What is the Christian response to police violence?

Our compassion teams asked the question this week and here’s my answer.

I grew up surrounded by military ideology, and from a very young age I sensed that it did not match with the way of Jesus. Jesus raised people from the dead, and was raised himself, so I came to know God as the life-giver and sustainer. That matched with everything I knew from creation, even in my own body. The military, on the other hand, used the power to kill in order to protect national interests, which were mostly about property and other economic resources building and maintaining American supremacy. However well-sounding the interests were sold to me, like my own “freedom,” the loss of any human life did not seem comparable to those interests. Life is an irreplaceable gift from God for all people.

Policing in the United States was developed, trained, and weaponized for essentially the same purpose as the military: to protect the economic interests of those in power. The history texts are clear that more than crime control, a system of social control was needed to maintain an orderly work force for business and commerce. From slavery in the American south to the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution, policing was a response to protect mercantile growth and the inequality in labor it required. The construct of whiteness and sexism were tools of the economy, and the system was maintained under a guise of moral superiority, triumphalism, and exceptionalism. The violence of it was mostly hidden from white Americans.

But police with military training and weaponry to protect wealth = a government quite literally at war with its own people, especially with those who are closest to the means of production. This disproportionately targets black and brown communities and individuals. The ideology of racism that legislated the abuse of BIPOC has been enforced by policing for centuries, and in spite of some new laws it is still perpetuated by implicit bias, as we’ve seen all over the news this year.

So the Christian response to police violence is first an acknowledgement of these facts. It is not a condemnation on individual police or military personnel; it is a recognition of the purpose and function of the institutions. From recognition comes grief: we grieve the loss of life, especially with our black and brown siblings who experience the threat of police violence all the time. And finally, we take non-violent action together as a church community. The non-violent action we’ve taken so far over the years has included protest and lobbying toward institutional change and joining with others who are doing it, as well as personal support and advocacy for victims and their families in our neighborhoods. And of course, prayer! Sometimes all together in front of police headquarters.

This year brings new awareness in our country and renewed grief and passion in our church. We feel the pain and the fear as well as the longing for change. At times the differences in our experiences and knowledge and communication adds to the pain. I pray for a way to carry each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ, which is so different than the law of the land. We need a new law, a new covenant of love that is bigger and more trustworthy and more full of understanding than any we have known before. Lord, bring an end to police violence and all violence among us. Help us to see and love each other fully.