The already feeble American culture sustained another blow last week as five Dallas police officers were gunned down in a cold blooded plot to “kill white cops” at a rally organized by the racist group known as Black Lives Matter. While many at the rally were simply responding to anger over the deaths of two black men at the hands of white police officers and had nothing whatsoever to do with the murders of the Dallas officers, still others were responding instead to the hateful and violent rhetoric coming from the Black Lives Matter organization.
My opening paragraph will likely be met with strong reactions ranging from discomfort to outrage – anything but approval. Some will claim that Black Lives Matter is largely a mob, splinter group, or outgrowth from more legitimate racial groups like the NAACP. There may be legitimacy to such a claim, but the numbers and popularity of the movement largely betray the notion. Others will argue that Black Lives Matter can’t be held responsible since they are not an organization but a “movement”. Results, however, speak for themselves. Repeated calls for violence and the glowing praise such acts of violence often receive from the hoi polloi within the “movement” betray the soft-peddled rhetoric that is the public face of Black Live Matter. Those who see the movement as a vehicle for their otherwise legitimate concerns may wish it were not the case; but we cannot define truth with our words or our wishes.
Similarly, the church can continue to console itself that it is “above it all” but we don’t create that truth with our words either. We may not be of this world (well, most of us) but we are most certainly in it. So then, these five officers and the two men who died at the hands of officers in Louisiana and Minnesota affect the church whether we like it or not. We, the bearers of truth and son’s and daughters of the one true God, should have answers. We should seek to inject some levity into the world’s insanity. It ought to be our desire to open the Word of God and apply it to this, and every, situation. We must be the standard bearers for a God-honoring, sensible worldview.
Yet, I am largely dismayed at the reaction from the church. While we ought to expect to be in the world, we instead seek to be of it allowing ourselves to be co-opted by both sides of this debate (and many others). Black christians are co-opted by Black Lives Matter and other racially oriented groups prioritizing their identity as “black” over and above their identity in Christ. While few of them have abandoned Christ altogether, most who align with such racial identity are quick to rebutt a Biblical view of any matters the larger racial movement considers within its sphere and advance instead the very talking points of the larger racial movement. Talking points which are, in and of themselves, thoroughly opposed to Christian thinking altogether. “I hear you that the church needs to be unified, but until white people understand what it’s like to be black, we can’t be unified.”
The whites in American Christianity are not without their bias either. The police have no more vigorous supporters than those found in your average, majority white, Christian church. We tend to be conservative (Read: Republican) people who recognize the need for law, order, and authority in a just society. We take seriously the call to obey our government and we often see police (and other “first responders”) as selfless individuals in a profession that asks a great deal of them. While many of these things are true, it is also undeniable that many have a hard time allowing those beliefs to play a proper role. Instead, they are often carried to the extreme. I have had white Christians argue with me that speeding should result in jail and that a Christian should always waive his 4th and 5th amendment rights because “we should have nothing to hide”. Many are unwise, foolish, and naive as they blindly rely on a human institution filled with humans to always act as something better than human.
I believe three things. First, police are overwhelmingly noble public servants who genuinely want to help people. There isn’t a single doubt in my mind that most police officers are people who want to serve everyone in their community and would give their own lives to keep others safe. Second, there are undoubtedly some bad apples in and among police forces. By “bad apples” I don’t always mean wicked and terrible individuals on a power trip (although sometimes that is exactly the issue) but more often than not the few bad apples simply aren’t good at their job. Third, and most importantly, I believe police are people, which means they are sinners too. Apart from Christ, their hearts are desperately wicked and prone toward evil, just like everyone else. That doesn’t mean they’re all wicked Nazi SS henchmen; it simply means they struggle with the same temptations and pitfalls of sin like everyone else they deal with.
Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 call on believers to submit to the earthly authorities in every way we can without compromising our obedience to God. This seems a good place to remind you that the police are one of those earthly authorities; and they are both “earthly” and an “authority”. So yes, brothers and sisters, we should submit to police and do what they ask of us within reason. This doesn’t mean we can’t assert our rights (Paul did), or that police are always right, or that they must be defended when they act badly. It simply means we should submit; submission and little else is what we are called to. The church would do well to adopt that attitude and teach it clearly. Don’t resist arrest, don’t harass officers doing their job, but don’t invest qualities not guaranteed to human authorities simply because they wear a badge.
Additionally, it is wise to be on guard against government. As our country continues to sink into moral decay, it will be the Christians who will feel the brunt of society’s wrath. This has always been the case. When we are the outlaws, it will be those same badges (although probably not many of the same people) that hunt us. Those badges will be invested with all the benefits of the doubt, all the power, & all the trust we so willingly give to them now. Police have a tough job. They deserve the proper leeway to do it. They also have much power, and all power should be held to a high standard and with much accountability. That doesn’t mean police are guilty before a trial, or guilty simply because someone says so. It simply means they can be guilty of doing wrong, have tremendous power to do wrong, and should be treated accordingly.
The church must oppose worldly culture and seek to evangelize it, not join it. We cannot abandon our identity in Christ to adopt racial identity politics. We cannot abandon wisdom and trust earthly authorities without question. We should seek to lead quiet and peaceful lives, wise as serpents and gentle as doves, in the midst of a fallen world run by fallen people.