I appreciate blogs from pastors supporting law and order, but I’m saddened to read a few in the clergy who’ve jumped on the bandwagon crucifying cops for the incidents in New York and Missouri to wit; “I can’t breathe” and “Hand’s up, don’t shoot.”
Not for a minute do I support police corruption or the unlawful use of force, but the critique is misguided. They’ve concluded cops across the country are out of line. In essence, they’ve indicated one form of sin (the perception of rampant excessive force) needs to be condemned over another (the allegation of unlawful activity)—regardless of what precipitated the contact. There are presuppositions at work that cops in general are out to suppress the free movement of our citizenry; that LEO’s invade the lawful conduct of the innocent.
Police work is anything but neat and tidy. Almost every lawful use of force can provide its own testimony. But can you imagine a pastor preaching a Sunday sermon while being heckled with disruptive insults from the front row? Worse yet, someone resistant to their instruction challenging a priest or rabbi to a showdown on stage?
I understand passivism, but that is not the role of law enforcement or the military. If it were, we would not possess our constitutional right to freedom of religion.
I have three older brothers who pastor churches. Combined, they’ve been in the ministry for nearly a century, so I have a pretty good understanding what they go through. My brother, Dr. Jon McNeff, greeted a church member walking out of service one Sunday morning. “It must be nice to work one day per week” said the parishioner as they shook hands. This ignorant statement was as shortsighted as a small percentage of clergy now universally condemning cops.
Excuse me for rehashing the numbers, but over the past 10 years, law enforcement has averaged 158 line of duty deaths per year. Of 108 line of duty deaths this year to date, two have been killed by felony assault, 10 from vehicle assaults, and 43 by gunfire. We do not seek martyrdom, but simply a fair shake in the court of public opinion. Those are the deaths. There are thousands of injuries that occurred while combating violent offenders too. Many that ended valuable careers.
“Right now Jesus is saying,” wrote my friend in the ministry, “‘I can’t breathe.’” Does that mean Jesus was also involved in the criminal enterprise that brought the presence of the police or resisted their attempts to handcuff him? This kind of emotional appeal is not objective. It’s dangerous! It presupposes a theology that cares not about the commands given in Romans 13:3-5 to those in authority who carry the sword (firearm).
If you want to get a glimpse of Jesus during an arrest encounter, look at John 18. While being arrested, unlawfully I might add, Jesus’ disciple, Peter, withdrew his sword and sliced off the right ear of Malchus, servant of the high priest. Jesus miraculously restored the ear and told Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
Then while hanging on the cross, when oxygen was no doubt at a premium, these were his final words:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Referring to His crucifiers)
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Talking to the thief hanging next to Him after a declaration of faith)
“Woman, behold, your son.” (Speaking to His mother, Mary)
“Behold, your mother.” (Instructing his disciple, John)
“I thirst.” (A physical need just like oxygen but w/out presupposition)
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Resignation to His purpose)
“It is finished.” (Mission complete)
To my friends in ministry who might take issue with my words, may I remind you it is a “sin” problem, not a “skin” problem that we face. We all should advocate for the oppressed, but neither Michael Brown, nor Eric Garner were in that category. They each committed criminal acts that required contact with law enforcement. Most stories told through a media narrative have not been fact driven, but emotionally charged with anti-law enforcement rhetoric.
Regardless of the color of their skin, I am sorry that Michael Brown is dead, but I’m happy that Darren Wilson is not. I am sorry that Eric Garner did not make it, but I also feel compassion for NYPD officers who tried to handle a call for service appropriately, but are having their lives torn apart because of Garner’s resistance.
To be clear, when someone says they cannot breathe, naturally we should put them in a physical position to get air. The reality is that LEOs do this a thousand times every day around the country. On occasion, people still die from a variety of mitigating circumstances such as excited delirium, drug overdoses, etc… The public has forgotten that Garner did not perish at the scene. He was transported to a medical facility when he went into cardiac arrest. Garner’s asthma, obesity, and heart disease were contributing factors to his death.
To those in the clergy who agree with my friend attributing Eric Garner’s words to Jesus, what about the words of desperation being uttered by Officer Darren Wilson or Officer Daniel Pantaleo? How would you minister to them if they showed up at your house of worship?
In the business of law enforcement, we have a saying that supports a psychological necessity, requisite for survival, but not well understood outside the profession. “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6.” In 2014 thus far, we’ve had 108 peace officers carried by 6, while two have exonerated by 12, but publicly condemned nonetheless.
In the Christian faith, it is a good thing that Jesus is our standard and not our own failed efforts at goodness or self-righteousness.
Jim is the author of The Spirit behind Badge 145. He worked in military and civilian law enforcement for thirty-one years. While in the USAF he flew as a crewmember aboard the National Emergency Airborne Command Post—a presidential support detail. Following his military service, he served for twenty-seven years with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California where he retired as a lieutenant. During his career in law enforcement, he worked with, supervised, or managed every element of the organization. He holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the prestigious Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the IACP course, Leadership in Police Organizations. Jim is married and has three adult children and three grandchildren. You can contact him at [email protected] or view his website www.jimmcneff.com which is geared toward helping officers.