So there they were: Four police officers with two squad cars and a radar gun. The limit on this street was once 60 kph (that’s just under 40 mph) but about 15 years ago got changed to 50 kph (just over 30 mph). There are no houses or offices or stores in the area where they were clocking the cars driving by, though there is a big hill which causes everyone to pick up speed. I wasn’t going fast enough to be pulled over, but I’ll bet they made a lot of money that day. Every main access road around our town — north, south, east and west — is 50 kph.
On the street where I live, which has the same speed limit, cars often race by at about 80 kph (about 50 mph) around a curve. There are parked cars, children on bicycles, seniors walking dogs, and lots of houses. I have never seen the police set up radar on my street. There is simply no money in it. And that’s entirely what it’s all about: Money. Not public safety. (A U.S. town was recently featured on a network news story because something like 95% of their town budget was raised through various type of entrapment, including charges for things like speeding, failing to stop, unsafe lane changes, etc.)
I have no respect for the police in my town. There… I said it. There are lots of reasons for this, and many stories I could tell, and possibly will later on. Most concern my efforts as a quiet, law-abiding citizen to try to get the police to back up my rights to peaceful enjoyment of my home and property. Instead, they tend to side with those who are not quiet, not law-abiding. Once, someone abandoned two bicycles on my property for several days. When I tried to get the police to come and get them, it was me that was made to feel like a criminal. Another time I called about my neighbor’s all night party, which included cars parked on my front lawn. I was told my neighbor “.________would never do that.” When I mentioned that I hadn’t actually mentioned ________’s name, the dispatcher promptly hung up the phone. Yeah. Really. Seriously.
My lack of respect is a problem for me because as a Christian, I have been taught to respect those in authority. What child didn’t, at least once in Sunday School, get told to “respect the policeman.” I have often dismissed this as simplistic Sunday School theology. And if the policeman asks you stop and wait when you’re eight years old and crossing the road, respecting them IS good advice after all. And it was good advice when our family was caught in a lockdown on a beach in Toronto when there was a suspected sniper. (Yes, they do risk their lives.) But the police are for the most part simply entrusted with enforcement. They are neither appointed nor elected. Surely my respect issues ought to be limited to the authorities that are legislative (the government) and judicial (the interpretation of the law).
But then a quick look at The Message translation of I Peter 1,13-17 shoots that full of holes.
“Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.”
Did you catch the line, “authorities, whatever their level…”?
My second problem with lack of respect stems from the fact that one such peace officer in my town is himself a Christian. I’ve met this guy several times. We’ve talked. We’ve e-mailed. I like him. I feel we have Christ in common, which matters the most. Yet, I can’t see how he is able to reconcile his faith and values with things like the radar dragnet I witnessed. (I don’t know that he was actually there.) A person can be technically guilty of speeding in a stretch like this, but be somewhat morally innocent at the same time. How do you “enforce the law” when you know you’re pulling over, in some sense, the “wrong” criminals?
Now that the town has annexed an area to the north of the urban area proper, they have decided that this area should also be 50 kph. It consists of mile after mile of farm properties, open fields, no housing, no intersecting streets.
I couldn’t resist a letter to the editor of our local newspaper:
As soon as the lower speed signs are posted… police enforcement will surely follow, and what a cash cow this will turn out to be as unsuspecting locals and tourists alike are picked off one after the other.
For locals, reprogramming the brain cells on this one is not going to be easy. Call it the urbanization of [our community] if you will, but there is nothing in visual range that will reinforce that urbanization. Furthermore, even the most law-abiding citizen, who has never driven over 80 km/hr on [one of the main roads] will suddenly find themselves not only speeding, but in demerit-point territory, with possible insurance repercussions in addition to very high financial penalty.
None of this will impact the safety of the children and seniors on my block. None of this will catch some of the worst drivers. Why? Because everyone who lives here knows that the radar only gets set up in the middle of nowhere; so they slow down in the known speed traps and then speed up when they turn on to my sidestreet.
For a very brief time I attended a church where I had no respect for the pastor. I told people I didn’t respect him, though I respected the office. In other words, on an individual level, I thought the guy was a bit of a knucklehead, but I respected the office of pastor — and a belief in the sovereignty of God at work in his hiring — enough to temper some criticisms I might have made or temper the choosing of people I might have made them to.
Does that apply here? Can I respect the office of policeman even though I view some of the individuals so serving with contempt? Is it even possible to separate the two?
Respect the authorities. I really, really want to. My devotion to God’s word in I Peter chapter one demands that I do.
photo: generic Internet image
part one of this article on August 13th
part two of this article on August 14th
part four will deal with the issue of authoritarianism in homes and families