July 02, 2004
The blue religion

I have started on the Yoder book, and will blog on it later today when I'm home from work. But in the meantime, Andi and Jeanne are both blogging on a story that has Yoder's issues written all over it.

A Christian police officer in New York is on trial for disobeying a direct order in refusing to go along with a clean-up-the-streets initiative that gives the homeless the options of a shelter or jail. I agree with Andi and Jeanne that he seems like a great guy, and I wouldn't mind having him working my precinct.

But there's a larger, thornier problem here: do we really want police officers deciding not to arrest people based on friendship and personal conviction? This is, after all, basically the same reason why policemen have historically failed to arrest lynchers, gay-bashers, wife-beaters and misbehaving fellows officers. So this is nothing really new, except that this officer's convictions are of the sort a liberal can love.

Back in that 2002 discussion on Christian pacifism at Clutter that I linked in the last post, one question that came up is whether there are jobs that Christians simply shouldn't do. Telford's attitude is yes, there are, and police officer is one of them. This was not only because the job sometimes necessitates violence, but because it demands obedience to an authority that is not God. The article spells it out:

To the Police Department, an order is an order, and officers are not given leeway to choose which ones they follow.

"The Police Department is a quasi-military organization where disobeying a superior's lawful order is a serious offense," said Paul J. Browne, the deputy commissioner for public information.

It's no accident that police work, like military service, has such a powerful subcultural code of conduct that Michael Connelly calls it "the blue religion." It is the nature of the job. Legislators make the law, judges interpret it; policemen simply enforce it. Obedience, that most politically incorrect of virtues, is simply a must.

St. Paul, in Romans 13, (in)famously enjoined Christians to obey civil authorities, as they were "instituted by God." However, it is clear from elsewhere in the epistles, as well as in Paul's own behavior, that he did not mean that Christians should obey laws when they violate the faith (such as worshipping the emperor). Officer Delacruz disobeyed the emperor for what seems to me like a good reason, but he did this after swearing an oath to uphold and defend the emperor, so to speak.

Anyway, I imagine Yoder has much to say about this kind of thing. I'll read more and get back to the subject.

Posted by Camassia at July 02, 2004 10:56 AM | TrackBack

I'll have to think what Yoder will say. Telford Work's assertion that certain occupations are off-bounds to Christians can be supported from historical evidence, but I wonder why being a policeman is any less a noble calling that directing a Fortune 500 company.

Officer Delacruz has the responsibility to make discernments regarding what he is ordered to do -- in the same way that soldiers, at least Christian soldiers, must do: There is no excuse, in heaven or under the Geneva Conventions, in "I was just following orders." Any oath that a Christian takes is ultimately conditioned by the ultimate oath of his or her baptism.

My question is why all those so-called "liberal Christians" who will sing Delacruz's praises are not out with checkbooks in hand to make up the lost pay that this brother incurred as punishment for taking Jesus' commands seriously.

If someone gives me his address, I'll send him the first contribution.


Posted by: Dwight on July 6, 2004 12:14 PM

I know the Nuremberg defense doesn't work, but this isn't Auschwitz we're talking about here. The charge is refusing to obey a lawful order, and this was indeed lawful, even if it wasn't very nice.

I also can't agree that his loyalty oath should have been 'conditioned' on his baptism. I don't think it's honest, really, to take an oath with an unspoken condition that your listeners don't know about and can't predict. It seems to me that you should either mean an oath or not take it at all.

The point I'm trying to make is not that Delacruz should have obeyed an order if he genuinely believed it was un-Christian. It was that this conflict was probably inevitable and it says something unfortunate that neither he nor his church saw it coming or was prepared to deal with it. I hope this will start a conversation in his church (whatever it is) about these very questions, so everybody won't be caught by surprise the next time around. (And I agree, I hope the church would support his family should he lose his career.)

Posted by: Camassia on July 6, 2004 12:54 PM
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