Excessive Force

The other night I preached on Romans 12 which is my favorite chapter in the Bible. Romans 12 teaches us how we’re supposed to treat one another and challenges us to live sacrificially in order to glorify God through our actions.

I actually started this blog a couple days ago but deleted it. I found that the holy discontent I have right now was turning into ranting which is something I really don’t want to do because I don’t think it’s really productive.

However, I just can’t get these thoughts out of my head which is an indicator that I can’t stay quiet.

God has blessed me with a very diverse life path. I’ve worked in nearly a dozen different fields and have a breadth and depth of experience that is both unique and useful for the Lord. It is that experience that causes me to write today.

I have spent extensive time with the police. As a newspaper reporter and editor not only did I cover the “police beat” but I did countless ride alongs and was personal friends with many cops on the force. Because of my relationship with police I was selected to sit on our local county sheriff’s citizen advisory board at one point during my career.

Working in the Oregon Legislature I not only engaged law enforcement often as we worked on bills that would affect their work in our legislative districts, but I also helped on ballot measure campaigns that strengthened sentencing guidelines. As a political consultant I was the campaign manager for a deputy who ran for sheriff.

I also worked as a private investigator – not the most respected profession in a cop’s eyes – but still engaged law enforcement on a fairly regular basis while working for attorneys or private clients.

And I was an intelligence officer in a federal agency where I interacted with the Federal Bureau of Investigations in Joint Terrorism Task Forces regularly.

Here’s what I know: Police have one of the most stressful and dangerous jobs in our nation. Every single call could result in their death from the most routine traffic stop to a domestic abuse call to serving a warrant to doing drug busts. The evil they see every day is something the average citizen just doesn’t understand.

But I know something else as well from my life’s experiences. For 38 years I have studied, practiced, and taught the martial arts. Early in my career I helped train police officers in hand-to-hand combat, and I have trained many others in self-defense so they could protect themselves against attack. I’ve also worked in executive protection or what is more commonly known as body guarding. I know just a smidge about employing violence against an adversary.

I call my self-defense style “Controlled Violence” because – well – that’s what it is. Someone is threatening or using violence against you so you must respond by employing a controlled level of violence against them in order to stop the attack. In this style you escalate the violence above the violence being perpetrated against you – you end the fight quickly with superior firepower.

Why do I say all this? Because it’s exactly what the police are trained to do as well. When confronted with a perceived or real threat they are trained to exercise a level of violence that exceeds that being perpetrated against them.  This is why the knife-wielding assailant is shot 22 times if he takes a menacing step toward the officers on the scene.

Everyday police are confronted with evil and they are hypervigilant in their approach to their jobs, ready at any moment to respond with overwhelming force to quell a situation. And you can understand this if you put yourself in their shoes.

But here’s the problem: When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail.

What we’re seeing in our country right now is nothing new – police have been using excessive force since there were police. With the advent of social media, however, the public is seeing it as it happens, and they are outraged and rightfully so.

The other day in Buffalo, NY a known police agitator was walking toward a group of police when a couple of cops pushed the 75-year-old man who fell to the ground and hit his head on the pavement. Roughly a dozen officers simply walked past this guy as he laid there bleeding. The two officers involved were charged with assault – both plead not guilty, saying they were told by their commander to clear the area and they were just doing their job and did nothing wrong. That same day, 57 of their colleagues quit the unit they were in to protest the charges.

I use this example because it shows the cultural problem within the police ranks – all the cops involved thought they did nothing wrong. The guy deserved what he got because he approached the police in a manner they perceived as inappropriate. This is part of their training – escalate violence beyond that which is being perpetrated against you to stop the threat. They just did their job.

Now please understand I’m not indicted all cops as if they all abuse their power and authority. However, if you’ve been around police departments for any amount of time – or been to a jail – you know that there is a culture of “Us vs. Them” with the “Us” being the good guys in blue and the “Them” being the “dirtbags” with whom they have interactions. As I’ve said, I’ve been personal friends with many police officers, but I’ve also been with them during traffic stops, arrests, and drug busts; not all of them handled the stress of these situations in a professional manner. I’ve seen excessive use of force several times. Heck, I’ve even had a cop charge me, take my camera and notepad, and try to arrest me for covering a drug bust in a public strip mall!

Whether it’s the adrenaline, experience, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (police have a high rate of PTSD), of something else, there are cops who simply cannot control the level of force they employ in a manner that is consistent with the situation at hand.

What does all this have to do with Romans 12? Please read verses 9-21:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,[g] serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.[h] Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it. to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Now let me ask you a question: If the police involved in the George Floyd arrest, the Buffalo incident, the Breonna Taylor shooting, and all the rest were to live like this what do you think the outcomes would have been?

Let me ask you another question: What if all the protestors – who are right to protest by the way – lived like this as well?

What about our politicians? What if they could live like this?

What about you? What if you lived like this?

Yes, the police must protect themselves and others by using force. But you can’t lose your humanity in the process.

Yes, protesters should be out there bringing to light the plight of the African American community. But the anger of 400 years cannot be expressed by doing evil.

Yes, you can have your own opinion regarding Black Lives Matter and all the rest. But you can’t leave your Christianity at the door because you’re offended in some way.

Scroll back up and read that passage again and ask yourself this question with each command: “Am I obeying Jesus?”

Wondering what my point is: Only Jesus can change our culture. And it’s the church’s job to bring Jesus to people!

Honestly, I think America is in the mess it is because we as the church have not lived by Romans 12. We don’t look like Romans 12 to the world; we don’t act like Romans 12 in our interactions with the world; and we don’t engage people like Romans 12 if those people are different than us. I believe the church as a lot of complicity in all this.

You may be thinking, “But the government took prayer out of school and they have marginalized the church from society.” I humbly disagree. When I read the Bible, I see a dozen disciples changing the world by sharing Jesus during Roman occupation and oppression, not to mention aggressive opposition by the Jews. The church needs to stop making excuses and start doing what Jesus commanded us to do! We need to be Romans 12 Christians, showing the world exactly how to love each other so that we can change the culture that creates the kind of divisiveness we have today.

I’ve challenged myself and want to challenge you today to start making a difference by showing people Romans 12. Here’s what I’d like you to do. When you see an African American in a store, at work, on the street or wherever, say this: “I just want you to know that Jesus love you and I love you, too. Hang in there because it’s going to get better.”

Simple, to the point, and a powerful reminder to those who are hurting that Jesus hasn’t forgotten them, that they, too are made in the image of God, and that a Christian brother or sister is giving them a message from God!

Folks, be the church. It is in times of crisis that the church flourishes! The harvest is ripe, but the workers are few. Go out and be a worker showing people that you are a Romans 12 Christian!

 

 

 

 

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