The Christian Citizen - Consider Ourselves Exiles

With the quadrennial election cycle once again upon us, many Christians are in a lather about this side or the other and whether this year there even is a legitimate choice.

For the brief time you read this blog, pretend that you are disenfranchised and have no vote at all!

As an aside, one's vote seems of little consequence anyway. I have a sister in Texas who has voted Democratic in the last several Presidential elections - but the Texas vote is overwhelmingly Republican and her vote is virtually meaningless. In Minnesota my Republican Presidential ballot is likewise of little importance in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

Consider as well that in many places Christians have no vote and for many centuries Christians had no opportunity at all to vote!

[I am not advocating not voting! I have voted in every election since 1972 (the first year I was eligible!). I will vote this year as well!]

A common view is that the United State was birthed as a Christian nation and that many of the so-called founding Father's were Christian. Certainly there was a strong Christian influence by some of the founders: Consider the Mayflower endeavor (not bragging, but I am a descendant of both William White and Stephen Hopkins), the Winthrop Fleet (see John Peat on this manifest), and the Providence Plantations - all Christian endeavors! As to the founding Father's: this article suggests that while they were Deists, they probably not Christians. But suffice to say that our country is based on a Judeo-Christian heritage and specifically not a Muslim-Sharia law heritage!

If one takes "Christian" seriously, it's fairly obvious that real, God-fearing, Jesus Christ followers are a small minority among us! (Oh yes there are the Pew surveys such as this which state that 70% of us are Christian. But Christian is so loosely defined to make that statistic meaningless!).

How Christian were we - say in Colonial times? Well it appears that Christian lingo was common but Christian adherence was not.

Often Christians express that our faith is persecuted here in the United States. I would like to disabuse that idea with these facts:

  • If you donate to your church, you receive a tax deduction (one has to itemize to benefit from this).
  • Your church in all likelihood does not pay property tax. (The Little Flowers Montessori School near my home pays, $ 27,500 per year on their 4 acres. My church pays zero for our 22 acres.)
  • Your ordained pastor receives a parsonage allowance that enables him to eschew taxes on a large part of his income.
  • We have freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. 
Often I hear that things are changing for the worse for Christians. Is that so? Well maybe yes and maybe no:

  1. a return to a pre-Moral Majority separation of church and politics
  2. a Benedictine model
  3. the Jeremiah option
Here's my take on the three models:
  1. The moral majority model represents the church in bed with the Republican party. It's zenith was with Ronald Reagan. Christians would help elect him and with his election and his Supreme Court appointments, Roe v Wade would be overturned. My assessment is that it was a prostitution of the church that diluted the message of the Gospel. As an aside I voted for Reagan twice! Since Reagan, Evangelicals have been searching for one to take up the Reagan mantle and go forth. Every quadrennial Evangelicals wait for their candidate to announce his born-again-ness and rally behind him. The model seemed reasonable but has been a complete failure.
  2. The Benedictine model is in my view basically an isolation approach. 
  3. The Jeremiah option comes from Jeremiah's letter to the exiles in 29:1-9. See also Jeremiah 40:9.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
The article linked above suggests these five lessons:
  1. Be Faithful in the Ordinary Things of Life
  2. Engage Babylon, Do Not Withdraw
  3. Be Discerning
  4. Be People of Hope
  5. Things Are Not Out of Control
What follows are my comments on citizenship with appropriate Scriptures:

  1. If one is married, endeavor to have a strong Biblical marriage. Ephesians 5:22-33
  2. If unmarried, remain sexually chaste
  3. If a parent, raise one's children. Ephesians 6:1-4
  4. Earn a living. Don't be a slacker. Ephesians 4:28 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10
  5. Respect established authority and pay taxes. Romans 13:1-7
  6. Pray for authorities. 1 Timothy 2:1-3
  7. Be faithful in gathering with God's people in one's church
  8. Be a witness

Friendlier Policing? Eliminate the Revenue Incentive

Several obvious first points:
  • Mayberry is a fictional place!
  • Andy Taylor is a fictional Sheriff!
  • We must not be naive about the nature of man (we are all sinners!)
  • Nor should we be Pollyannaish about crime in the United States
  • Policing is a difficult and dangerous job.
  • Additionally we must have respect for authorities. Romans 13 is clear: "They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer"
This also needs to be said that the nature of this post is not anti-cop! I have had cop-friends, and I had a cousin who was a cop! I've been helped by cops and I appreciate them.

