Protestors, Police, and the Prince of Peace

After the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY, protests erupted all over America calling for a new look at police tactics in dealing with minority communities and crime – and also calling for a lot of other issues to be addressed that affect the Black community in America. Some were saying that deadly force is too quickly applied, especially against those who are unarmed. Claims of rampant police brutality in minority communities were put forward. Police spokesmen across the country countered with the point that violence was prevalent in many communities and that they first needed to protect themselves and others against those breaking the law. Many of the protestors sought to express their views peacefully and nonviolently, but others, especially in the beginning in Ferguson, turned to violence, looting, and arson. Some turned to rhetorical violence in calling for the death of cops and other types of violence. Camps began to form as people blamed the System, blamed police, blamed the protestors, blamed white people, black people, the rich, the powerful – or anyone who thought differently than them. Lots of blame and anger and frustration and fear has been boiling over.
Listening. I am a big advocate of listening to people who think differently from me – or who have had different life experiences than I have. I know that I don’t know everything (obviously), and in my experience, what I do not know far outweighs what I do know. So, listening to others on all sides of issues is a good way to try and understand what they are upset about or defensive of or fearful about or what kind of solutions they are promoting. It is also a way to show empathy and concern while also seeking to formulate an answer to difficult situations. Through listening and conversation, we begin to participate with people in community and recognize and demonstrate that our own view is not the only one that exists. Listening also is often the prelude to prayer because God often uses the pain of others to prick our hearts.
Pray without ceasing. The Bible says that (1 Thess. 5:16-17). The more that I pray, the less I talk and express my own opinions. So, I have tried to listen more and pray more lately. The more that I listen to the anger on all sides of this issue, the more that I realize that we are not going to argue our way to any solutions or get others to agree with whatever our position is. But, when we pray, we stop trying to convince others of what we think and we begin to gain the mind of Christ. We develop hearts of love for others and a fear of God and a desire to see God’s will done above all things. In prayingfor others, our hearts become filled with compassion for people and we see people as made in God’s image and we begin to want what is best for them and not just what is best for ourselves. Praying continuously is the only way to be conformed to the image of Christ – praying according to God’s Word. So, we are to pray. Pray for the families of police officers killed and who put their lives on the line every day and pray for peace in communities ravaged by violence and anger and pray for peace to break out like a virus that spreads from one person to another.
Renounce Violence. If we are not renouncing violence in all forms – especially against those who are innocent or against those charged to protect us (the Police), or against anyone, for that matter, then we easily become part of the problem, even in our silence. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. (1958)

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction … The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. (1963)

So, when protests turn violent and looters and arsonists take advantage of opportunities to create havoc and they burn down the businesses of innocent people – places where people go to work each day to earn a living and provide for their families – this activity should be seen as an attack on that community itself. We should all stand together with the community being victimized and call for peace and law abiding. It is a form of frustration and rage that only begets more violence – or, perhaps even worse, more despair as the quality of life in that community goes down even further.

The power of the movement that Dr. King led was that it was rooted in a philosophy of non-violence and a call to beloved community. In other words, it took seriously the Christian commands to love ones neighbor and to consider the needs of others. It sought to bring people together instead of tear them apart. But, more than anything, Dr. King’s words had power when they echoed the words of Jesus. When the ethic and passion of Jesus Christ and His sacrificial love and the inherent value of every person made in God’s image was appealed to, even indirectly, the Movement had power to sway the masses. That is what is needed now. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and put down our swords. If we do not do that, then we will die by the very sword that we pick up. Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence. Only sacrificial love can change the frustration and anger in our country and only when we love can we see that value that each and every person has before God.

The Police/Authority. I thank God for the Law Enforcement Officers in our country who protect us, serve us, and go into the most difficult situations and seek to make things right and bring peace. They have an incredibly difficult job and local communities should seek to work with them instead of against them. We should all be working together to bring Shalom to our communities – the type of peace that manifests in right relationships between people and in health and prosperity flourishing everywhere. As Romans 13:1-10 tells us, the ruling authorities are instituted by God to punish wrongdoing and to uphold what is right and to work for our good. Our response should be to submit to them and cooperate with them and to love our neighbor as ourselves in our communities.

This past weekend, a lunatic murdered NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in cold blood. He said that he was upset about the recent deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. You can read about it here. I will not print his name. His actions were obviously deplorable and heinous. That should not have to be said. This man, mentally broken with hate, let his hate boil over until he committed murder and took these men from those who loved t
hem and from those they served. Not only were these men innocent victims, but they were also assigned protectors in our nation. When the protectors are viciously gunned down in cold blood, then that has a detrimental effect on all of us too. Plus, they too are made in the image of God and their lives should be respected. Violence of this sort cannot be condemned harshly enough and should be at every occasion.

