As Los Angeles assistant chief of police in charge of police operations, Robert Vernon directs a staff of 8,300, including all of the city’s patrol officers. Vernon is also a lay preacher and an elder in John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, a former chaplain of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and the author of L.A. Cop: Peacemaker in Blue (CT, March 18, 1988, p. 12). Vernon spoke with CHRISTIANITY TODAY shortly after the videotaped beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles officers raised national debate about police brutality. On advice from attorneys, he did not comment on details of that incident.
How does your biblical faith integrate with being a policeman?
I’ve heard some officers give testimony of making arrests and then witnessing to the person in handcuffs in the back seat of their car. I don’t think that’s right. I think that’s abusing power. My faith intersects with my work in terms of being fair, keeping my word, telling the truth, not using excessive force. Hopefully, because of that, I am then invited to give my reason for what makes me different.
The Bible clearly teaches that we are to be submissive to government, and it doesn’t give any exceptions as to what kind of government. I believe it does give us one exception, and that is when government issues a direction to force us to do something completely opposite from what God has specifically told us to do. For example, if government tells us to lie, to cheat, to steal, to murder, we should not follow that rule from government.
The direction that police officers have is to uphold the law. Romans 13 specifically indicates that officers act as ministers of God, and in that context it talks about the use of deadly force. It says that [an officer] does ...1