January 9, 2015
Law enforcement has a God-ordained role that deserves respect, but that does not mean police officers themselves are above the law.
It's difficult for us to remember that our law enforcement officers and the agents of the justice system are human, too. That means they're prone to make mistakes, just as all of us are, and when mistakes are made, there will be casualties. I'm in no way wanting to be reductionist in my assessment of the complex racial and social issues that are plaguing the nation in this matter right now. It's far more than any single theme could address. But as I've been listening to and reading a lot of the stories in this matter lately, I can't help but detect a common message that, as a nation, we seem to be in denial about this fundamental fact: people in authority are still people. And people need grace to thrive.
There are two extremes that are equally damaging, I think. Either we have absolutely NO faith in the system and feel complete freedom to rebel against it with impunity; or else we entertain a misplaced expectation that our police officers can and must demonstrate a sort of perfection that we would never expect from ourselves, and we're furious when they fail to do so. I think the Christian position mediates between the two by revealing how we need to be subject to those in authority over us while simultaneously reminding our institutions of authority that they, too, are subject to the same human weaknesses that God in Christ came to redeem. We're called to submit and to hold accountable at the same time.
JKana- your observations are spot-on. In many ways, you capture the very essence of what it means to live in the "now-and-not-yet" aspect of the Kingdom. All institutions are partly redeemed, and yet remain fallen due to the fact that they are run by imperfect humans. As Christians we do have a unique role to offer truth and grace. Hold others accountable and yet hold out hope for ultimate redemption not found in the hands of a fellow humans. We can trust without worshiping the institutions placed here for our protection. Again, thank your for reading and reflecting.
Yes, it is crucial to recognize that law enforcements is God-ordained when laws are just. A police force may have to use force, and that is acceptable within limits. The wrench in the works now is that the general citizenry is capable of using force, thanks to the right to carry, and so the police no longer have a place to stand. Christians who advocate against gun control should re-examine their position. It's basically unchristian I my opinion.
We have to avoid being quick to judge as well. For example, as the truth about the MN shooting starts to surface the account blasted out by the media starts to become unraveled.... funny thing is they conveniently neglect, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story. The press is guilty of the perception that the police aren't out to protect us anymore when in fact that is simply not the case.
The blind spot in so much of the conversation and what's seen in the media is that racism toward white police officers is being promoted. In every one of the above mentioned cases the assumption quickly became that the officers acted wrongly and that they did so because they are racist toward African Americans. This is the very sort of judgment that "America's favorite Bible verse": “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own?" Matthew 7:1-3
As a police wife I'd like to say also that often when one of those seemingly horrible episodes is seen by the masses via a small film loop that's played hundreds of times, the larger picture of what has occurred is not known to the public, yet they render a guilty judgment as if they did (with the rest of the masses). Thank God we have a justice system in this country that allows for a fair trial. So often the grand jury trial exonerates the officer but the public already has the officer hung and judged to be a evil racist who was out to get blacks. It is actually very, very rarely that an officer will have evil racist intent to pull the trigger. Most officers make it through their entire career without shooting anyone, as did my husband, in one of the most racially diverse cities in the US.
As Christians we should not go along with the crowd and the media in the assumption that these officers seen in such news loops are "bad apples", that they acted inappropriately, and that they acted out of racial motivation. We need to remember the words of our Lord, and counter those assumptions and uphold those whom God has put in place to protect us. My husband worked in internal affairs for years. That is where complaints against officers are investigated and where inappropriate actions by officers are dealt with. He saw guys get 'days off', suspended, fired and sometimes even prosecuted. But let's not pretend that we know what is in the heart of a white police officer when he has to wrestle with a dangerous, noncompliant suspect, who happens to be black.
When "Attorney General Eric Holder said, 'The issue is larger than just the police and the community. Our overall system of justice must be strengthened and made more fair,'" he makes the way-too-common mistake of applying a broad brush to a very diverse nation. And far too often, even most of the time, we go right along with that mistake.
By far, most criminal laws, criminal statutes, police and sheriff and other enforcement forces are created and maintained at state levels, county levels, and city levels. The FBI may have the big name, but most things criminal are done at much more decentralized levels -- thankfully.
Why is this observation important? Because whether we argue that "police are bad" or "police are good," we are probably quite right and quite wrong, and thereby quite meaningless in our argument. I don't know the Dallas police force, but by all accounts, it is exemplary and recognized as such by the vast majority of Dallas-ites. I would suggest the Marion County (Oregon) Sheriff's office (where I live) is also exemplary (based on my personal experience with them).
It is a simple fact that the critique of policing (and other law enforcement issues) really needs to focus on state and more local levels, or it risks being both meaningless and divisive -- which is pretty much where we are today. How many times do national level TV talking heads need to tell us that "a conversation needs to begin," that "there is a crisis," that (insert whatever here), all of which practically results in nothing -- perhaps except to create more divisiveness as guests "from both sides" make their own over-broad conclusions about how much the "system" needs to change vs how much the "system" is good, etc. etc. etc.
One can create a persuasive case for about any proposition if one uses national level statistics to characterize a very wide variety of state and local realities. What we, each of us, could better do, if we want to actually make a difference, is to get involved with law enforcement at some kind of local or state level. My own involvement is as a member of the Marion County Sheriff's Office Citizen Advisory Committee. I can't do much about Baltimore from that position -- or even know whether something should be done, but that's a bit of the point, since I don't live in Baltimore, or even Maryland.
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