In recent days, a wave of officer-involved shootings has once again brought the issue of police violence and race to the forefront. In the past, I have been very reluctant to engage this issue. I have doubted how much I can really bring to this discussion. I am a white male. I live in one of the least ethnically diverse areas in the country. Violent crime here is a rarity. There is so much of this discussion that seems strange and foreign to me. I have also never been a police officer. I don’t know what it’s like to strap on a weapon and hope I make it home at the end of the night. I am uniquely unqualified to shed any new insight on these issues.
Still, as these shootings have occurred, and I have watched both the news and my social media feeds disintegrate into shots across the bow from both sides (those who believe the shootings were just, and those who believe they were not), I fear that there are some critical points that are not being made. Instead, I read far too many unsubstantiated assertions followed by a hashtag #_________LivesMatter, the blank being filled with Black, Blue, or All. This is not how intelligent discourse occurs, and this is not how societal problems are solved. Anyone can tweet 140 characters. It takes much larger people to come to the table, bring concerns (while listening to others) and actually work to find solutions. I believe that this discussion deserves a better treatment than the one it is receiving. As Christians, we are to be lovers of life, not death, and people are dying. People with lives, friends, and families. We should not turn blind eyes or deaf ears to our brothers and sisters on both sides of the debate who feel the very real weight of these issues.
I would like to establish three truths that I believe need to be at the forefront when having this discussion. At times in observing the recent dialogue (or lack thereof), I have seen all of them minimized, and in some cases completely denied. It troubles me. If this problem is going to be solved, we cannot afford to cheapen the issues. We have to do the dirty work.
1. Racism is real, and it is morally unacceptable.
There are many who would prefer to deny this. The clamoring for #AllLivesMatter, while perhaps well-intended, comes across as an attempt to remove the race issue from the equation entirely. That is to deny reality. Even living in Wyoming, I have witnessed racism. Most of the time, it has been in the form of coarse joking. If questioned, I’m sure the perpetrators would say that “it’s only a joke” and no ill-will is intended. The problem is that the Bible doesn’t let us off the hook that easily. Ephesians 5:4a adds to this: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place”. “But Andrew,” you say, “it’s quite the leap from telling a crude joke to being a racist with a bona fide hatred of people with a different skin color.” I’ll let Jesus speak to this:
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)
When people are willing to, even in jest, state that other races are in some way inferior or deficient, it demonstrates that, on some level, they believe it. And perhaps some of those people who believe it, if even a little bit, wear a badge, and believe it that little bit when deciding whether or not to draw and fire (more on that in a moment).
Racism has no place among God’s people, and as God’s people, we should oppose it in all forms. It is a fundamental denial of the imago dei, the teaching of Scripture that God has created us in His image.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
While we now live on this side of the fall, and that image is corrupted, there is still something in humanity that reflects the image of God. This is all humanity, as we are all descended from Adam and Eve. Therefore, to show hatred to someone based on how God has created them to be is to show hatred to God. We cannot be dismissive of such a serious transgression.
2. The police have a tough job, and are essential to the functioning of society.
I work at a 40 hour-per-week desk job. The chances of me being spat on, shot at, assaulted, or killed while doing my job are very low. If I make a bad choice, it will likely not be fatal for anyone involved.
For an officer of the law, things are different. The officer has a gun, knowing full well they may need to use it. Sometimes, when worst comes to worst, they must make a decision to take a life. This isn’t an ordinary due process situation, in which months are available to deliberate the facts. The officer is forced in a split second to make a decision, and a failure to act quickly enough may result in the death of the officer or others. I don’t know what making that decision is like, or what I would do in that situation. But I’m thankful that there are people willing to shoulder that to keep me safe.
Now, based on the fact that there is racism (see point #1 above), and there are over 1 million police officers in the United States, pure probability would suggest that there are police officers who are racist. Also, not all of the shootings have transpired in the way I described in the previous paragraph, and I would hope that justice will be served where it is needed. Despite this, I honestly believe that the VAST majority of police officers are there to do their job, to serve and protect the population, and (hopefully) go home to their lives and families.
As with the issue of racism, Scripture is not silent on the role of police. The police are granted a position of authority in our society. In Romans 13:1-5, Paul writes:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4)
This passage is clear that those in authority receive their authority from God, including the police. They are to be obeyed and submitted to, so long as doing so does not require one to violate God’s moral law. Also, there is an exhortation to good conduct for believers. Should we ever find ourselves in an encounter with an officer of the law, we ought to be on our best behavior, and it will likely go better for us if we do. “But,” you ask, “what if the officer is corrupt?” God is the judge of the unjust. We are to submit as we can. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
To the officer who may be discouraged by the backlash against their profession, Romans 13 also offers encouragement. The officer does not bear the sword (or gun) in vain, but is a servant of God.
“But police are corrupt and agents of a corrupt government!” So were the Romans, who were in power when Paul was writing. No excuse there. We do not get a license to sin because of the sins of others. God has called us to submit to and honor authority, and we should do so, even if it is while disagreeing with them.
3. It’s not “Us and Them”
This issue is polarizing. On one side, you have a minority who feels they are being persecuted, and they have a body count to prove it. On the other, you have people who are just trying to do their job and help others, and yet they are being criticized and ostracized because of the actions of a few bad apples among them.
We must remember that we have brothers and sisters in Christ who are being discriminated against, and we also have brothers and sisters in Christ who wear the badge. We need to pray for, minister to, and grieve with both. We should seek justice, and do our best ensure that life is not taken in vain.
To Christians who will protest and speak out, do so respectfully and peacefully, and honor those in authority (again, Romans 12 and 13 speak loudly). To Christians who wear the badge, are married to the badge, or simply support the badge, do not be defensive or dismissive to the pain of the other side. To both, be salt and light wherever you find yourself, and seek to advance the gospel.
If this sounds difficult and complicated, it’s because it is. It is hard to move past our emotions and 140-character platitudes and be a light such a dark situation. It would be easier to simply try to out-shout the other side and push our own biases and agendas. But, we cannot resign ourselves to that. We are God’s people, citizens of a kingdom not of this world, one that transcends racial and occupational groups. ♦
Note: This post was published prior to my becoming aware of the shooting last night in Dallas. This is why that event is not specifically mentioned here. I do not believe that my being aware of that shooting would have resulted in me saying anything differently. The imago dei is violated in the murder of these officers just as it is in racial discrimination. We should mourn with those who mourn, both in the African-American and police communities.