Systemic Oppression and Outrage. For all those who have protested the “System” for being racist and oppressive, one thing should be considered: Yes, systems of oppression have existed in our nation and they have been damaging. American history demonstrates that and we should be both aware of our past and the continued effects of our past in the present, especially in the area of Race. We should vigilantly work to make things right. But, there are also “systems of outrage” that need to be addressed as well. Those systems of outrage grow and spread as anger, hurt, and frustration over past injustices keep building until people learn to see the world through the lens of that hurt and pain. Outrage can boil over and destroy communities and take innocent life as well. And, if all lives matter, then we need to be aware of how all kinds of powers and prinicipalities can rise up and take and damage the lives of the innocent. Oppression can come from above and inflict violence on the powerless and Outrage can rise up from below on the ladder of social hierarchy and can inflict violence and damage on regular people who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing as well. Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence. And, it is wrong no matter where it comes from. We should equally oppose both systems of oppression and systems of outrage that produce violence and destruction against anyone, much less those who are innocent or who are tasked with protecting us.

The other part of respecting authority is to seek to work with it instead of against it. We should all be working together to make our communities better places to live for all of us. America is not Rome in our governance. There are ways to appeal for justice and we should be vigilant in doing so and those with power and access to power should constantly seek to facilitate those without power in being heard and having their grievances addressed. America does not work without that concern being shown. While we should respect the police and those assigned to respect us, we also know that because they are human, they are not perfect. Some make mistakes. Some are corrupt (because corruption runs through all of us, as Scripture says). So, questioning authority in America’s governmental system (a Democratic Republic) is not the same as disobeying it, as long as the questioning is done peacefully and legally. Christians who are angered whenever anyone questions the actions of police in any situation are also off base and perhaps need to be aware of their own proclivity to defend the status quo when it benefits them. Some things need to be questioned. Actually, when we grant lethal power to the police and military, it is the role of the American people to both respect them and honor them while also making sure that they use their power of life and death correctly and fairly. We are to “do justice” and we should do that in appropriate ways. But, ultimately, we do not look to earthly governments for justice. That only really comes from God.

The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9 says that Jesus will be called the “Prince of Peace” and that the “government will be on his shoulders.” The Way of Jesus is shown to be through the Cross. It is the Way of Sacrificial Love where Christ demonstrated to us that the least would be the greatest and that the greatest among us would be servants of all. Jesus said that he came not to be served but to serve and he commanded us to love one another. We need more of Jesus. We need to invite Him into our hearts and our communities and His Way needs to become our Way. Jesus is not just the Truth or the Life, but He is also the Way. There is great claim to the Truth of Jesus through a defense of orthodoxy. And, there is a lot of talk about the Life of Jesus through evangelism and a call to repentance and faith in Jesus. And, this is rightly so. But, we should also consider the Way of Jesus. How did He live? What did He call us to do? What does the Cross tell us about how we should deal with power gone wrong and pain and sin? What does it mean to love our neighbor as ourselves?

As Christians, instead of promoting and defending our own Way of Life, we should step into the Way of Jesus, which means that we take up our cross every day to follow Him. We should realign our lives to love God and love people to the ends of the earth. We should put down our swords and our own claims to power and we should pray and love and listen and serve and submit to those that God has instituted in authority over us. Does that mean that we do not call for justice? Absolutely not! We should address wrongs when we see them and we should speak into situations that are not right. We should do this because we want Shalom to flourish in America and we do not stop until the prayer of Jesus was answered that God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Wherever we see God’s will not being done on earth, we should get to praying and get to doing so that the world we live in conforms a bit more to the world that God intends. We know that things will not be perfect until Christ comes, but we witness to Him by calling the things that are not as though they were. And, trying to make life better for people made in God’s image is an excellent way to love them as we love ourselves.

As Americans, we can look at our own country and easily see that we, as a nation, have not always acted the right way, especially in relation to minorities and the poor in our midst. But, how can we tell a better story from this point on? How do we, as Christians, act as peacemakers, which we are commanded to do? How can we both show respect for authority and for the police and work alongside them to make our communities safer so that life can flourish unimpeded? How do we listen and hear the concerns of people who say they are hurting and who say that there are serious problems in their communities in relation to the way that authority functions there? How can we make things better and help alleviate anger and strife?

There is always going to be anger and there are always going to be people who seek to take advantage of terrible situations. There are always going to be those who think only of themselves and who either promote systems of oppression or systems of outrage to get their own way and to take dominion over others or extract from others what they want. But, as Christians, we belong to God’s Kingdom that is marked by sacrificial love and dependence upon God and not what we can extract from this world.

Let’s pray for the families of the officers killed in New York and for police and their families all over America. I especially pray for peace t
o settle upon police who are very much on edge right now because of what has happened. I pray that errors not occur that would take the lives of the innocent and that there be no more targeting of police officers by the deranged. I pray for peace in our nation and that people learn to love one another and look after one another and that this start with the Church – the People of God.

Christmas. The Prince of Peace. May He reign in the hearts and minds of the people of our nation like never before. We need Christ desperately. Shalom.

For more on how to apply the gospel to everyday life and bring peace in the midst of strife, check out my book, When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus (NewSouth Books, 2014). Especially chapters 8-10.


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