Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Police are NOT the Authority in the Bible.

As an Evangelical Christian, I am very concerned with a trend I see among politically conservative Christians in the United States. I see many such Christians supporting right-wing authoritarian policies, and claiming the Bible supports such policies. This can be seen in their various responses to several shootings of African-American men by police officers recently.

Today, many of us saw a video of an ugly scene where a police officer shot an African-American man, Walter Scott, as he ran away. As noted in a CNN article:

"Regardless of why Walter Scott ran, "running from an officer doesn't result in the death penalty," family attorney Chris Stewart said." Well said!

Over the past year, I have read many comments by politically conservative Christians supporting the police in other cases where the police have shot African-Americans. Such politically conservative Christians give unqualified support for the police, and they base this upon the idea the police are the authority and must be obeyed. Yet, the Bible does not teach that police officers are the authority.

Rather, the ultimate authority the police must answer to is God (See Romans 13:1). After than, they are under the authority of the US Constitution, the legal sovereign of the United States of America. In civil societies, the rule of law is practiced. Police are NOT the ultimate authority as many conservative Christians claim.

This idea that police are not the authority is seen in the Gospel of Luke. There, we read of a Roman centurion who sent word to Jesus requesting He heal his servant. When Jesus went to the centurion, he sent his friends to Jesus with a message saying he was unworthy to receive Jesus. However, he had faith that Jesus could heal his servant. The centurion said:

"For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me...." (Luke 7:8 ESV).

Note, he did not claim to be the authority, but a man "set under authority." So it is with our military personnel and with our police. They are set under the authority of our sovereign, the US Constitution, and ultimately under the authority of God. This means they must act within the bounds of the law.

Indeed, I truly support honest police and sympathize with the pressures they must face day to day. It is a most difficult, and needed profession in a civil society. Therefore, when an officer goes beyond the law in his actions, he is no longer acting under the authority of the US Constitution or God.

Now, think of a few consequences of the police officer shooting Walter Scott:
- the family of Walter Scott grieves over his death. He cannot be replaced.
- respect and support for the law diminishes in such communities.
- honest police officers are viewed through the lens of this action by many citizens. Corrupt police officers stain the reputations of honest police officers and make it harder for them to enforce the law.

When I lived in Los Angeles, California, I read of cases where men were routinely beat up and women routinely raped by corrupt police officers in an anti-gang unit. So, I ask my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ to think of your son or daughter in such a situation. Would you support the police? Would you tell your sons and daughters to submit to beatings and rape?

Again, think of your sons in the situation Walter Scott was in: would you support the police shooting your son if he ran away?

It is time Christians stand up for justice instead of trusting human power. Psalm 20:7 says, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God" (ESV). Christians giving unqualified support to corrupt police officers show that they trust force rather than justice and the rule of law.

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