Why American Christians "Back the Blue" so Fervently

tags: Christianity, evangelicals, Law and Order, policing

Aaron Griffith is assistant professor of history at Whitworth University and author of the book God’s Law and Order: The Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America.

Blue lives matter and they matter especially to God. Or so goes the thinking in certain law enforcement circles. Recently, a Louisville newspaper revealed that a Bible verse along these lines was used in a 2017 police department firearms training. The verse, Romans 13:4, adorned a “thin blue line” symbol often associated with the “blue lives matter” movement. It reads: “For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

The use of this verse in a firearms training was significant given that this was the same department from which officers executing a raid shot and killed Breonna Taylor in 2020. It also mirrors other forms of Christian influence in modern American law enforcement such as police-themed Bibles, Christian police retreats and trainings, and similar blue-hued religious emblems. Critics have argued that this influence represents a threat to the separation of church and state. For police ministries and Christian supporters, however, the linkage of faith and policing serves to offer officers a sense of divine purpose in the face of trauma and criticism. But this connection also threatens to obscure problems in the profession, bolster the power of the police, and foreclose other possibilities for addressing America’s social problems and inequalities.

Policing is challenging work. In addition to the stresses of the job itself, officers are at a high risk of experiencing trauma and diminished mental health. At the same time, police have been the target of criticism amidst growing public awareness of officer misconduct and racial disparities in how citizens are treated by the police. As I discuss in my scholarly work, Christian officers have also wrestled with the competing demands of peaceful discipleship and departmental duty. Simply put, can one be a good police officer and obey Jesus’ commands to turn the other cheek and forsake violence?

As law enforcement has searched for solutions to these problems that have troubled officers from the inception of the modern policing profession, supportive Christian efforts have proven to be a powerful resource. The Christian Police Association was founded in 1883 in London and established branches in American cities soon after. Association sites ministered to officers and argued for their profession’s spiritual validity. Later in the 20th century, amidst a surging evangelical movement, organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers (FCPO), founded in 1971, functioned similarly. One FCPO member reported in 1979 that he had initially wrestled with his police duties given Jesus’s commands. But through the FCPO he had learned that policing was a distinctly Christian obligation. “Enforcing the laws of the land,” he said, “[is] enforcing God’s law.” Similar justifications could be found in various evangelical books and films from around the same time that promoted the work of policing as a legitimate, even ideal, Christian vocation.


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