By Nathan Barton
Author’s Note: As we see the uptick in cops getting killed, cops killing others, terrorism, and the associated screams and panic, it is important to look at some basic principles regarding justice, law enforcement, and related matters. As always, I view matters from both a christian and an anarchist’s point of view. Be warned: This is a very religious commentary. I think it is of interest to both non-Christians (especially those trying to explain liberty to Christians) and to not-religious people who want to better understand religion and liberty. As always, feel free to pass on.
A rebuttal: Christians and Law Enforcement
The website “GotQuestions.Org” asked the Question: “What does the Bible say about law enforcement / the police?”
Their Answer: It’s fairly well known that God gave a set of laws and with it guidelines for the enforcement of those laws. Not only did the Mosaic Law define sin, but it specified penalties for those who broke the Law. Any law is essentially meaningless without enforcement. The people in Bible times may not have had a police force as we think of one today, but they definitely had those who promoted justice by enforcing the law. The Bible’s references to watchmen (Ezekiel 33:6), armed guards (Nehemiah 4:13), and judges (Ezekiel 44:24 and the whole book of Judges) could be seen as examples of law enforcement.
God is a God of justice (Deuteronomy 32:4), and He demands justice of His people: “Follow justice and justice alone” (Deuteronomy 16:20). This command implies the necessity of law enforcement. God has always given the responsibility of enforcing the law (and thereby maintaining justice) to man. “Defend the weak and the fatherless; / uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. / Rescue the weak and the needy; / deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3–4).
Romans 13 deals with submission to government authorities, and the same passage is instructive on the purpose of law enforcement and police work: “Rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. . . . The one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:3–4). Police officers or peace officers represent the “rulers” mentioned in this passage and extend their authority.
Therefore, a Christian involved in law enforcement or police work is doing a good and godly thing. The police officer who enforces the just law of the land should consider himself or herself God’s servant and, toward the lawbreaker, an agent of God’s wrath sent to keep the peace. One of the most important jobs of every police officer is the restraint of evil in society—a dangerous career, a noble calling, and a profession congruent with a biblical desire for justice and righteousness.
My Response to Their Answer: (There are many ways to respond, including simply that “man cannot serve two masters,” and that the very existence of human government is evil and rebellion to God. But I selected a more tactful approach.)
First note that of the seven scriptural citations used, seven are from the Old Law, which has been replaced by the New Covenant, the law of Christ Jesus. Under the law of Moses, the human government WAS God’s government, “church and state” were united. Today, God enforces His law, the law of Christ, and He does that through His providence and ultimately on the Day of Judgment.
Second note the emphasis in the passages on justice, defense, and rescue: none of these need the organization(s) of the state and law enforcement for followers of God to honor and apply. We are to apply God’s principles of justice, defense, rescue, and deliverance in our daily lives and actions. We are no more authorized to “delegate” that work to police and courts than we are to delegate our obligations to praise God, remember Jesus’ sacrifice, and preach; to choirs, priests, or hirelings. It is not really necessary to point out that virtually ALL of the laws and “justice” that law enforcement and courts mete out is HUMAN law and not only not of God, but ungodly. Indeed, in human history much “justice” has been served by governments to punish people for SERVING and OBEYING God. And continues to be the case today.
Third note that the twisting of Romans chapter 13, though common and accepted, is a sinful use of God’s word to “prove” what is not in context with the rest of Scripture. The “rulers” in Romans 13 are those who meet the standard established by God, and stated in part in that very passage: those who “hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.” Those who are “God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer…” There have been, undoubtedly, those who met those standards in the past, and may be today, but that cannot be said for 99.999% of current human governments (from the lowliest of special districts to the Halls of Congress or Parliament) and police agencies today.
Someone who rejects the very existence of the Creator cannot be His Servant, no matter how much His tool they may be. Those who consistently fail to punish wrongdoers while terrorizing those who do right are in no way rulers which followers of God are commanded – by Him – to obey or honor more than decency demands. And even if one DOES believe that this and other passages demand that God’s servants obey human, earthly rulers (who are noted elsewhere as Satan’s servants) in anything not explicitly (and “with two or more witnesses”) demonstrated to be in violation of God’s laws, there is NOTHING in this passage that states that His people should be servants or supporters of “public” law enforcement.
So with each basis of their question refuted, the conclusion in the last paragraph cannot be supported. It is NOT necessarily (and indeed, highly unlikely) that it is “doing a good or godly thing” to be involved in (human) law enforcement, not just in 21st Century America or Britain, but at any time through history. It is not the “just law” that is to be enforced by the officer: it is God’s law that is enforced by… God. Those who are God’s servants do not “enforce” His law: we FOLLOW God’s law.
If we wish to keep the peace, restrain evil in society, have a dangerous career and a noble calling, and follow “a progression congruent with a biblical desire for justice and righteousness,” then police work, or even court work is NOT what we should seek. We should preach the Word, proclaim Christ’s message of salvation, love, and peace “in season and out of season,” rebuke, reprove and exhort, one by one, house by house, block by block, community by community. And individually and voluntarily join together to defend the weak and the fatherless, uphold the cause of the poor and oppressed, rescue the weak and the needy, and deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Day by day, from whatever wicked oppressors there be, whether elected or appointed, in uniform or in masks. (And if we want to really live dangerously, the places most dangerous to carry God’s word today in the Fifty States and Britain is the very courts and police stations and flash mobs of blue and black. And perhaps there our preaching can make the most difference, as well as the blood we can expect to pay there.)
And we do NOT fight evil by joining with it or compromising with it. The state is evil and, whether we recognize that because we are followers of God or not, we believe in human liberty and must stand opposed to the state, to human government, and to those who seek to control us.
Mama’s Note: Amen to that last especially. As long as we don’t attempt to control others, and are free to defend ourselves against those who do try it, our beliefs in god or most other things will not enter into it.
After half a lifetime studying and seeking fulfillment in organized religion, I have become a mere agnostic and reject all organized religion. I’m still listening to the creator… but I have no desire to be preached at. I also have no desire to harm those who preach. Live and let live. Let non-aggression rule our thoughts, words and deeds… Those who do will live in peace. Those who do not will bear the consequences, one way or another.