In my county, there’s a massive Hispanic population and many of the churches have risen to meet this need in spite of the behavior of local cops. One of them has an all-Spanish Sunday school led by a Coluobian man. Another does outreach through parties like Cinco de Mayo (which only Mexicans celebrate, by the way). A third megachurch, for a time, had an all-Spanish service.
That didn’t last long.
The service didn’t end because it was unpopular or because old church ladies complained. It didn’t end because they switched their missiology halfway through. It ended because the local police would wait outside when the service ended and check for illegal aliens. People were getting turned in and so the eldership decided to stop the service. Whether it was a “well no one’s coming anymore so we might as well stop” decision or a “this is wrong—we need to give them their anonymity back” decision, I don’t know. I do know at least one elder from that church and he’s a great man, so I’d probably favor the latter, give them the benefit of the doubt.
But back to the police. If you’re a Christian in the police force, hang tight for a second. I promise we’ll get to you…
This handcuffing, brow-beating behavior doesn’t surprise me. Others might mention how the church is beginning to get persecuted in America and we should fight fire with fire and all of that nonsense, but not me. I’m disinterested in militias, primarily because they don’t work. I’m interested in the persecuted. I’m interested in stories like that of my white American friend who was beaten with rods by a white American man in Texas simply for being a Christian. This stuff doesn’t surprise me, especially among men who have been issued clubs, tazers, and firearms by the state. I’ve never believed that a Barney Fife standard exists for the typical American police force. According to research, the American police – in general – have been historically militant and are becoming increasingly so. They have also have been historically against the oppressed cultures but are rapidly growing in that trend. It’s gotten bad enough that a rapper decided to make a less-explicit-but-still-pretty-explicit revision of a previous song. He made it into a music video named “Film the Police, ” which encouraged his viewers to… well… video tape them. Some tech company accommodated the American police force by enabling them to turn off the recording function on smart phones whenever they please. Other policemen try to intimidate people who have caught terrible behavior on video.
Look, I’m not trying to be superlative. (This is where you come in, Christians currently in the police force). I’m not saying good police officers don’t exist. I knew several growing up. One was named Chris Tanner and the man, as often as I stopped to check, handled his job with integrity and grace. I would refer to Chris with the honorable “police officer” or “officer of the law” rather than the negative-implying “cop.” I loved Chris. Still do. Talk to him every chance I get.
Also, I currently don’t live in the city, but out in the county where you can burn tires in barrels (I don’t, but I could). Out in the badlands, I’m further grateful for the two Jasper County officers who showed up to help me solve the mystery of the dumped bicycles and the mystery of the drunk cowboy who cried, “Lost my horse! Lost my horse!” and the mystery of the gunshots and revved two-stroke engines that sounded like dirt bikes. Those two officers give me some hope for kindness in the American Police Force.
If I didn’t have Chris or my local detectives for examples, I’d look to Reddit where people try hard to offset the sea of bad-cop stories with good-cop stories. So yes, my view of the American police force is holistic.
That said, such things are contrary to the norm. The norm is brutality. The norm is favoritism. The norm is hypocrisy. It’s like playing duck-duck-goose looking for the good guys out there, so the norm doesn’t surprise me.
Because people are consistently brutalizing one another, playing favorites, and acting like childish hypocrites. Power and money simply magnify and amplify the effect, and in a small town, or even in many cities, few people have more day-to-day power than the police. Just ask any meth addict who’s trying to go clean and get her kids back. The foster system does not work in your family’s favor in Jasper county—my source being a man who worked in the system for a long, long time. But again, doesn’t surprise me.
However, let’s stop to consider something.
Jesus offered us a radical new norm—giving grace and taking pain where we would harm. Giving gratitude and justice where we would “pervert justice, either by favoring the poor or by becoming subservient to the great.” Giving brokenness over sin where we would continue in our hypocrisy. That’s what people don’t realize: it’s not that the church is full of hypocrites. It’s that the world is full of hypocrites and the church is in the world. It starts with repentance, from Pope to pauper. Pope Francis understands this. He is a man, therefore a sinner. “Pray for me, ” he asks, which comes from the sacrament of confession, the penitent says to the priest:
“Pray for me, a sinner.”
And the priest responds, “Go (or abide) in peace, and pray for me, a sinner.” Because there’s no distinction between them. It takes confession and repentance to crack things like favoritism and out-wronging our enemy. We’d rather nurse our secret sins than confess.
Which brings us to hypocrisy over the “alien among you.” People don’t realize, but the command to love your neighbor is the exact same command as love your enemy. Both infinite in their simplicity. Both impossible to fulfill without drawing upon the power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. But aside from those similarities, they are the same.
