Friday, June 09, 2006

The state and force and the church

Huw's post yesterday about al Zarquawi and the resulting discussion about the church's relationship to the state's use of force in war and policing, reminded me of some thoughts I had the other day.

In the midst of our move I lost my debit card and was required by my bank to make a police report. I have only had rare occasions to deal directly with the police, and few occasions to confront the architecture of a police station, so it was an astounding experience to enter our local precinct station. It was clear to me that I had entered a modern fortress, and that I was dealing with soldiers, soldiers with a policing mandate, but soldeirs all the same. Soldiers that I might add were fighting the good fight, against the chaos of the city streets. What need for a fortress in the middle of a city if what was beyond the walls of the police station wasn't in some sense a place of chaos.
What was striking about this is that the reality that the architecture and the uniformed and armed officers swarming the stationasserts is foreign to my experience of the city. I am not at war the city streets are not always threatening. Even when I heard and witnessed shoot outs on my street in Humboldt Park, my existence was mostly peaceful, or more to the point I knew I was not the target of the violence.

It occured to me however, that my ability to live in the city more or less peaceably is in part the result of soldiers in blue. How then do I reconcile what is often an objectionable reality of this fortress menatality and the possibility that the life I live is made possible by a certain population having this mentality?

It also occured to me that the purely secularist law and order philosophy of policing or justification for policing fails to truely humanise. I am to believe that policing is nobel in and of itself, that the police power of the state and to those the state deligates that power are nobel and virtuous by virtue of being police and in the exercise of this power. My experience of police and especially the experience of my Latina/o and Black friends and acquaintances clearly contradicts this assertion of native virtue in the policing power. Thus it seems to me that law and order arguments concerning the states use of force in policing and war fail to recognize that while this power of the state may in fact be necesary that its exercise is not inherently moral or virtuous.

I want to say that the state's divinely ordained use of the sword (to use Biblical and traditional theological language) does not speak to its proper use, expecially if the state ignores or refuses to recognize from where it recieves this power. In a sense Paul's reference to this in Romans 13 is only properly understood in the context of the radical notion that we live in a world and systems under judgement and in Sin. The failure of the state to recongize its own complicity in the Sin and Chaos it seeks to control as well as the failure to admit that only in Christ is this reality truely confronted, is a failure of the State to in fact act truely in its exercise of the "Sword".