A Thin Blue Line: Part One

As I commented on before [1], a friend of mine and his wife recently visited Portland, and I had a discussion with them about various matters.  Much to my surprise, he mentioned that he had recently graduated from the very vigorous training and had just become a sheriff’s deputy for Los Angeles County, California.  Another friend of mine had at the same time posted photos of himself with a lot of cheering friends and family as he served as the class president of the incoming officers of the LAPD.  For both of them, their decision to work for law enforcement has presented challenges that are likely very different from that of other people.  I happen to come from a family where at least two of my relatives (on my father’s side) have been prison guards for the correctional department of the State of Pennsylvania, but most people within my own religious tradition have little familiarity with police officers and their conduct.  As I have previously discussed the constitutional parameters of police behavior, I will not belabor the point here.

What I would like to do, though, is set up what will be a series of essays relating to the subject of what we can learn about policemen and jailers and other related civil authorities from the pages of scripture.  When my friend visited, he described his discussion with his minister as revolving around the question as to whether he was packing heat or not.  It seemed to the minister that someone who had to be armed and prepared to use deadly force (even if it was very rare to actually do so) would trust in a gun for protection and not in God.  This is clearly a false dilemma.  Psalm 44:4-8, a contemplation of the Sons of Korah, tells us:  “You are my King, O God; command victories for Jacob.  Through You we will push down our enemies; through Your name we will trample those who rise up against us.  For I will not trust in my bow, nor shall my sword save me.  But You have saved us from our enemies, and have put to shame those who hated us.  In God we boast all day long, and praise Your name forever.”  Yet the sons of Korah themselves were armed and did participate as part of the security for the temple (something we will comment on at some length later).  The Sons of Korah had both sword and bow, and we ready and able to use them if necessary, but did not trust in them.  Yet this false dilemma is a common one.

Indeed, this false dilemma relating to arming for self-defense or serving in the police or related professions is related to another false dilemma involving armed service.  I do not wish to discuss at length military service, which I have already done elsewhere before [2], but I would like to at least set the stage for understanding that the false dilemmas about both exist.  Those who advocate for a pacifist stance argue that if one arms for self-defense or the defense of one’s family or congregation–all of which is done by a minority of people in my religious tradition–then one cannot in good conscience deny placing oneself under military service or claim that one is a conscientious objector.  This is not entirely true, though, since one could with full sincerity of heart and accuracy claim that one had already joined up to be part of the heavenly army of God fighting in spiritual warfare and therefore could not in good conscious volunteer for physical warfare engaged by corrupt and ungodly governments as is the case in our present world.  To be sure, this stance is not likely to endear one to civil authorities, but it is an honest and consistent moral position that denies both pacifism as well as the legitimacy of serving in the military.

When it comes to the police, the pacifist perspective becomes more problematic.  For one, those who cannot defend themselves do depend on God for their safety and security, and as some of us know personally, God does not always protect us from evildoers.  In a practical sense, unarmed and law-abiding citizens depend on the police, and would expect to make a 911 call in case of an emergency, and would hope that the response was speedy.  Yet to depend on the police is not necessarily to view the police with any degree of respect.  Viewing the job of a policeman or a prison guard or a sheriff’s deputy as a job that brings moral defilement makes one’s dependence on them tinged with a high degree of ambivalence, if not hostility.  It was such a position, for example, that the Jews found themselves in Europe, being depended on to do tasks that were viewed as defiling by the majority of people around, and hated for it, and being dependent on those hostile outsiders for safety and protection, which was frequently and ultimately unavailing, whether in banishment from England or Spain, pogroms in Russia, or Hitler’s ghastly and genocidal final solution.  To be dependent for one’s security on a society that is at best ambivalent if not actively hostile to us is asking for persecution and trouble, and if one asks long enough, one will receive what one is asking.

We live in a time and place where the police and the law and order aspects of our society are under attack from both the right and the left.  From the left, police officers have grown under increasing attack from racialist and leftist paramilitary forces who want to encourage public disorder and make the white and moderate to conservative majority of this nation feel unsafe.  On the other side, the FBI and related organizations have been shown as being increasingly politicized and therefore decreasingly legitimate.  We all believe that God is not a God of chaos and confusion, but of order and decency, but yet we are not always fond of the forces of law and order as they exist in our admittedly imperfect society.  We fear a society where police forces become too militarized, because militaristic states do not look highly upon pacifistic populations who look down on the state and its officers for being immoral and corrupt, which they usually are.  On the other hand, Colson’s law tells us that a society can only be ordered and safe by either conscience or cops, and the immense decline of conscience as a force for internal restraint has made the external constraint of police officers and related personnel to restrain others externally all the more necessary, if unwelcome.

There is another paradox in the pacifist tradition as it relates to the question of self-defense that is especially problematic.  When one thinks of ideological combat, we of our contemporary age are fully aware that we exist in a place and time where there are deep disagreements about worldviews and the proper way to live.  We are told explicitly in scripture that our warfare is spiritual in nature.  As it is written in Ephesians 6:10-13:  “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”  We are not called to be pacifists as believers, but are called to war against corrupt arguments and the spirits of rebellion and hostility to God’s ways that are so common today.  When the time comes to be fierce in defense of God’s ways against those who are hostile to it, are we content to let others lie without being countered by truth?  This would be the consistent pacifist tradition, not to war in areas of truth at all because it would involve rhetorical combat.  And no one who knows me at all would consider me a pacifist in that sort of warfare either.  I seek peace through victory, not defeat through surrender to evildoers.  To overcome evil, one must fight, if not by the weapons of flesh.

Therefore, having introduced my subject, I wish to set the scope for the remaining articles of this series, and to lay out the direction this discussion will take.  In this first part we have introduced the tension between pacifism and a recognition of our role in spiritual warfare, a warfare that many of us are not well equipped for because of our hostility to godly conflict in general.  In our next part, we will examine the biblical evidence for police and related professions and comment at least a little bit on self-defense within the Christian community.  Although many of these police forces were military forces as well, our focus will be on their security duties for the local population.  After that, we will examine the biblical law as it relates to the enforcement of lethal force upon evildoers, a task that belonged to the congregational of Israel as a whole.  Finally, we will discuss some of the reasons why policemen and prison guards present a much more serious problem for us than they did for ancient Israel and the early Church of God, and what possible solutions exist to overcoming our own reluctance to consider the validity of biblical law and previous practice in our own time and place.  To be sure, this problem exists in the messy realm of application of scripture.  It would be far simpler indeed to withdraw and set up isolated communities of believers far from humanity, free to practice in peace according to our ways, but that is not the way that God has chosen for us.  As it is written in John 17:14-16:  “ I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world,just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”  How to be in the world but not of it, and how to deal effectively with the hatred of the world for us because of our allegiance to God is by no means a simple task, but it is a vital one, very closely connected with the matter of the thin blue line that seeks to protect law-abiding citizens and sojourners from the evildoers who would bring chaos and destruction upon the society in which we live.

[1] See, for example:


[2] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Thin Blue Line: Part One

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    One thing that 2010 taught us was that we cannot be hostile to Godly warfare. We are not called to be pacifists. I am intensely interested to see where your series on this topic takes us.

  2. Pingback: A Thin Blue Line: Part Two | Edge Induced Cohesion

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