-When six police officers came to my church, handcuffed and seated ten people in the parking lot and threatened them verbally. Ten more officers came, with their lieutenant, who asked me, “Are you the pastor? Does your congregation want people like this here?” I pointed at all the people they had handcuffed and said, “They ARE my congregation.” The lieutenant turned to his officers and said, “We aren’t wanted here, let’s go” and they all released the folks and left. But not before the officer who started it all screamed at my face for “enabling these criminals.”
-The time an officer came to my church, harassing someone on my property. I calmly informed him that people who threaten others aren’t allowed on the property and he would have to stop or leave. He turned on me and said, “Sanctuary, what kind of a name is that”? I said, “It means a place that is safe for people to honor God.” “You mean safe from the authorities?” “Safe from anyone who threatens their well-being.” He huffed off.
-The time a group of officers came to move someone off of our property and they handcuffed and threatened the person in question. I told them not to threaten or harm him. An officer replied to me, “If you really want to help him, you’d send him to jail.” I replied, “Jail isn’t what he needs. He needs the freedom and opportunity to choose mercy and kindness. Jail takes away all choices, not allowing for any real change to happen.”
- An officer comes to our property during a winter shelter and asks if there are any problems. “No problems,” I say, “We work things out ourselves here.” “Well, if you need any help,” he says, “Be sure to call us. We are here to help you workers, not these people,” he points to houseless folk smoking beside the church.
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Byron, a homeless Christian I know, told me, “The church is there to show God’s mercy as an opportunity. When someone isn’t ready for mercy, then God hands them over to the authorities for judgment.
If we are helping people on the margins, we need to remember that the police are for judgement, not for justice. When we call the police, we are enacting the wrath of the world upon the one we are judging, and we may very well be taking their lives in our hands.
The police are not there to protect the margins. They are there to protect the “proper” people, the church going people, the people who sound educated and of a proper class. The people of Jesus are there to support the margins. Perhaps we should let the police do their job, away from where we do ours.