Thursday, August 18, 2016

Does your church have a "Police Not Welcome" Sign?

Mike usually fell asleep during my sermons, and that was okay. It was about twenty years ago; I was serving as interim pastor at the Santa Rosa Evangelical Free Church. I knew Mike, a police officer, worked a graveyard shift Saturday night, and yet he managed to be in the Sunday morning worship service. I tended to preach too long at the time, and Mike may be the only person who really benefited from the long sermons — he got an extended nap time. Mike came to mind recently, when I had the opportunity to meet with Kate Braestrup, a chaplain with the Maine Warden Service and a best selling author. We met in a pub in Camden, Maine.
For the last 25 years, she’s had a connection with law enforcement. Her first husband was a Maine State Trooper who was killed in an on-duty auto accident. Her daughter currently serves in law enforcement. Needless to say, she’s invested in the subject.
It’s always a bit daunting to write about good writers because I wonder if anything I write might be written better by the subject of my writing. (For instance, Kate would no doubt have done a far better job with the previous ungainly sentence.) But I write on, partly because in this time when police officers find themselves in the center of public controversy, I believe the Church needs to consider how we can best minister to these men and women.
So I asked Kate, “How can a church best minister to people in law enforcement?”
“Well, first of all,” she answered, “don’t have a giant Black Lives Matter banner hanging in front of your church.” Kate had mentioned earlier in the evening that something she finds quite desirable in a church is people with a diversity of political and ideological thinking. This kind of banner seems to proclaim, “we welcome people who think about this issue the way we do,” even if another sign that reads, “All Welcome.” Since many in the BLM movement consider the majority in law enforcement racist, such a banner certainly might dissuade a police officer from coming to that church.
I asked Kate what other things might keep a police officer from coming to church. She mentioned that some churches, especially more liberal congregations, “make a big deal about bringing a gun in church.” Churches sometimes designate themselves as “No Gun Zones.” They need to be educated that, for a police officer, the gun is part of the uniform. If you say they can’t bring a gun in the building, you’re saying they can’t come into the church.
She went on to say that churches should be educated on the role of law enforcement in society. “Especially in theologically liberal denominations, police are misunderstood.” She find this most unfortunate because, “It’s good for a church to have police officers around, and good for police officers to go to church.”
I asked her how churches benefit from have police officers. “Police officers are natural theologians. They have to deal with practical issues of theology in their day-to-day experience such as why bad things happen to good people and the problem of evil.” They aren’t dealing with abstractions, but reality. She mentioned her daughter’s work combating child pornography, a very concrete manifestation of evil.
She suggested it would be a good thing for pastors to go on ride alongs with police officers so that the pastors can get a very different perspective on the community than they’re likely to get in their normal vocational pursuits.
I asked her how police officers benefit from church. She said that police officers “deal with people at their worst on a day-to-day basis. At best, they’re dealing with people having a really bad day. It’s good for them to be around people at their best. We are all at our best at church. We may have just been yelling at our kids, but we’re all smiles when we get inside.”
I’d like to interject a kind word for hypocrisy. As Mindy and I have traveled the country, we’ve heard many bemoan the horror of hypocrisy in the church, and we’ve heard plenty of stories about the church being the residence of phonies. And we agree: it’s important that there’s clarity in the church about the sinfulness of each and every one of us. But there is also something to be said for presenting a smile and cheerful greeting to others even when we’re hurting, because it’s not always about ourselves.
Back to Kate.
She also said that police officers might even find encouragement in the church announcements. There are many problems officers see in the community that they can’t address as part of their job. But it can be encouraging to hear that, for instance, people are feeding people or providing activities for neighborhood kids. It can help officers realize that somebody shares the burden they feel for the community.
I mentioned sleeping Mike to Kate and asked if churches should try to adjust their schedules, perhaps offer more services to meet the needs of the varied schedules of those in law enforcement. She said that was probably a losing battle, since many officers have a constantly revolving schedule that’s impossible to consistently match. She also said that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing if it was hard to get to church. Often churches that demand the most are more successful.
She said that even when officers can’t make it to worship services because of their schedules, they often appreciate knowing that a church ministers to their family. Childcare in particular can meet a felt need of families with the sometimes demanding schedules of those in law enforcement.
In Galatians 3:28, the Apostle Paul wrote that in the church “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These days the church should not be about those who believe the philosophy of Black Lives Matter or even Blue Lives Matter, or about community activists or police officers, but the Church should be simply people who love and follow Jesus.

(This piece originally appeared as a Members Post at Ricochet.com)