The Old Testament’s Word to Police: You Answer to God’s Higher Court

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How biblical law can illuminate today’s debates on law enforcement.

Years ago, my family lived in a small house outside of Glasgow, Scotland. I was completing postgraduate work, so most of my time was spent with my family or my books. But as occasion would allow, I also enjoyed hiking with friends in the nearby hills.

On one such outing, two neighbors took me to the Campsie Fells. One of my guides was a university professor; the other was a retired police officer. During our excursion, the retired officer reminisced on his years with the Scottish police force. One question that he posed has stuck with me.

“Why do American police all carry guns?” he asked. After my attempted answer, he offered his own perspective: “We would never consider arming ourselves when I was a police officer. To do so would undermine our role and would jeopardize the relationship we wanted to build with the public.”

I am not suggesting that American police should or should not carry sidearms. But in a moment when cries to reform (or abolish or “defund”) the police have reached a historic volume, this outsider’s perspective reminds us that the American policing paradigm is not the only possible model. Nor is our current system sacrosanct.

Christians should not hastily dismiss calls for change—even calls to “defund” and redesign policing from scratch. Our faith teaches that the kingdoms of this world are broken. We should not be surprised, therefore, if American policing needs transformation. But if Christians intend to contribute to this debate, they should first revisit the Bible’s lessons on policing—beginning in the Old Testament Law. (Read Esau McCaulley’s companion essay about New Testament perspectives on policing, also in CT’s September …

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