So we established that secular relativism is an ideology based fundamentally on injustice. If you believe there is no transcendent standard that binds all men, you have banished justice from your worldview. Or you have redefined “justice” as some kind of emotional, physical, or tribal manipulation. And this is only to perpetuate injustice. How do you know when something has been put right? How do you know a criminal has truly paid? What is the value on human life? What is the value of human suffering? How do you quantify that and then send out the bills?
That’s what justice is all about. Justice stands on the assumption of objective standards of right and wrong, and justice means putting things right, making things right, paying the bills. But this is why there must be an objective standard to appeal to. There must be a standard, a measuring line, a scale that remains the same for all people at all times. Then and only then can we have justice because then and only then can wrongs be identified and put right. You cannot address wrongs or put them right if you have categorically banished the categories of right and wrong. A nation that has banished the transcendent, objective law of God has officially banished justice.
Historically, justice has been pictured as a woman blindfolded holding a scale. The scale weighs and measures equally for all human beings, male, female, rich, poor, black, white, healthy, sick, born, and unborn.
This goes back to the biblical requirement that judges judge impartially:
“You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are right” (Ex. 23:6-9, cf. 23:1-3).
“Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s” (Dt. 1:16-17).
“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality…” (Dt. 16:18-19, cf. 10:17-19).
But this justice is not merely a court of law thing. This justice is an ethic for life. God’s people are to “do justice” toward all people, and this is particularly required by all leaders. Part of what this requires is the willingness to be wronged. Leaders, those entrusted with power and authority, are required by these standards of justice to assume innocence until guilt is proven.
This has very practical implications for law enforcement protocols. I have no idea what actual police protocols are these days (I suspect they vary somewhat from city to city), but I do know American soil is not a war zone. Rules of engagement in a war zone are different than the streets of Baton Rouge, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, etc. If law enforcement is going to militarize and treat some city as a war zone, then they must at least have the common decency to declare war. But last I checked the First Amendment states explicitly the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This means that when men sign up to be police officers they are signing up to perform a dangerous duty. They are pledging to put their lives on the line to serve and protect free Americans. This is a particularly dangerous and heroic task because it requires them to assume that all American citizens are innocent until proven guilty. And as we all know, they must assume this and act accordingly while knowing full well that not all Americans are innocent. Law enforcement is called to walk into the most dangerous situations, civil disturbances, and violent crimes, and they are called to stand between the innocent and the lawless. But frequently they will be called into situations where it is unclear who is who, and until that is known*, they must treat all men and women with equity, with impartiality.
This means — to be clear — that they must not shoot a man sitting in his car, even if he is a suspect for another crime, even if he has gun, even if he has a criminal record. This is what impartiality means. Impartiality means being willing to be shot by a criminal because you have not been able to confirm their lethal intentions. Yes, the Bible certainly defends the right of self-defense and specifically to defend your family and property (Ex. 22:2), and I believe that an officer on duty certainly may take action to defend his own life while defending the lives entrusted to his care. If there is an active shooter, by all means, take him out. But self-defense or stopping murder in progress are†not the same thing as the unilateral right to use lethal force on others, even people in the process of breaking the law (Ex. 22:3).
Yes, I know that some protestors are throwing rocks. I know that some are shouting obscenities and making hateful gestures toward the police. Welcome to a world where leaders are scorned and mistreated. But all true leadership must bear the weaknesses of the people they seek to lead. If you cannot bear it, get out. The moment leaders begin to use excessive force without clear, compelling reason to do so, they have lost the argument. This applies to church authority, parental authority, political leadership, and law enforcement. The picture at the top of this article, whatever else it indicates, for a Christian, already indicates who won the argument. The woman won. The police in riot gear lost. This is because ever since Jesus was crucified for sinners, He has transformed weakness into power. And when people embrace their weakness as true power against those who wield tyrannical and abusive authority, they win. Even unbelievers and wicked people can tap into this reality to some extent, though they cannot ultimately rely on justice to vindicate them because justice will find them out in the end.
A couple final thoughts for now: Christians have many reasons to be watching (and participating) in the current wave of conversations and protests, not least because the trajectory of political ideology in our country is quickly marginalizing faithful Christians. But first off, to the extent that black Americans who have experienced various forms of ungodly prejudice and unjust treatment are Christians, we are required to stand with them. If one member of the body suffers, all suffer (1 Cor. 12:26). At this point there are many sane, level-headed, biblically informed black brothers and sisters telling us that there is a problem in our nation. Doing justice, acting with impartiality, means that we have a responsibility to listen to those voices carefully, assume that they are telling the truth and that we have something to learn from them. This is the law of love, but it is also the law of justice. To assume that they are all crying wolf and that this is all some massive liberal conspiracy is to participate in unjust prejudice. They are brothers in Christ, and Christ requires us to stand with them.