Because your enemy is always close, and not because “you keep your friends close and your enemies closer, ” that’s nonsense. Your enemy is close because your enemy was once your friend. Satan was an angel. Eve was Adam’s wife. Cain was Abel’s brother. Magneto was Xavier’s best friend and fellow mutant. Your enemy starts out as your roommate. Your wall mate (in the dorms), your fellow dorm mate, your colleague, your fellow student, your running partner. Our enemies are always the people living on that side of our campus, that end of our neighborhood, that side of our railroad tracks, that street in our city, that side of our state, that state in our country, that country next door in our continent, that part of the world, and one day it will probably extend even to that planet in our system. Your neighbor can be your friend or your foe, but at some point because of sin, trust will be broken and you will have to make a decision to forgive, to love, to welcome in your neighbor—your marital, domestic, municipal, informal, formal, national, international, galactic neighbor. Which always means welcoming in the foreigner. I’m a married man—if my wife ain’t the same as me, ain’t nobody the same as me.
So we could make an argument that Christians welcome in, for instance, local Hispanics simply because they’re a neighbor and we’re commanded to love them. But the verses keep coming.
It’s interesting to me that the New English Bible translates that “love your neighbor as yourself” like this: “love him as a man like yourself.” Gender neutrality aside, “love him as a man like yourself” means “love him for your shared humanity.” One of the founders of my Alma Mater once said, “Thanks brother, ” to a waiter at a restraint.
The super-Christian he was with said, “How do you know he’s a believer?”
The founder said, “Well if I didn’t hit him in Jesus, I hit him in Adam.” We love the foreigner because, as much as it would offend the Dowager Countess’ sensibilities, they’re human like us: they eat, sleep, crap, weep, laugh, express, create, and love like us. As Robin Williams once said, “My all-time favorite sound is the fart. It’s the most humanizing sound in the world. Every one from Jesus to Hitler did it. You know the Pope’s farted on his throne before, reading in Latin and letting out a squeak.” Call it fluffing or tooting or point instead, if you’re of the Victorian nicety type, to love and joy. Whatever you do, know that we share our humanity.
Which, further, “When an alien settles with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. He shall be treated as a native born among you, and you shall love him as yourself, because you were aliens in Egypt.” We not only share our humanity, we share in our slavery. We were given citizenship in a real, political, tangible and spiritual kingdom called The Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, we Christians have no such things as foreigners. We treat them as natives. As one of our own. We invite in the stranger because we were strangers. We treat them as one of our own because we were treated as one of God’s own. That word hospitality? It’s philaxenon in Greek: love for stranger people, love for foreigners. We Americans? We practice xenophobia instead.
Which brings us to Jesus who, while we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us. We die, suffer, give of ourselves to our foreigners, neighbors, and enemies simply because without such a love in the universe, we’d all be goners. You can, in fact, draw a very clean line:
- All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…
- …who loved the world that He sent His only son to die that we might have life…
- …even while we were still His enemies…
- …so love your neighbor and foreigner and enemy as yourself, because you were once enemies of God, strangers in a strange land, and have been made His neighbors, or in other words…
- …forgive as you have been forgiven, for if you do not forgive men their sins, you will not be forgiven of your sins.
So whether the Jasper county police decide to do good or evil, my job’s the same. It was the same for healthy Christians in the underground railroad. It was the same for Christians in Nazi Germany who invited in the Jews. It was the same for Rahab who let in the foreigners… who happened to be Jews as well. And it’s the same in stories like Jean Valjean’s. That local church demonstrated this principle for me this week. As a member of the Kingdom, I cannot change my role. As a member of the kingdom, I must put a higher priority upon inviting in the alien and on speaking out whenever and wherever I see people ignoring this task, cops included.
Because I’m a strange sinner, yet Jesus keeps making me more and more normal like Him, more and more native to His homeland rather than native to mine.
Said simpler: there is no such thing dual citizenship in Heaven. That’s a theological lie told to passive people who refuse to change. Paul simply wielded a piece of paper that said “Roman Citizen” in the same way he wielded tent pegs. Make no mistake: Paul was part of the Kingdom of Heaven and for that, for claiming Christ as Caesar, for claiming Christ had removed the “dividing walls of hostility, ” he was beheaded. People with dual citizenship are at the top of the list for potential insurgents, potential spies, because your allegiance is never divided. We don’t think in terms of blasphemy these days, but we do think in terms of treason. There are many people, conservatives and liberals, who have committed treason in the Kingdom of Heaven, who have betrayed Jesus as Judas but have not accepted forgiveness for their treason as Peter. They choose democracy over theocracy and political power over passionately accepting persecution. No, there isn’t dual citizenship. There is only a Kingdom of those who have accepted this grand, open invitation to love and be loved, to no longer be a foreigner, to no longer think in terms of foreigners.
And then everyone else who clings to the Earthly divisions of citizenship.