While admitting that feelings may be notoriously incorrect, I have a sense that policing today is quite a bit different than policing a generation ago! My sense is that policing has lost the concept of proportional punishment. An anecdote: Year's past, I've been stopped and reminded by a policeman that a tail light was out. Today that former friendly reminder (or worse a warning ticket) is now a full stop! While not all the facts are in, this was apparently the case with Philando Castile who was stopped for a broken tail light (this article disputes this). The Alton Sterling situation was about CDs being sold in a parking lot (again with the caveat that all the facts aren't in!). The Eric Garner case was about the sale of untaxed cigarettes.

In 2011, I was arrested (read about by clicking the link). I'm biased but frankly I think that the policing was out of proportion (read and judge for yourself!).

As someone with a degree in economics, I often think through that lens. And with regard to policing, some have written about this:
  1. Ferguson shows how a police force can turn into a plundering ‘collection agency’
  2. Policing and Profit
  3. Police Chief Magazine: Generating New Revenue Streams
  4. Police Departments are Over-funded: It’s All About Priorities
Several quotes:
Of all the harrowing stories buried inside the Justice Department’s report on the Ferguson Police Department, one of the most illustrative begins with an illegally parked car. The year was 2007. And a Ferguson officer who noticed the illegally parked vehicle issued its driver, an African American woman, two citations and a ticket for $151. To the driver, who had bounced in and out of homelessness, the fine was draconian. She couldn’t pay it in full. So over the next seven years, the woman missed several deadlines and court dates. That tacked on more fees, more payment deadlines, more charges. She ultimately spent six days in jail. All because she didn’t park her car correctly. As of December 2014, the woman had paid the city of Ferguson $550 resulting from a $151 ticket. And she still owes $541. [article 1]

In Ferguson, residents who fall behind on fines and don’t appear in court after a warrant is issued for their arrest (or arrive in court after the courtroom doors close, which often happens just five minutes after the session is set to start for the day) are charged an additional $120 to $130 fine, along with a $50 fee for a new arrest warrant and 56 cents for each mile that police drive to serve it. Once arrested, everyone who can’t pay their fines or post bail (which is usually set to equal the amount of their total debt) is imprisoned until the next court session (which happens three days a month). Anyone who is imprisoned is charged $30 to $60 a night by the jail. If an arrestee owes fines in more than one of St. Louis County’s eighty-one municipal courts, they are passed from one jail to another to await hearings in each town. The number of these arrests in Ferguson is staggering: in 2013, Ferguson’s population was around 21,000 and its municipal court issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses. Ferguson has a per capita income of $20,472, and nearly a quarter of residents and over a third of children live below the poverty line. Court fines and fees are Ferguson’s second-largest source of income, generating over $2.4 million in revenue in 2013. [article 2]

[Article 3: Expresses the budgetary pressures of one police department - West Covina, California. My point of including this article is not to ridicule the ideas presented (some which I would consider valid), but to highlight the incentive of "profit potential"] The common reaction to a budget crisis is reducing personnel and cutting services. The focus of this article is to provide police agencies with an alternative to personnel and service reductions. This alternative could help the survival of a city and maintain or expand police service through generating new revenue streams as a proactive approach to meet the fiscal crisis of today and the uncertain future of tomorrow.

My appeal is simple: Take the profit incentive out of policing and all communities will in time experience better community policing!