By God’s ordination civil authorities wield deadly force. Even so, they should not “bear the sword in vain,” but do so as “servants of God, avengers who carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). Police officers with guns are not the problem. How police use their guns is a concern. Perhaps also the number and kind of guns the police possess should also be discussed. There’s been a lot of talk about the militarization of the police. Surely there is a time to beef up the protection and force the police use, especially when there are riots. But over the past decade or so we have seen, apart from any genuine need, the increased militarization of the police in our country. What is the justification for this? Violent crime has been steadily decreasing in America. So why are our local police forces suited up for battle? Don’t get me wrong. My militarization comments only apply to the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting, not the incident itself. My main point here is that the police have a right to use lethal force and are given rules of engagement for its proper use. Christians should have no problem with that.
Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson Police officer. Whether the officer who shot Michael Brown was justified in his use of lethal force is the big question right now. Parents, relatives, and friends have a right to insist on an investigation into the circumstances. And it’s understandable that the family is looking to avenge the death of Michael and assume that he was unjustly murdered. That they have elevated this incident into an example of racism is regrettable, but hardly surprising. But whether they are justified in this accusation against the officer is the real question.
In biblical law the relatives of someone killed had the duty to avenge the death of their “brother.” The one who prosecuted the vengeance was actually called an “avenger of blood” (Numbers 35:9-34). But the alleged murderer had rights, too. No one was to be judicially sentenced to death apart from a trial and the compelling evidence of two or three witnesses (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6). So when the close relative came after the alleged murderer the accused was allowed to flee to a “city of refuge” where the avenger of blood could not touch him until there was a fair trial. All of this took time and careful investigation, including the calling of and weighing of the testimony of witnesses. That is what is going on right now in St. Louis. A grand jury is being presented with the evidence. Currently no one outside of the grand jury knows what actually happened. We get bits and pieces leaked to us from the news media every day, but we simply don’t know the whole story. We have to wait for that. So does the family. So do the protesters.
We should not be naïve. Certain types of people are drawn to these kinds of public events for all kinds of nefarious reasons. The Bible calls these characters “sons of Belial” (Judges 19:22; 2 Chr. 13:7). They always seem to gravitate to mobs where they can engage in violence anonymously (Acts 17:5). Violent and lawless men like this agitate for their own selfish ends. Christians should be asking God to “break the teeth” of these ungodly men (Psalm 3:7; 58:6). The peaceful protestors are showing solidarity with the family in desiring for justice. That’s okay. The family occupies the place of the “avengers of blood” in the old biblical justice system. The community is standing with them. And the local and State prosecutors will take up their cause. But the looters and violent rioters have no place in this process and will bring destruction on their own heads, to say nothing of the havoc they are creating in the Ferguson community.
And we also need to prepare for the possibility that we may never get the real story. The fog of racial politics is billowing all around this investigation. Justice is supposed to be blind. The race, economic status, etc. of the parties involved in this case ought to be bracketed in the investigation and trial. But, of course, this has become the headline concern. And it will only serve to add confusion to the core issue in this case. Add to this the temptation for police departments and DA offices to protect their own. Throw into the pot the national news coverage, the insertion of the Feds into the case, the fear of a politically incorrect outcome to the investigation, and one wonders if we will ever really get an accurate account of what transpired between the officer and Michael Brown. We hope so. But one thing is certain: don’t expect to discover what actually happened listening to the day-by-day news coverage on TV.
Moreover, taking the fight (which ever side you are on) to social media will not make any difference in the outcome. Posting comments on Facebook may give you a good feeling, but it really doesn’t change anything. These new media outlets are not good for much else than the proverbial “sound bites.” This is a matter that calls for serious investigation and analysis, something that Facebook and Twitter cannot sustain.
The one thing we can do as Christians is exercise our prophetic calling and petition God to act. Remember, as prophets we are trusted members of God’s heavenly council, and that privileged status allows us to petition him on matters that pertain to the administration of his world. And the petition for “justice” is one that is found all through the Bible. Consider Luke 18:1-8
And Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me vengeance against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God avenge his chosen ones, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.
We should also not forget the individuals and families involved in this mess. Events like this tend to become iconic and then used by politicians and social activists to further their own causes. The actual people affected by the shooting, the riots, and the unrest get lost in the circus of political posturing. Petition God for mercy on the officer, his family, the Brown family, the store owners who have been looted, and the entire community of Ferguson that will likely not get over these past weeks for many years.