Should Christians in the US ever protest the government?

“The counter argument—that protesting is incompatible with a Christian ethic—is usually made from texts like 1 Peter 2:13-14….But this is the beauty of the freedoms we have in the United States. Our government itself protects our ability to protest.” - Jesse Johnson


My view: he’s basically right about protestantism, the right to protest in our form of government, and the legitimacy of protest.

I’m not going to fault anyone for doing it peacefully for a good cause.

What’s grieving me about the current round of protest-ism is that in the rush be seen in solidarity etc etc, nobody seems to be noticing some important facts. I’ll just note what’s probably the biggest: The criminal justice sector was already well aware of the problems so horribly displayed in the killing of George Floyd, had been devoting enormous amounts resources to working on these problems over the last decade, and has made a great deal of progress. That progress was going to continue with or without all these public protests and apologies and so forth.

Will all the protesting accelerate the progress? Maybe. Hard to tell for sure. If “defund the police” catches on, certainly not.

It’s just grossly underreported how much work advocacy and education organizations, in collaboration with cities and their PDs, have accomplished since, say, Ferguson. But it started even well before that.

Where the work actually gets done, lots of public protest doesn’t seem to me to help much, if it all. It often leads to hasty, ill conceived changes that will just get in the way… or make things worse. (I’m not sure Mnpls City Council’s declared intent to disband the city’s PD is one of those, though. If it’s disbanded, it will certainly be replaced with something, and if the something is at all effective, it will be a police force—regardless of what they decide to call it. But calling it something different can be a powerful way to reframe the whole aspect of relationship to the community.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

If we are to believe that Scripture prohibits a protest, what do we say to Paul in Acts 16, or John the Baptist telling soldiers to be content with their pay? Other examples include John the Baptist telling the king he ought not have his brother’s wife, Jesus saying “Go tell that fox” with regards to Pilate, the prophets rebuking the kings in the OT (especially Nathan), or for that matter, the early church’s persistence in the faith when Rome banned it outright.

And sure, not every protest works out well, but our country was born in protests of excessive taxation, and the abominations of slavery and Jim Crow were ended in processes that started with protests, no? Protests of prenatal infanticide have led to meaningful restrictions on the practice, too. And hey, what about fundamentalism—it is, at its root, a protest against theological liberalism, no?

Regarding “defund the police”, the “model” is that of Camden, NJ, where the police were not actually defunded at all. What happened, rather, was that the city police were disbanded (along with a pricey union contract), and the county took over. The # of officers roughly doubled because they could afford more, and I’d have to guess that also meant that Camdenites were far more likely to see police in non-confrontational situations—and thus would be more likely to work with police when things became confrontational, including “providing evidence of crimes.” Murders are down about 60% from the peak a few years back.

Not going to be holding my breath for the Minnesota DFL to endorse union-busting in the MPD, but what Camden did is indeed a model for what we can do to a degree.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Excellent posts by both of you. Thank you!!!!

Pastor Mike Harding

The Camden story does seem to be an enduring positive example. It’s been some years now and there aren’t any perfect PDs, so they have, or will have, misconduct incidents from time to time like everyone else does in other PDs … also other sectors entirely. But merging with the county seems to have really improved things in their particular case. NIOT certainly thinks so: it’s a pretty interesting video, if perhaps a bit utopian :-) …

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

There’s a ton of new proposed legislation in Congress/Senate, of course. I’m not sure of the merits of any of it. What Derek Chauvin did was already illegal (and almost certaily against dept policy as well) and qualified immunity, even in its existing form, isn’t likely to protect him. But should QI be reformed? Maybe. The risk there is of making officers so vulnerable to civil prosecution that they’re afraid to act aggressively when aggressive action is necessary. Another downside is further decreasing the attractiveness of law enforcement as a career… for a sector that already has a shortage of personnel and increasingly demanding standards, along with general desire to decrease funds available for salaries!

So what definitely doesn’t make sense is defunding. If you want better policing, part of that is being able to attract a larger pool of potential candidates for officer roles, and being able to be more selective about whom you hire. That doesn’t happen by cutting available funds for compensation. … to state what should be obvious.

The police force in general needs to be more professional, which always means better educated and trained, which almost always means better paid. But no, increasing salaries doesn’t automatically have that result. There’s the “better educated and trained” part.

OK, I’ll try to shut up now. This is where I work every day now, so … more to say than anyone wants to hear, I’m sure. But I’m digging through new legislation right now, so it’s very much on my mind.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Public education is clearly failing by every objective measurement, so perhaps we should de-fund public education? Why is the solution for declining education MORE funding, but occasional failures by police LESS funding? (It almost makes you wonder if public education is actually achieving exactly what the left wants it to achieve—a general population with less education and more indoctrination.)

