byFaith | 8.15.16
By Alan Dowd
“Black lives matter.” That should be a given, especially in
a nation that’s a kaleidoscope of color. But those three words have become a
charged political statement this year. The reason? It implies that black lives
don’t matter to some people, or that black lives haven’t always mattered in
The sad reality is that both of these are true. No matter
how ugly it is to contemplate, some people see other races as worth less than their
own. And no matter how hard we work to live out the promise of the Declaration
of Independence—that all men truly are created equal—that was not always true
for all Americans. We cannot forget that the Constitution sanctioned race-based
slavery; it was not expunged from the document until 1865.
Of course, we cannot forget that slavery—America’s original sin—was
expiated at an incredible cost, by a brutal war, during which, to paraphrase
Lincoln, “every drop of blood drawn with the lash” was “paid by another drawn
with the sword.” To be sure, the Civil War began as an effort to preserve the
Union, but there can be no doubt that it evolved into a crusade against
slavery. Some 364,500 Union soldiers gave up their lives to end the scourge of
slavery. In the stirring wordsof “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” they died “to make men free.”
Even so, the scar of slavery remains on America’s soul. Times
of racial violence, like this summer, expose the scar and reopen old wounds.
Followers of Christ know that all lives matter to God: Black
lives and white lives. Red and brown and yellow lives. Unborn lives and disabled
lives and aging lives. All life matters to God, because all of us are made in
His image. As Paulobserved—in a time and place that was far more focused on the differences separating
humanity than on the commonalities uniting humanity—in
Christ, there is neither “Greek nor Gentile nor Jew,” “no
barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.” No black or white.
Paul’s point is that color, class and other superficial
things do not matter. What matters is what’s in the heart. To think or live otherwise
is to ignore the truth—and to sin against God.
There is a “loss of humanity when any of us are judged at a
glance,” as Attorney
General Loretta Lynch observed during this summer of violence, poignantly
adding, “whether by the color of our skin or the color of our uniform.”
The Badge and the
Lynch’s words remind us that blue lives matter as well.
Blue, of course, refers to the color that police officers
wear. They are human, which means they make mistakes. Like every vocation, there
are bad apples among their ranks. But the overwhelming majority of them do
what’s right. They run toward danger while the rest of us run away. They answer
when we call for help. They literally stand, like a thin blue border, between
chaos and order. And unlike the rest of us, they go to work knowing they may
not make it home.
Too many of us—especially in America—forget that the natural
order of this world is not all that orderly. We take our freedom for granted;
we take the absence of chaos for granted; we take security and safety for
granted—forgetting that the blessings of freedom must be protected. Without
law, without some infrastructure of order, freedom can descend into license and
then into anarchy.
When conscience, decency and respect for the law fail to
restrain the worst among us, police officers serve as society’s last line of
defense. They represent the rule of law. They protect the law-abiding public
from those who show contempt for society by breaking the laws of society.
As of August 4, 2016, 69 law-enforcement officers had been
killed in the line of duty this year—an 8-percent increase over this time last
year. What’s especially alarming, as the National Law Enforcement Officers
Memorial Fund reports,
is that 2016 has seen a “78-percent spike in firearms-related officer
fatalities, many of which were ambush-style killings.” With 21 officers killed, law-enforcement agencies in Texas (14) and Louisiana (7)
have endured the worst of the carnage this year.
The consequences of targeted attacks against police officers
are profound and deeply troubling. These are attacks against the very
foundation of social and public order. They are attacks against the rule of law
If these attacks become the new normal, they will
dramatically change the way police forces interact with the people they serve—and
undermine the foundations of our society. How?
First, if this is the wave of the future, police forces will
become increasingly concerned with what the military calls “force protection”—the
safeguards that deployed U.S. military units apply to prevent or diminish
hostile actions that might be directed against them overseas. Our police and sheriff’s
departments, unlike our troops, shouldn’t be concerned about protecting
themselves when answering a 911 call. Their focus should be on protecting and
serving their neighbors, their communities, those in need of help. But if they
are being ambushed, they understandably will lose that focus—and they will not
be able to carry out their primary duty.
Police that are more concerned about self-protection than citizen-protection
will not respond to calls as quickly, or may not respond to calls at all.
Perhaps they will armor up to such a degree that they become quasi-militaries,
or perhaps they will withdraw from their communities. All of these reactions
make sense in an atmosphere of ambush and assassination, but none of them serve
the public good. “A badge should not be a bullseye,” as Chris Southwood,
president of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, said in a New York Times interview.
Second, if police officers are delayed in their responses,
law-abiding citizens will increasingly feel compelled to take the law into
their own hands. The result would be the rise of vigilantism and a return to a Wild
West-approach to law enforcement and governance.
We may romanticize that period in films and TV shows, but
there’s a reason the Wild West is part of history: It was brutal and bloody and
chaotic, and most of us couldn’t survive in it.
What can we as Christ followers do?
We can pray for our cities, our country and all those who protect
us from lawlessness. Paul advised Timothy to pray for “those in authority, that
we may live peaceful and quiet lives.” Paul understood that those who enforce
civil law—imperfect as they may be—are not the enemy. The enemies of peace are
We can pray that when we see
our neighbors we see Christ, rather than the color of their skin or uniform. We
can, through acts of kindness, mercy and grace in our own corners of the world,
work “to bridge divides, to heal rifts, to restore trust and to ensure that
every American feels respected, supported and safe,” in Lynch’s pitch-perfect
We can pursue justice—demanding that law enforcement be held
accountable for mistakes, that those who abuse the power to take someone’s
liberty (or life) are punished, that institutional racism is identified and
rooted out, that policymakers institute criminal-justice reforms where needed.
However, we can never pursue justice through unjust means. A police-action
shooting—even when it appears the use of deadly force was wrong—does not excuse
rioting, mayhem or murder. As Lynch observes, “There is no justification
whatsoever for violence against law enforcement.”
We can engage and connect with our communities by inviting
law enforcement officials to our churches, neighborhood associations, schools
and workplaces, and asking them how we can be of help. It pays to recall that
Paul saw himself as a citizen of Christ’s eternal kingdom and Rome’s earthly kingdom. He called believers “Christ’s
ambassadors.” Yes, that means “our citizenship is in heaven,” as he put it. But
to extend Paul’s metaphor, it also means that where we live right now matters
enough to heaven that God has placed us here to represent and promote His
interests.One of those interests is order. God does not
like chaos. Genesis tells us He brought form and order out of chaos. Paul
writes that He is not a God of disorder. The given of scripture is that earthly
government—civil authority—is an important organizing feature of the world He
created. Civil authority exists to maintain law and order, to protect life and
property, to pursue justice. A world without civil authority would descend into
lawlessness—where anarchy reigns—or the law of the jungle—where the strongest
survive and the weakest perish. God’s crowning creation cannot flourish under