It seems many people in America are currently up in arms over a few millionaire football players who regularly break the Sabbath. Oh, they’re not up in arms over the fact that these men don’t honor the Lord’s Day; they get paid to dishonor God on His day. America is up in arms because these men won’t honor a flag. This article isn’t really about Sabbatarianism, though, so I will dispense with my theological pet peeve.
Addressing the Content
What’s all this about, then? Well, I disagree with the response many people are having to these men for their protest against evil America. Rather than addressing the substance of the arguments made by these football players, many are simply villainizing them, parodying them, and calling them names. Rather than addressing their concerns over the abuses of some police departments, many are whitewashing all lower magistrates as necessary and saintly.
The answer, though, is neither to villainize nor to whitewash our public servants. If I’m honest, I agree on some points with both groups in this debate. Is there too much government at the local level? Yes, and I would argue there is too much government at all levels. On the flip side, are the NFL players who take a knee making the right arguments and provoking conversation rather than polarization? No, all they are doing is provoking and polarizing. So, I agree with neither the players who do this nor the fans who are upset with them. I would argue they are both wrong, because neither is focusing on the real issue.
Perhaps there are too many cops in many of our communities. By that, I don’t mean that there is a surplus of idle police sitting around looking to start trouble. I mean there is too much need for police, so our local governments are often forced to hire too many of them. Perhaps there are too many cops in many of our communities. Is that the cops’ fault? Nope. At the end of the day, as hard as it may sound, we have to admit that it’s the fault of the communities.
Gabe Williams recently posted an article in our Public Theology series on Romans 13. Paul writes, in Romans 13: “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same,” (vs. 3; NASB). As Christians, we recognize the propensity for sin in all men, even civil magistrates. That is why many of us push for less government. However, while sin persists in civil magistrates, it also persists within individuals in the communities governed by those magistrates. Thus, the policing of communities is necessary.
Personal Responsibility and Civic Virtue
Now, when we say that there should be less cops, we should recognize what else we are implying. Anytime less government is desired, more personal responsibility and civic virtue must be promoted alongside it. If we will not police ourselves, someone will police us. God has designed it to be so. The Apostle Paul explains well what I mean by personal responsibility:
“7For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. 10For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good,” (2Thess. 3:7-13; NASB).
Hard work is not a recommendation or a form of legalism to be shunned. Hard work is an expectation for Christians. Christians are not those who live off of others’ hard work. We follow the example of our Lord and of the apostles. Owing everything to Christ, we commit to owe nothing to anyone else (Rom. 13:8). Civic virtue is intrinsically tied in with the idea of personal responsibility. Civic virtue means that we recognize that we owe it to our communities to take personal responsibility and we owe it to our civil authorities to show them proper honor (1Pt. 2:13-17).
Just by way of example, I personally want the government to get out of the education industry, so I homeschool my kids. I want the government to get out of the health industry, so my family is part of a medical co-op. I want care for the poor to be privatized, so I’m committed to only going to the government for financial aid after exhausting all other possibilities. I want less cops pulling me over, frisking me, tailing me, and ticketing me, so I obey the law and encourage my family, friends, and neighbors to do the same.
Less government necessarily requires more civic virtue and personal responsibility, which means more than just voting. We should be able to agree, to a certain extent, with some of the sentiment behind the activism of these NFL players. We don’t have to agree with their villainization of the cops and their chosen method of protest. What we might consider, though, is whether or not less government is a good thing, and what is required in order for that to happen. In considering these things, we might find that we have some common ground on which to start a conversation. We might even be convicted to do our part in policing ourselves so that there might be less need for police officers on the street.
I bring this up, because I often run into people who argue for certain political policies to be handed down from on high in D.C., or the governor’s office, or the mayor’s office. They want less government, whether that be the government getting out of education, getting out of healthcare, or simply reducing the police presence in their community. However, while they say they want the government not to be in education, they use government education. While they say they want government out of healthcare, they use government programs to get their healthcare. While they say we need less cops in our communities, the examples of police overreach to which they point are also usually (not always) examples of men and women who refuse to take personal responsibility for their actions and demonstrate civic virtue. They are attacking cops, telling their kids on camera to fight cops, resisting arrest, etc. When such behavior is defended as merely a case of police overreach, in the eyes of many, it comes to be seen as justified behavior. The behaviors increase, and so do the amount of police officers needed to police communities. Civic virtue apart from personal responsibility is not virtuous at all; it’s hypocrisy.
Of course, we Christians know that any attempt at moral and ethical reformation is futile apart from the work of the gospel on the heart and mind of the believer. Also, we know that sin and irrationality pursues us beyond mere conversion making local church discipleship (primarily through the ordinary means of grace) absolutely necessary for sanctification. Thus, on the part of many, there needs to be a rethinking of mission.
First, there are many who think we simply need to make the right arguments, and communities will begin to police themselves. This thinking is wrong, plain and simple. Lawbreakers will not simply become law-abiding citizens by imposing stricter laws. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them,’” (Gal. 3:10; NASB). They need the gospel—not from the government, but from the church—because God has only guaranteed that true heart change will necessarily happen through the gospel itself.
Second, there are many who think we simply need to make converts and then support them and sympathize with them in their carnal, worldly thinking. This too is wrong. Simply because someone’s experience tells them it is okay to break the law, disrespect authorities, or live off of money taken forcibly from taxpayers does not mean that it is right. Christians are called to have civic virtue and take personal responsibility in this life. True, godly discipleship will emphasize these points (1Pt. 2:13-17), and true disciples will take heed to such teachings from the Bible and mature in these areas over time.
Protecting Victims or Making Them?
However, because there is a cultural element to this, some have chosen to smuggle worldly terminology into this discussion. They will say that such teaching seeks to “assimilate” these cultural creatures into the culture of the church. Since when, though, is discipleship in the apostles’ doctrine to be considered assimilation? Calling men to live according to the dictates outlined in the epistles will be counter-cultural for people coming out of cultures that celebrate rebellion against those dictates.
There seems to be a major call today to justify and defend the lack of responsibility and virtue in new believers because of the environments in which they grew up. Those who neglect the Bible’s teachings on civic virtue and personal responsibility and teach others to do the same are not loving their neighbors. When they argue in such a way as to make those who argue for the doing of good out to be villains pressing for “assimilation,” they are blaspheming the image of God in the men and women they pretend to defend. Truly, by promoting a victim mentality, more victims are made than are actually protected.
In conclusion, are there some communities in the United States where there are too many police officers? Yes. Is this an indictment on the police? No, it’s ultimately an indictment on those communities. What’s the solution? The solution is a combination of the gospel and a thorough discipleship in a truly biblical public theology. Where will those two things occur? They will only occur in biblically-ordered, gospel-centered, word-saturated local churches.
Don’t even get me started on the subject of the over-valuing of bloated Evangelical mega-conferences.