Romans 13:4 advises Christians “For 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.”
This often-overlooked passage is explained by biblical scholars in the following way: “Paul has written that, by doing good in our communities, we can live without fear of those in authority. It is the God-given role of those in authority to keep order in the community; this is part of how God limits the influence of evil in the world.” In other words, law enforcement fulfills a biblical role in combatting evil.
As it further says in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.” This verse is often interpreted to refer to the Holy Spirit’s work in mitigating lawlessness and disorder in our fallen world. Police departments are but one earthly agent that can be used to accomplish that purpose.
From these passages, we can see that, in the view of Christianity, law enforcement exists to preserve order in society and to promote God’s peace in the world. Members of the police department are thus given a sacred charge as agents of order. Sadly, many have taken a narrow view of police departments that fails to account for their peacekeeping role. Many do not understand the value of law enforcement within a Christian framework.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, there have been some reactionary activists who have called for police departments to be abolished altogether. Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles, heatedly called on religious clergy to stand with the movement to abolish police departments by demeaning efforts at reforming law enforcement. In her words: “What kind of idiocy is it to say that we are going to reform a remnant of chattel slavery?”
Similarly, another activist, Andrea Ritchie, a researcher for Interrupting Criminalization at Barnard College has recently argued in an NBC News article that the concept of a police force needs to be abolished altogether because she sees it as an inherently violent institution.
Sadly, this kind of rhetoric has allowed anarchist groups to hijack the outrage over George Floyd’s murder to serve their own purposes. These groups seem to be delighted with a world in confusion and chaos rather than peace and stability for the purpose of selfish gain.
There are certainly bad police officers and instances of injustice, nonetheless, there would be many more injustices if there was no arm of government to defend lawfulness. Without anyone to enforce them, laws themselves would become meaningless.
These proposals offer little in the way of a substantive solution and take a misguided view of the proper role of law enforcement. Despite Abdullah’s claims regarding chattel slavery, the reality is that many American police departments became fixtures of large cities, not to catch runaway slaves, but to control disorder that inevitably arose because of population density.
As Christians, we cannot accept the rhetoric that police departments are merely perpetrators of violence. They are institutions that have been sanctioned by God to preserve peace and justice in our earthly societies. We should not abolish nor defund them. While there certainly needs to be accountability and oversight, throwing the baby out with the bathwater is short-sighted and misguided.