How to build bridges to both the law enforcement community and to those who have unjustly suffered.
by ADAM LAVIGNE and EVAN OWENS
A recent Washington Post articlehighlighted a growing number of churches who are pledging to “divest” themselves of the police system, meaning they will refuse to call the police for help, even if their members face a dangerous situation. The article states, “These churches believe the American police system, criticized for its impact especially on people of color, is such a problem that they should wash their hands of it entirely.”
The aim of these churches is to take it upon themselves to right injustice and create conversation where there has previously been frustration – but to do so outside of the law enforcement system.
As a Christian and former police officer, I would humbly suggest a different approach. And it starts with the focus of our words.
It seems that if someone states support for law enforcement, it is perceived as condemning those who have suffered at the hands of authority. On the flip side, if someone stands in support of those who have suffered, it is seen as a condemnation of law enforcement. This is a false paradigm and one that is largely perpetuated by clickbait headlines and a lack of true understanding.
The Church is called to reach out to everyone, no matter the color of a person’s skin or the uniform they wear.
But separating the individual from the group is something that seems to be harder and harder as social media dominates the way we formulate our opinions. Certainly, there are problems with groups and institutions, but it is individual men and women who make up these groups and institutions. We run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater when we read a headline and condemn an entire group of people.
And sadly, it is often those who do nothing wrong that end up being marginalized by negative headlines and harmful rhetoric. Just as there are many who have needlessly suffered at the hands of police officers, there are countless law enforcement officers who carry out the law with dignity, respect and justice but now face a climate of growing hostility and hatred.
It’s all too easy for us to miss the chance to demonstrate the love of Christ and create lasting change by getting to know the individuals on both sides of this issue.
The Church has the golden opportunity to take the lead in building bridges to both the law enforcement community and to those who have unjustly suffered, to change the conversation to be productive rather than destructive.
But what can you do to practically help? How can Christians respond appropriately to this growing tension?
– Here are a few ways we can support the law enforcement community and those who have suffered injustice –
Supporting the Law Enforcement Community:
- During my time as a police officer, I’ll never forget how it made me feel when someone adopted me through the Adopt-A-Cop Program. I received letters, visits, and even the occasional cookies from a couple who lived just outside of my neighborhood. They had no idea who I was, but they committed to pray for me and constantly reminded me that they cared for me. Their sacrifice has had a long-lasting impact in my life. I would encourage you to sign up for this program or something similar.
- Go to them – don’t make them come to you. Volunteer to help somehow within the police department. It may be serving as a chaplain or by hosting a fundraiser for new equipment or for additional healing opportunities such as mental health or cross cultural training. Let police officers know you are thankful for their service and want to invest in their well-being.
- Recognize that the job of law enforcement officers doesn’t end when they flip off the siren. The toll of their work follows them home, and their families walk through stories and experiences that many would find hard to imagine. So, supporting law enforcement families is one of the most valuable investments you can make, and it isn’t difficult to do. Simply reach out directly to your local police department and ask how you can support police marriage enrichment or financial courses. If your church has a counseling ministry, offer to open its doors to first responders and their families and let the various departments know what is available. And you can even start a Firstline trauma healing course to reach directly to those who have been affected by on-the-job stress and trauma.
Supporting those who have suffered injustice:
- Showing support for those who have suffered injustice begins with an acknowledgement that they have indeed suffered. It continues when we help guide them out of their suffering and help them find purpose in their pain. When we can offer help and healing in a practical way, we build relationships that will withstand the ups and downs of media headlines. Most importantly, when tragedy strikes, we will have built a community of people to have honest conversations with, providing an opportunity to shape our own opinions rather than simply sharing the sensationalized opinions of others.
- The loss of trust in those with power will change the course of a person’s life. Calling 911 may be routine to many but could feel like a huge risk to someone who has suffered at the hands of authority. The best way to help restore trust is to build relationships and sacrifice your time, money and energy by serving. If there is a neighborhood nearby that has a history of conflict with law enforcement, find opportunities to partner with local outreaches and serve the youth in these communities. Show them that you are there to support them and believe in their future.
- As we truly love others, our perspective changes from one of blame and condemnation to one of justice and grace. We love people when we listen to them and try to understand. Take time to educate yourself about those who have had different life experiences than you. This can be done through a program like Be The Bridge. Connecting in this way allows us to serve, learn and grow.
The Church cannot afford to sit back and remain quiet on these issues, nor can we simply turn it into a matter of politics, pitting one side against the other. Evangelist Billy Graham was once asked which political party he supported. His response? “I am not for the left wing or the right wing, I’m for the whole bird.”
Today’s divisive culture provides Christians a unique opportunity to help bring true reconciliation and healing to hurting men, women, and families on both sides of this contentious issue.
Will we answer the call?
ADAM LAVIGNE is the Expansion Coordinator for the REBOOT Alliance.
EVAN OWENS is the Executive Director of the REBOOT Alliance and the co-founder of REBOOT Combat Recovery and Firstline.
 Zauzmer, Julie. “Churches Make a Drastic Pledge in the Name of Social Justice: To Stop Calling the Police.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 Apr. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/04/19/churches-make-a-drastic-pledge-in-the-name-of-social-justice-to-stop-calling-the-police/?utm_term=.058c30f54937.