Biblical Scholar, Seminary Professor, Episcopal Priest

A Gospel of Policing: Serve with Integrity

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Luke 3:14 Soldiers Police officers asked John the Baptizer, God’s servant, “And we, what should we do (since we have been moved by the Gospel to be baptized)?” S/he said to them, “Serve with integrity.”*

*Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.

When I was an army chaplain I called this the Soldier’s Gospel. It was important for soldiers to see and hear that their military service was not prohibited by their faith, particularly at a time when non-violence is often lifted up as the only way for Christian, religious or other ethically guided people.

Serve with integrity.

I find myself turning back to that text in these evil days. The models of policing that are dominating our public and private spaces are thuggish, brutal and lethal. And, they are shaped by the racism that pervades our country and our institutions so that individual police officers, without regard to their own ethnicity, violently perpetuate institutional racism. Yet neither policing nor police officers are inherently evil. They are part of a system, of structures which shape their policies and tactics and their own perceptions and responses.

Serve with integrity.

Perpetuating race-based stereotypes is not serving with integrity. Integrity is a difficult path. It means acknowledging and dealing with your own individual racism and that of the system in which you live and work. It means taking a hard look at your own arrest statistics and those of your department. It means coming to terms with the way your own biases shape the way you see, respond and police. It means operating against your biases against black bodies – seeing black boys as men, black girls as promiscuous, black women as prostitutes and black men as thugs. Serving with integrity means holding yourself, your sister and brother officers and your department to a higher standard.

Serve with integrity.

The work of dismantling racism and reversing its programming in public and private, individual and corporate. Police officers have a sacred trust and responsibility to protect and serve, assess, de-escalate and respond appropriately. Lethal violence should always be a last resort.

Officers, we need you. We need to be able to trust you. In the name of all that is holy and humane: Serve with integrity.

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