Is it Right for Police to use Violence?

An American friend questioned whether or not it is right for the Police or individuals to use violence for law enforcement purposes. This is a much hotter topic in the USA than in the UK, as shown by the figures that follow. This is one aspect of the dysfunctional and non-christian features of that country. In Britain last year (2015) the police killed three people. The equivalent figure for the US is one thousand, one hundred and thirty-four. There must be horribly difficult situations where deaths are unavoidable, but the deaths should be limited, at the very worst, to those. There is a difference between shooting to disable and shooting to kill, a difference between firing one shot and firing many, a difference between shooting when not doing so would lead to a death anyway, and when there is otherwise no risk of a death. The real problem in the US is perhaps that guns are seen as a solution, not as a problem. Beyond that is the troubling fact that people in the USA who identify themselves as Christians are often even more likely to see guns as a solution than non-christians. 

Premeditated judicial use of force is best exemplified by the execution of convicted criminals. In the New Testament there is but one situation where Jesus is involved in an execution and has power to influence the outcome. It is the situation of the woman who was about to be stoned after being caught in adultery. There was no question raised about her guilt, and it was fully in accordance with the law at the time that she should be stoned. Jesus aborted the execution. What we see is forgiveness, and the complete avoidance of the use of force or violence. The conclusion must be that Jesus would be opposed to the death penalty and probably also the use of any cruel punishment. In today’s world He might approve the Nordic prison systems where people suffer loss of liberty but are otherwise well treated, and where there is a genuine effort at rehabilitation. Conversely, the US incarceration system, which holds well over two million people in conditions which cannot remotely be describing as loving, would surely be condemned.

The use of force and even death must be accepted from police if the State determines that as legal. That is a State /Civil Authority decision, not a Christian decision. But true Christians should be demonstrating real compassion, if not outrage, when the numbers killed by police in the USA are so high, and the suffering of incarceration so great. Again, this is evidence of the lack of validity of so-called American Christianity.

Regarding personal use of violence, the question must be “What would Jesus do?”. The New Testament has the answer here, not Augustine of Hippo, nor John Calvin, nor any other Bible commentators. The post here about Violence in Self-Defence should give food for thought.