G. N. Barkman

I am all for the Camden model, if the action warrants it. When it comes to applying the Camden model, there needs to be tangible evidence that the city’s police department has gone beyond the tipping point as the last option because its culture is too corrupt to change. From what I’ve seen in Minneapolis, they fit the bill. Especially from the inflammatory rhetoric of its union boss or having a dirty officer like Derek Chauvin (with his 17 misconduct incidents) training rookie officers as he modeled the use of “non-lethal” force, or the history of its police department not being held accountable for both lethal and excessive force, or even the recent caravan of cop cars that did a drive-by pepper spray on protestors. However, not every police force has that crooked culture.

Joel, I’m not quite sure I’m following you. I can either see the Camden model as an intensive “get cops back on the beat” program to recover community trust, or I can see it as something of a “tough love for cops”, whereby huge measures are taken to break the back of the prevailing culture. Can you explain?

For my part, I’m a huge fan of getting officers out of their cars where possible and into the neighborhoods they serve, doing stuff like buying a coffee or Coke and fixing kids’ bikes—and as they walk around, seeing where crimes will occur before they get big. But you seem to be arguing something far bigger.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert, When I talk about doing the extreme measures of the Camden Model, I was talking about when they disbanded the police force and created a county one. However, I am always gonna support community policing by every police force, which they also implemented.

Camden, N.J., took its own big step in 2013. The city was in a public safety crisis, with murder rates 18 times the national average and scores of excessive-force complaints, when the mayor and City Council dissolved the existing police department and created a countywide force in its place.

A majority of the police were rehired, but each had to complete a 50-page application, retake psychological testing and go through an interview process, former police Chief Scott Thomson said. He led the county police from 2013 to 2019 and the city’s force before then.

The department instituted other changes, including putting more officers on the street on a regular basis, getting to know the community and changing the way an officer’s performance was measured — not by the number of arrests or tickets issued, but other outcomes.

Joel, that makes sense. I’m still baffled about how they got it past the union, though. Where I grew up, near Gary, the unions didn’t knuckle under very easily—I’d have expected a months long strike, call up the National Guard to restore order, all that. It makes complete sense to fire & rehire those who don’t have a bunch of excessive force complaints, who didn’t slash journalists’ tires, etc., but the politics of it confuses me.

The other question I have is whether the prevailing mood at schools of criminal justice would end up reinstating the old “warrior” or “Dirty Harry” culture. Hopefully it won’t, but I’m well aware of the difficulty of real changes.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

All this has jogged my memory that World magazine ran an article about Camden years ago:

I don’t know much about unions, but if I’m understanding it right, they must have side stepped the Union altogether by creating a new non-union police force. Obviously that will meet with resistance and fallout, but it sounds like the method doesn’t require the original police union’s consent because they’re now working with an entirely different entity over which the original union has no say.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

When I first saw an article on Camden the impression was that they did away with police which I knew couldn’t be the case. The replaced the city police with a different police force, the Metro Division of the County Police. Yes, they instituted some different approaches and guidelines, similar to what I know is going on in other police departments in other places….more community involvement and building of relationships. I support that approach as well. However, it is still a police department dealing with crime in in the town close to me, the “rough” area is still having a lot of crime and problems though the police are really working at the community approach. Though crime is down in Camden, there is still crime and and on some levels still somewhat significant for a town I think of around 75,000. I am glad the corrupt department was replaced (and several good officers rehired) but if I read correctly, they have 400 officers for a town this size. I live close to a town of similar size who police department is only around 250 (if they had 400 what a difference that would make but where would the money come from to pay for it?). Camden still has more than a decent size department dealing with crime. I am glad to know things have improved but to me it still is different than a larger city (Minneapolis is over 400,000 I think) and larger numbers of crimes (think Chicago, LA, NYC, etc). Better policies, training, and building better relationships is certainly part of improving things, but it is not like criminals get nicer and easier to work with, especially in large population areas. Looks like having a lot of police helps keep things in order as well as a better approach. That is more funding, not defunding as some want to do in our country. Praying for progress as well as protection for our police all over the country.


If I read the map of Minneapolis right, there are somewhere between 500 and 1000 linear miles of roads in the city, about 2/3 of which one would actually have to walk if one were to bring back beat cops and community policing. If 500 miles ought to be walked (or ridden on a bike), we would assume we’d have to have about 10% of the force, or 80 officers, walking about 6 miles apiece each day.

You’ve got the cost on one side—all those officers not in their cruisers doing what they’re doing today—and on the flip side, you’ve got the benefits of community/beat policing. I think a lot of “bigger city” departments could do far worse, really. Plus, you’ve got all the psychological and physical benefits for the officers of all that walking (or biking), and the reality that criminals are going to have a much more difficult time outrunning officers if he’s not carrying around the consequences of years in a cruiser.

My take is it’s very doable if people want to do it. And back to the original topic, notice that we’re considering substantive reforms that might work, partially as a result of the mess we’re in right now.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.