Recent events bring to mind a recurring theme in scripture, a phrase which captures the predicament of a society lacking a foundational morality and a trust in the rule of law. The targeting of police officers due to alleged racism is a perfect example of a certain kind of lawlessness, a rejection of the idea that reform is possible in society, and a desire to force your vision of justice on an unjust world.
Judges 17:6 explains, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This phrase also repeats at the end of the book, in Judges 21:25, and it explains the mindset of a people unmoored from the basic order of society.
Both passages point to the injustice which follows when people act on their own vision of what is right, divorced from the social fabric and the rule of law. In scripture, the emphasis is on rejecting God’s law and following an incomplete human understanding, but it can also be applied to situations like ours, where men and women take the law into their own hands.
While cases like those of Eric Garner in New York, Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Minnesota arguably show an abuse of force among police officers, the idea that such cases prove all police to be racially biased against black people is false.
Nevertheless, the Black Lives Matter narrative — launched on lies about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which have been publicly proven false by no less than the FBI — continues to dominate outlets like The New York Times, and speeches from President Barack Obama. Countless assertions that law enforcement and cities like Ferguson are hopelessly biased against black people are made without sufficient evidence to back them up.
Then real cases of police abuse against black people seem to confirm the narrative, while cases of such abuse against whites are neglected. But then the anger against police leads some to take the law into their own hands, and murder officers in cold blood: a year before the Dallas shootings, NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were murdered by a protester.
While there are very many legitimate concerns brought up by the movement (and most protesters do not support attacks on police by any means), fellow travelers have stoked an anger and suspicion against the police which threatens the basic fabric of our society. If people become so convinced that the rule of law is broken and that law enforcement is irredeemably racist, is it any wonder that they lash out, doing “what is right in their own eyes”?
This is not to exempt conservatives who follow the same line of reasoning, however. There have been cases where pro-life advocates take the law into their own hands to murderous effect, and we must be as clear in condemning abortion clinic bombings as we are in condemning the shooting of police officers in Dallas.
So what’s the solution?
Our country needs to renew its belief in the rule of law, and that has become increasingly difficult as conservatives and liberals become increasingly polarized. We all have the right to free speech and free expression, but we cannot allow our own certainty in our beliefs to trample our respect for the rights of others, especially when it comes to their lives.
If we take the law into our own hands, we may see ourselves as vigilantes, but we may in fact become murderers. The American form of government was built on the premise that the people are the ultimate authority and it is structured to enable reform through various means: from basic voting to our First Amendment rights of religion, petition, assembly, free speech, and a free press.
Scripture warns about taking the law into our hands, and becoming a law unto ourselves. When the Jews did this in Judges, they ended up perverting religion and mistreating one another. Romans 1 explains that when people reject God’s law, God delivers them up to horrible passions which result in more pain, suffering, and even violence.
But Romans 2:14 talks about a different version of law — the basic morality that all people have in common. Saint Paul wrote that “Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires.” Christians need not insist on a theocracy, because we believe in a common morality held by all people. Conscience can be twisted to support horrible perversions such as the murder of abortionists and police officers, but a pluralistic society of people of many differing faiths is possible, because the basic framework of morality is shared by everyone.
We may disagree about whether or not police value black lives, but we all agree that they should. We may disagree about when life begins, but we all agree that it should be protected. Our laws are far from perfect, but there is a way for us to improve them, however difficult and frustrating it may be.
As Christians, we know the cause of such anger and confusion — it is sin, separation from God and His love. When the Roman Empire oppressed the Jewish people in the first century, A.D., God did not tell the Jews to strike back at their oppressors. Instead, he sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of the whole world and to rise again.
God reconciled us to Himself, and provided the true answer to all injustice. Jesus himself told us to pray for our enemies. If a first century Jew oppressed by the Romans and gruesomely put to death could urge his followers to do that, surely we can pray for our countrymen, no matter how much we disagree with their opinions.
If Jesus can forgive the people who put him to death, surely we can forgive those who mistreat us, and pray even for the wicked people who kill in service of their own view of justice. Let us submit ourselves to His love, as we submit ourselves to His mercy, and find a way toward healing.
There will always be injustice in this world, but let us be the answer by loving our neighbors, preaching the gospel, and working within the system for reform. Do not become yet another addition to the confusion and misery by taking the law into your own hands.