[Continued from last week.]
In 1989 I became a law enforcement chaplain for a local police department. I rode with officers and began to get a grasp on the world of the police. One of the discoveries was that there are three population groups:
(1) Normal, everyday people who occupy the streets during working hours.
(2) Predators and potential criminals who are out in force between, say, 9 p.m. until the wee hours of the morning.
(3) The after-work crowd who, finished with work, take in a meal or a play that may have them out between 7 p.m. and midnight. This puts them in the path of the criminal crowd. This is more true in the urban environment but, even in the suburbs, there is potential for robberies, muggings and worse.
”The police car,” I told my wife, “is like a shark cutting through the dark waters of the night looking for those who prey on the innocent.” Over the years, I served as chaplain for five agencies, including the Atlanta Office of the FBI.
Around 1990-91, I attended the 10-week Citizen’s Police Academy. In 1992, I became a police cadet at the Police Academy in Fulton County, graduating as the honor student. In 1993, I was sworn as a deputy in the local sheriff’s office. I was a certified peace officer in the state of Georgia and I carried a gun. When I rode as a deputy, I was in full uniform, a small gold cross on my pocket indicating my chaplain status.
Somewhere along the line I gradually moved from being a convinced pacifist to being an armed officer of the law. This was all volunteer and part-time as I never left the pastoral ministry.
During that time, I sometimes talked to police cadets whose pastor told them that they could not kill, even as police officers. Obviously, they had to come to grips with the conflict and, generally, they either left law enforcement or changed churches.
I went out on traffic stops, domestic disturbances, helped clear buildings, went to death scenes, spoke to victims, counseled with at least two officers who had been in shooting fatalities, and filled out occasional “use of force” reports. I drew my gun on numerous occasions.
I also administered last rites, talked with officers about problems (both at home and at work), quietly prayed, answered religious questions, delivered death notifications, answered calls where a person committed suicide (drugs, alcohol overdoses, rifles, handguns, shotguns, etc), and was called to the scene of traffic fatalities. In 2014, after 25 years, I retired from my volunteer job.
I came to see law enforcement officers as domestic soldiers — men and women putting their lives on the line day after day. I met the courageous firefighters and first responders who, along with the cops, rush toward danger. These were all people who stood between chaos and civilization.
In a sense, I was neither fish nor fowl. I wasn’t exactly a priest/pastor but I wasn’t really a cop either … and, yet, I was both and I stood and served with the officers as needed.
I have no quarrel with true pacifists, especially religious pacifists. I do understand from whence they come, having been one myself. It takes little effort to be a pacifist during a time of peace in a country like the United States. It takes enormous courage to be a pacifist in a hostile environment or during a time of war.
Desmond Thomas Doss was a United States Army corporal who served as a combat medic with an infantry company in World War II. A Seventh Day Adventist, he was twice awarded the Bronze Star Medal for actions in Guam and the Philippines. Doss further distinguished himself in the Battle of Okinawa by saving 75 men, becoming the only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Second World War. He also received three Purple Hearts for his wounds received during the heat of battle. His life has been the subject of books, the documentary “The Conscientious Objector,” and the critically acclaimed 2016 film “Hacksaw Ridge.”
Some people think that conscientious objectors, or pacifists, are cowardly. I couldn’t disagree more. It takes courage to go into battle or into a robbery or a shooting scene with a gun. It takes courage for a father or mother to defend his/her family against a predator who has broken into their home. But it takes unimaginable courage to be a Desmond Doss.
I suppose that my confession really is that I was a pacifist and, through study, reading, experience, and circumstances, became a protector and a defender. I am at peace with my journey and make no apologies for either role.
I wish all people were pacifists. In a world that was truly Christian that would be the case. But we do not live in a Christian world. We live in a world that is fraught with danger and in a world where evil is a reality. One warrior friend describes the world this way: “There are sheep and there are wolves. There are also sheep dogs. I am a sheep dog standing between the wolves and the sheep.”
Someday it may be that there are no more wolves. Someday, we are told in Micah 4:3, “And He will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war.”
Until that day, there are some who will endeavor to choose the path of peace and will eschew violence of every kind. There are others who will choose to defend their homes, their families, their nation and, yes, the pacifists. The Church makes room for both.
One of the prayers of the Marine Corps League, in its ritual, reads in part that “peace, justice, and brotherly love (prevail) among men and women … that Nations shall forsake war … that our people may come to know the religious way …” It also asks, “May it be that never again shall our Nation have war, but if war must come, grant that our cause be a just one and that we may possess the fortitude to fight with … valor and distinction …”
Whatever path we may choose, may we be brave and courageous. May we honor the choices that others feel they must make. May peace come someday so that these difficult choices will not even have to be made.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U.S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]