Where Is There a Place for Law Enforcement in the PCUSA?

I was trying to find resources for a law enforcement memorial service and discovered no such thing existed in the PCUSA. Fortunately, the Methodists, Catholics and evangelicals have not declared war on the police as has the PCUSA. Here is a newsletter article I posted for my local church after the last GA. The PCUSA needs to understand they have alienated many of the law enforcement and public safety officers with their acerbic rhetoric rather than showing compassion and encouragement.
 
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” — Luke 17:3-4 ESV)
 
I am writing this from the General Assembly meeting for the PCUSA here in Portland, Oregon. Having attended six days of the conference I found the scripture introducing my note to you appropriate.
 
During the committee meetings, the overtures generally centered on apologizing to various groups of people for injustices that white people had inflicted on them over the past 300 years. This has been the case the past seven or so assemblies. In general, the overtures are sanctioned by the general assembly that usually requires the Office of the General Assembly or Missions Agency to study, create listening groups or require them to lobby the government to pass some legislation. Essentially, what is important within the denomination will have little impact outside the denomination.
 
I learned that the Presbyterian Church USA is 1/3 the size it was in 1982 at the time of the reunification. I heard all actions justified through the Confession of 1967 and little reference to Biblical passages or the teachings of Jesus. There was one particular overture that caught my attention. It “demanded” that the police, prosecutors and courts change their practices and the legislation they use to “inflict pain” on others. Nowhere was there a discussion about how the criminal justice is a reflection of the values and demands of those in power who make the laws. Then this morning a United Church of Christ pastor who was invited to preach, said the protest and violence against law enforcement officers was justified because of past social injustice. Many of these conversations had much to do with what those promoting the social justice aspect of the denomination called “civil rights”.
 
Honestly, I am troubled. I was in Birmingham, Alabama in 1972 and was caught up in the demonstrations in the spirit of Martin Luther King to promote non-violent responses to injustice. What impressed me most about Dr. King was his statement that forgiveness had to take place before healing and reunification can take place. There are no prayers of forgiveness here at the GA. There are no prayers of reconciliation of all of us as God’s people here. When I mentioned my time as a law enforcement officer of over 32 years and my concern that without giving consideration to those in the profession who are Presbyterian and the impact absolute repudiation of an entire profession dedicated to self-sacrifice and Constitutional principles, I was told that sometimes it is best that those in conflict with the church (translated their church) to leave. When the moderator candidates were asked how the denomination would address the churches, pastors and members who have left the Presbyterian Church. The response was that often it is good for those in conflict with the church (translated their church) to leave. Ironically in the same breath, those responsible for finances informed those in attendance that revenue is severely reduced due to the reduction of church and giving. Their response? Raise the per capita. As I left this afternoon to return to the motel, I decided I will not return for the last two days of the conference. It is not worth the emotional and physical toll. After the 15th time of singing “We Shall Overcome” I prayed to God for guidance. God said to stay away and reflect on what God’s mission is in our world. I will be listening to what the Spirit says. In the teachings of Jesus, I will strive to forgive. I am not quite there yet, but I will be there soon.
 
Please understand, for the most part, those who are attending are well-intended albeit, misguided individuals who come together after lively discussion to commune with one another. They trust their clergy to guide them.
 
I always enjoy when we meet at Presbytery meetings or church meetings as I always feel the Holy Spirit present when we get together because it is to serve the greater church of Jesus Christ. I do not feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in Portland, Oregon this week. We are not focused on the greater church here, only the internal issues of a shrinking denomination. I will spend the remainder of this time sharing the gospel with those I encounter in my walking about this community in the hope that those who have not heard the reassurance of forgiveness may experience it first-hand. That includes the message of forgiveness of one another.
 
Upon my return, I will also be reaching out to law enforcement and other criminal justice groups to ask for help in seeking disenfranchised officers who feel abandoned by their church. It is time for a new mission in this country designed to help those who help us.
 
Finally, I thank God for each and every one of you who follow Christ’s teachings who support one another and work to achieve the Great Ends of the Church.
 
May the blessings of Christ be with each and every one of you!
 
Pastor Gary

Author: gsmith

Current pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Broken Bow, Nebraska