Earlier this morning I posted a piece about the recent rash of shootings involving police. In two incidents civilians were shot by police officers. In the third, five officers were killed in an ambush attack, in Dallas Texas. If you read this article in your email, or at STTA (http://sttaspots.blogspot.com/), you'll probably want to scroll down past the article, below. If you haven't read it, you should. The rest of this post is based on what is found there.
John the Baptist, & Jesus Christ comment on our current situation:
I was already aware of the shootings that took place in Minnesota and Louisiana. My son spoke eloquently about the mood of our nation.
Jesus we need you We need grace. We need wisdom. We need the gospel. All solutions fall short of the gospel." I hurt for the state of 2016 America. I hurt for the pressure to pick a side over complex social issues. I hurt for Alton Sterling and his family. I hurt for the officers and their families. I hurt that in 2016 we will judge all parties from both sides on a passerby's 40sec cellphone video.
I say, "Amen!" to Chad's words. After awaking to the news from Dallas I find them even more relevant.
This is not the first time that some who are responsible to keep the law have failed to do so, or have enforced the law without respect for the people they should have been protecting. I don't think I have to convince you that the Roman legionnaires assigned to serve in far off conquered lands sometimes did so with harshness and disregard for basic human dignity. Perhaps some soldiers had been assigned to make sure that the crowds who thronged to hear John the Baptist didn't get out of hand, or maybe they, like so many others, were simply curious about this camel-hair clad prophet. At any rate they approached the preacher of repentance. "Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” (Luke 3:14). John's reply retains its relevance. “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with yourwages.” (Luke 3:14) If any readers are police chaplains, John's three exhortations provide great material for men and women in Blue to consider. For we civilians, especially those of us who live in lands where we have input in our government, this gives a fair description of what we should expect from those who keep the peace. In His best known sermon Jesus spoke to the conquered. If a reporter had circulated through the crowd, assembled on a hill in Galilee, she/he would have had no problem identifying stories of abuse of power. A photographer would have been able to snap grizzly pictures of backs that had been beaten, and of wounds needlessly inflicted by over-zealous Roman soldiers--those who paid no heed to John the Baptist's counsel. Unlike preachers like me, Jesus knew precisely the situation of the people before Him; He knew, and cared, about the contents of their hearts. When Jesus told the people, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two."(Matthew 5:41) He was referring to the right that Roman soldiers had to conscript civilians to carry their equipment. The law said they could require you to carry their baggage for one mile. Jesus said to go beyond the requirement into the realm of kindness. Carry it the extra mile. Check back later at my blog . I'll share some ideas about how to apply this. In the mean time . . . It’s STTA.
So, what do we do about this? Some time ago, Hollywood produced a rather dark view of the future. Things had become so bad that the heavy-handed government looked to technology to enfor
ce the law. Last night, less than twenty years after Robocop was on the screen, a police robot was sent in to deal with the sniper. The machine doesn't look anything like the cop in the movie, but, unfortunately, the concept is similar. Inhuman conditions motivate enforcers to adopt nonhuman resources, which then leads to even more inhuman conditions. A friend, who is now with the Lord, was a small town police chief. His real life policing practices often bore a resemblance to Andy Taylor's of the fictional town of Mayberry. How far that is from the armor-clad technology equipped police forces of our day. In the article above I quote from Jesus, and His forerunner, John the Baptist. I believe their counsel is relevant to us, two millennia later. It leads toward the Mayberry-ish good-will policing of my friend, and away from the overwhelming force scene in the bad dreams of movie-makers.
Jesus words, and the context of scripture clearly tell us that we citizens are to be submissive to and respectful of those who are given the authority to keep order. In addition to His words in Matthew 5:41, Jesus said to "Render unto Caesar what Caesar is due," (Luke 20:25) The Apostles Paul and Peter--both of who endured their share of rough treatment at the hands of governmental authorities--built on Jesus words in passages like Romans 13, and 1 Peter 2:13-17. I draw from these Biblical passages some points of application that I think will serve us well today.
The authority of the government and its agents is not dependent on the perfect behavior of those who wield that authority. John, Jesus, Paul, and Peter all spoke at a time in which the forces in power left much to be desired, yet they counselled submission to them.
Exploring this is not the purpose of this post, but the threshold of civil disobedience is quite high. Check out the experience of Daniel and his friends in the book of Daniel, or that of the Apostle and other Christians in the early chapters of Acts.
Even imperfect governments, like that of the Romans, provide valuable services to their subjects. That is clearly implied in Jesus words about rendering to Caesar what he is due, and Paul's observation that the governmental authorities are God's agents, "Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same" (Romans 13:3). Observation of the world scene bears this out. Seldom, if ever, is the chaos that ensues from lawlessness, better than the oppression that preceded it under corrupt governments. We can debate another day whether or not we Americans just celebrated a legitimate over-throw of our English lords. It is clear that the best of our patriots were not merely anarchists interested in nothing more than disruption and over-throw. Our Declaration of Independence, and Constitution (though it took a while to get there) indicate that they had a far more detailed plan than do the snipers of Dallas, or the opportunistic looters who tend to swarm in after all disturbances. Working with, on, and through, the problems of bad government is the price we pay for the maintenance of peace in this fallen world.
This is just my opinion, but it is an opinion that comes after a lifetime of considering such matters, attempting to behave responsibly, and teach helpfully on these issues. With great respect to fellow-citizens of color, our situation in the United States does not merit any kind of armed resistance, much less ambush style attacks on police. I was encouraging to hear respected spokesmen from the Black community condemn what took place in Dallas. We need to hear again the words of Dr. Martin Luther King,
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Those of us who are in groups that are not as likely to be the subjects of police over-kill--that would be me--must, and I repeat, must, in our words, behavior, and input into our government make clear that how our police treat those in public must not be based on the color of a person's skin, or the part of town where they live. The matter of "profiling" is not a simple issue. If a criminal is reported as being a gray-haired man about six feet tall, I shouldn't be offended if the police stop and question me. On the other hand those repeatedly pulled over for "Driving while Black," have a legitimate beef. It should be responsibly addressed.
Finally to my friends who are in law enforcement. Over my career as pastor I often would check a box on a form indicating that my profession is "minister." Really, though, that is a job that God has given you. Romans 13 tells us that those who bear the sword, the symbol and the tool of authority are "the minister[s] of God . . . for good" (v. 4). I go back to those three words of counsel that John the Baptist shared with some Roman soldiers honest enough to ask a question that could have an answer they wouldn't like. Underneath John's answer is the tendency that power has to corrupt. Resist that tendency. If you know the Lord, resist it in His power.
I hope this post will bring about some profitable discussion. If your comments are helpful and respectful, I'll be glad to post them.
Before we go, let's pray together.
"Lord, we pray for those who are grieving today. We pray for wisdom for police, mayors, governors, and our President. We ask for self-control on the part of police. For pastors, community leaders, parents, and other people of influence, we ask that they would speak words of peace, not incite violence. We acknowledge, Lord, that you are the Prince of Peace. We ask that Your will would be done, and Your kingdom would come. As your servants, Lord, we dedicate ourselves to seeing that happen. Amen."