your young people? Explain the Stormzy story in as much or as little detail as you feel comfortable before braving up and sharing an example from your own life of something you did wrong or that you’re not proud of. Perhaps take it a step further and ask your youth group about what they think, if they feel comfortable enough to share, is one of the worst things they’ve done. Use this as an opportunity to talk about God’s forgiveness for all of us.
Maybe use the conversion of Paul in Acts 9 as a discussion point. Use passages from Acts 7 and 8 on Paul’s involvement on the stoning of Stephen and Galatians 1 on his persecution of the Jews as a basis to talk about God’s forgiveness. Perhaps compare Paul’s honesty of his crimes to Stormzy.
We’d love to know any other ways you’re planning on discussing these issues in your youth groups. Get in touch email@example.com or on social media @ycwmag.