Second, we as Christians have every reason to care about what the police are allowed to do to any people in our nation. It may not be long before Christians are profiled and routinely harassed and taken into custody on petty charges. And while all sin and hatred must be confessed and repented of (on all sides), I find the Christians in America still far too docile and apathetic. While politicians continue to pass laws hemming Christian freedom in further and further, Christians do very little. It is high time the Christian Church begin standing up like that woman to the arrogant officials of our land. No, you cannot persecute bakers and florists for honoring Christ and refusing to bless same-sex marriage. No, you cannot persecute doctors and pharmacists who refuse to participate in your sacrificial slaughter of unborn children. No, you may not draft our daughters to fight in your ethically ambiguous wars. No, you may not treat our black brothers and sisters as perpetual suspects. No, you may not militarize the police, use excessive force, and treat us like your enemies.
Together, we are the bride of Christ. We were purchased with His blood. We have been forgiven. We have been clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. And His justice sets us free.
[*Update: In the sentence beginning, “But frequently they will be called into situations…”, I changed “confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt” to “known” in order to not confuse what I’m arguing for with technical legal jargon.]
Thank you for writing this!
I find this article to be terribly misinformed and suffering from a huge lack of true understanding about police work.
Hi Melissa, happy to learn anything I can from you, but your comment doesn’t give me a whole lot to go on.
It just seems odd to me that you claim knowledge and even authority in an area where you don’t have either. I lack the time for a lot of back and forth, and honestly I may not see it if you comment back, but one example is your assertion of what police “may not” do, and what assumptions they must be bound by (such as innocent until proven guilty). You’re incorrect. They are guided by Supreme Court rulings and particular guidelines. Here are some…from a police officer.
Here are some court cases that guide our decision making process:
Probable cause: “where the facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed”
The court emphasized that “probable cause” was a standard for conducting the arrest – not guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as is required for criminal convictions. The courts stressed that if the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard were used an ordinary arrests, Officers rarely could take “effective action” in protecting the public good because the standard would be too high to meet.
Brinegar v. US
Tennessee v Garner
Deadly force may not be used unless it is necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.
The Supreme Court cautioned lower courts examining excessive force claims that “the calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” The court also stated that the use of force should be measured by what the officer knew at the scene, not by the 2020 vision of hindsight”. What a reasonable officer (not a pastor, lawyer or layman) would do given the facts known to him at the time of the incident. Meaning, when someone continues to reach for a gun when an officer has told him to stop, that is sufficient to establish lethal intention.
There are three circumstances when an officer can use deadly force: first, when the officer is threatened with a deadly weapon; second, when the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm or death to the officer or to another; or third, when the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime involving threatened or actual serious physical harm or death to another person.
Melissa here, again… All this is not to say that bad police situations haven’t happened. And some situations should certainly be followed up with thorough investigations and consequences. But I find it entirely unhelpful (and worse) when bloggers, such as yourself, and facebookers, jump onto a train fueled largely by emotional media posts (that ‘tell’ us how we should think or what should make us outraged) or video snippets that show only a portion of the whole story.
First, I wonder if you saw the edit to the post? A day or two after publishing a friend pointed out that “beyond reasonable doubt” could not possibly be the appropriate threshold for the justifiable use of lethal force. That’s a courtroom threshold, a technical term, and can’t apply to an officer on the scene of a potential crime. Not sure if that’s your main concern, but maybe that helps some?
Second, there’s the issue of rightly enforcing our own US standards of justice, and you helpfully point out some of the precedent for determining what is lawful in any given situation, but there is always room to compare a nation’s laws to the law of God. As we have learned increasingly over the last few years, the Supreme Court often gets it wrong. I do not have the knowledge or authority of a trained LEO, but as a minister of the gospel, I am authorized by God to announce the whole Word of God which includes what He has to say about the use of lethal force. I do have the authority and responsibility to share that.
Third, I would be glad to learn that our country’s law enforcement standards continue to reflect the standards as found in Scripture, but there is often just as much emotional defensiveness about law enforcement as there is about video clips that appear to expose police violence.