Three scriptures for defunding the police

When Rev. Jack Sullivan was our guest preacher in August he mentioned that the Ohio Council of Churches was declaring September 20 as Anti-Racism Sunday.  We will be participating by incorporating anti-racism themes into our worship service this Sunday.

One anti-racism effort with increased momentum has been calls to defund the policeDefund differs from police reform – which often requires more public resources for training, equipment, etc – in that it calls for a redistribution of resources away from police departments toward measures that make communities safer, including counseling, violence prevention programs, affordable housing, and unarmed well-trained responders like THIS program in Eugene, Oregon.  

Investing in nonviolence is embedded in our Anabaptist theology.  I’ve been meeting with an interfaith clergy group putting faith language to these efforts to better support local black leaders.  It’s slow but good work. 

As part of these efforts some of us are putting together our top three scriptures to support the defund movement.  There are many that apply, but here are the ones I chose:

Isaiah 2:4b

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah envisions a time of divestment from technologies of violence, swords and spears, reinvested in  instruments for harvesting the bounty of the earth, plowshares and pruning hooks.  To say that nations shall not learn war anymore is to indicate that there is an entire educational and formational process, complete with research and development, involved in the former way of ordering collective life.  By investing in other technologies, other practices, an entirely different educational and formational process comes into view.  We learn other forms of safety and security.  When communities have ploughshares to create their own wealth, there is less need to police them with swords.

Jeremiah 29:5-7

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take spouses and have children…multiply there and do not decrease.  But seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you…for in its shalom you will find your shalom.

Jeremiah’s letter to the Judean exiles in Babylon emphasizes that the well-being of the exiled community is tied up in the well-being of the city to which they have been exiled.  Jeremiah’s word for well-being is shalom, also translated as welfare, or peace.  Jeremiah lists those things which make for peace – constructing homes, planting gardens,  and building families.  For our time this translates into  decent, affordable housing; healthy, accessible food; and stable households as a foundation for the peace of our city.  Investing public resources in these endeavors, rather than focusing them toward a police force that responds to the symptoms resulting from the lack of these investments, will go a long way in achieving Jeremiah’s call to seek the shalom of the city.

Romans 13:1-4/Revelation 13:1-4

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…for it is God’s servant for your good.

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea…and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?’

Christian conversation around relationships with the government often begins with Romans 13, counsel to obey ruling authorities because they serve God for our good.  But Revelation 13 presents another picture of a ruling authority as an idolatrous power that sets itself up against the justice, mercy, and peace of God.  Our reality is a mix of both, and as citizens in a democracy it is up to us to discern when the forces who claim to be serving the public are fulfilling their duties, Romans 13, and when they have become beast-like and destructive to particular communities and thus the common good, Revelation 13.