What happened to the ‘good’ in ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’?
When I make presentations for Peace Officer Ministries at churches and community groups, I usually open with the question: “How many of you have called the police this week and said, “My spouse and I are getting along great, my children are obedient and brought home straight A’s and all my neighbors love me. Could you send over a couple of officers so we can have some tea and share with them all that goodness?” Never? Yeah, well I never received that call either!
We chuckle at that idea because it seems so absurd. We all know that we only call the police when something bad is going on. Even if it’s not murder or mayhem, or some other minor dust-up, the police only get called when things get out of line. So, the person as a police officer might, after hundreds upon hundreds of these calls, wonder if what they are doing is only a necessary evil.
I remember a call I got early in my career while I was working as a patrol officer. The call was that someone had been shot in an apartment complex in my beat. I was not too far away and after acknowledging the dispatcher, I headed to the location of incident. It just so happened, that one of the fire stations was right across the street from the incident and yet, I somehow beat the ambulance to the scene.
I shut my siren off and pulled into the parking lot. I grabbed my night stick (this was before ASP batons!) and put it into its ring on my duty belt. As I approached the building several angry people were in front of the building. They were shouting at me, “What in the *&^%$ are you doing here? We don’t need you. Where’s the ambulance?” I didn’t have much time to process what they were saying at that time and one person pointed out the apartment where the incident occurred.
Several boys had been sitting on a bed in the apartment and somehow got the bright idea to play with a handgun – a revolver. But it was not mere curiosity that had them handling the gun. They began a game of ‘Russian Roulette,” and as you can imagine, I was called to the scene because someone lost. I made my way into the apartment and as moved toward the back bedroom, I instructed the people in the house to go to the front.
There he was, maybe 8 or 10 years old lying on the floor between the bed and the wall. The revolver which had erupted loudly just minutes before now lay quietly on the bed. There was a lot of blood, and the injury to the boy’s head was devastating. He made no noise except for what sounded to me like one last gurgling exhale. The medics arrived and he was pronounced dead on the scene. Other officers arrived and as they began interview people, I stayed in the bedroom. We didn’t need anyone else in the crime scene and since I was already there, watching the room and the boy fell to me. I did have a bit of a helpless feeling as I heard that last gurgle and knew that if the medics couldn’t have done anything, my first aid skills wouldn’t help. (I found out later when I got into the Homicide Unit that it was probably just some remaining air in his lungs making its way out as the chemical changes in his body had already started.)
I had all my issued equipment - clean, dry, and serviceable - I had my training, and my desire to do a good job, but there I stood basically helpless to do anything. I began to think about the greeting I received from the people there. On one hand, looking at that boy, I understood why they were upset. On the other hand, “Hey, I’m one of the good guys coming to try and help!”
I came to learn that in many neighborhoods the police are not seen as heroic figures, but as the ones who have “carted away in handcuffs my dad, my uncle, my brother, etc.” But, it is not only people who are not fond of the police who see them as, at best, avoidable, and at worst a necessary evil. Officers see the bad and the ugly and wonder, where’s the good? As incidents such as this one pile up in an officer’s career he too can begin to see his work, and as an extension, himself as a necessary evil. Some then can find ‘religion’ as being ridiculous and others say, “Oh, I’m too far gone for God.”
Whether Peace Officers, Too, Can Be Saved
What’s a Chaplain (or any Christian) to say? Officers are not looking to have you pat them on the back and say, “it’ll be alright.” They know better. Yet, by recapturing the idea of vocation - that God calls people into whatever work they do for His glory and the good of our neighbor - we can make inroads into how officers perceive their work.
In July of 1525 Assa von Kram, a counselor of Duke Ernst of Braunschweig-Lüneberg, and a professional soldier seemed to have been troubled in conscience trying to reconcile his confession of the Christian faith with his profession as a peace-keeper. He and others urged Martin Luther to publish the views which he had previously shared with them.
The question of whether a Christian might bear arms and be Peace Officers is not simply a conversational or academic matter. This and related questions cannot simply be answered in the solitude of meditation and reflection, but in the crucible of events. The Chaplain can affirm the legitimacy of the Peace Officer’s endeavor. Although we are aware of the effects of The Fall and that the calling to be a Peace Officer can be abused, we must affirm that the abuse of the position does not invalidate its legitimacy and function. Thus, we identify the Peace Officer’s endeavor with the divine institution of the sword to punish evil, protect the good, and preserve peace. (Romans 13) We also help the Peace Officer to understand how to execute his God-given office.
So, Luther’s thoughts on this matter are trenchant for today’s Peace Officers and for the Chaplains who serve them. What follows are excerpts from Luther’s treatise on this question.
“... when I think of a [peace officer] fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish. For if the sword were not on guard to preserve peace, everything in the world would be ruined because of lack of peace.”
“The office of the sword is in itself right and is a divine and useful ordinance, which God does not want us to despise, but to fear, honor, and obey, under penalty of punishment, as St. Paul says in Romans 13 [:1–5]. For God has established two kinds of government among men. The one is spiritual; it has no sword, but it has the word, by means of which men are to become good and righteous, so that with this righteousness they may attain eternal life. He administers this righteousness through the word, which he has committed to the preachers. The other kind is worldly government, which works through the sword so that those who do not want to be good and righteous to eternal life may be forced to become good and righteous in the eyes of the world. He administers this righteousness through the sword.”
“When [conflict arises, Peace Officers] should simply commend themselves to God’s grace and adopt a Christian attitude...everyone should also say this exhortation in his heart or with his lips, ‘Heavenly Father, here I am, according to Your divine will, in the external work and service of my lord, which I owe first to You and then to my lord for your sake. I thank Your grace and mercy that You have put me into a work which I am sure is not sin, but right and pleasing obedience to Your will. But because I know and have learned from Your gracious word that none of our good works can help us and that no one is saved as a [peace officer] but only as a Christian, therefore, I will not in any way rely on my obedience and work, but place myself freely at the service of Your will. I believe with all my heart that only the innocent blood of your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, which He shed for me in obedience to Your holy will. This is the basis on which I stand before You. In this faith I will live and die, fight, and do everything else. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by Your Spirit. Amen.”
Finally, Chaplains, as we serve peace officers, let us “keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints ... that words may be given to ... boldly ... proclaim the mystery of the Gospel ...” (Ephesians 6:18-19)
Stay safe and watch your six!
Rev. Frank C. Ruffatto
Executive Director & Chaplain
Peace Officer Ministries, Inc.