Should Christians Encourage Resistance to Police?

Derryck Green on June 17, 2015

The latest in the on-going, media-created narrative regarding the disproportionate incidents of police brutality against black Americans involves a pool party in a suburban area of McKinney, Texas — the video of which has expectedly gone viral.

Time and again, people are content and assured in how they feel about incidents of police brutality to the exclusion of facts pertaining to the case, especially those facts that are contrary to their initial — and reflexive — feelings.

When these incidents are sensationalized, people are going to use them to advance a disingenuous social narrative and political agenda. Christian leaders have a greater responsibility to be voices and examples of reason to be heard and followed, respectively. Yet when people of the cloth are engaged in negligent and questionable behavior that perpetuates social paranoia, it’s even more concerning.

And in my opinion, that’s what one Anglican theologian has done.

According to his website, Preston Yancey is a member of the Anglican Church in North America and is also, “employed by the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast as Canon Theologian.” In addition, Yancey is a priest-to-be who hopes to be ordained next year.

With these kinds of credentials, his Twitter-based response to the McKinney pool incident was a disappointment. Last Thursday, in a series of tweets Yancey offers up some problematic statements which — aside from condemning white privilege — appear to be advocating police resistance.

Here are some of Yancey’s tweets:

First of all, Yancey is encouraging or defending the idea that (black) people should resist arrest and “fight back” against police officers. How else can what he’s tweeted be interpreted?

And what form does fighting back take? Is Yancey speaking literally or metaphorically? Under what circumstances is it acceptable and justified? And who decides those circumstances, Yancey, or someone else? Why them?

Contrary to Yancey’s opinion, there are clear examples that fighting back against police officers simply doesn’t work. Fighting back against police officers as they attempt to assess or control a situation is foolish.

The idea that a soon-to-be priest is encouraging those in police custody or those being questioned by police to fight back — especially as it relates to teenagers at a pool party — is dangerously irresponsible both of Yancey and those who may recklessly contemplate his advice. Considering how many blacks have lost their lives doing exactly what Yancey suggests makes his unsolicited advice look even more destructive. Yancey says that the ‘gritty work of the kingdom is ideals within a context of valuing life,’ but responding to law enforcement through physical force — or to “fight back” as Yancey terms it — not only devalues lives because of the potential consequences of such outcomes, some of which we’ve already seen (Mike Brown and Eric Garner, for example), but it has absolutely nothing to do with “kingdom ideals.”

Now let’s distill some of Yancey’s tweets.

Yancey disagrees with Christian pacifism, evidenced by his tweet, “Anywho, for whatever it’s worth that you know this, I reject Christian pacifism as the most viable expression of the Gospel.” He also tweeted, “Kids get a gun put in their face trying to defend a girl pinned to the ground by a cop? Pacifism is not the answer here.”

Who argued ‘Christian pacifism’ as an ‘expression of the Gospel’ was the answer here? “Christian pacifism” in the context of being detained by police is irrelevant but has everything to do with how one conducts oneself in the presence of police officers, whether the situation is calm but especially when pressed with tension. Comporting oneself with humility and respect toward an officer in an effort to minimize a potential escalation is simply being smart, Christian or not. Yancey’s projection and misapplication of Christian pacifism in this situation is simply wrong.

In my opinion, Yancey reveals the motivation behind these series of misappropriated tweets when he posts, “Christian pacifism is a blind luxury of white privilege. Let’s not rush to tell people being murdered by the State to ‘calm down’,” and “… I am not the oppressed. More often than not the roused God has anger toward me and my participation in oppression.” He also says that, “There’s a whole reality I never have to think about, like being wrestled to the ground at a pool party for simply existing.”

There it is — white guilt. White guilt is the reason for these tweets. Just to be clear — white guilt with or without Jesus and the Gospel is still … white guilt.

Yancey admits that he is not part of the oppressed (presumably blacks) but is part of the “oppressor.” Though he doesn’t elaborate as to his specific contributions towards the oppression he laments (or God’s anger toward him for it), one can assume that his oppression is a consequence of his white skin. That his white guilt provokes him to encourage blacks to challenge the authorities knowing full well the recent and deadly outcomes of those who’ve acted on his unsolicited advice in advance, demonstrates how little black lives are valued by Yancey.

Further, there’s bit of irony that saturates Yancey’s tweets. That he can offer such imprudent advice to “fight back” from the comfort and security in which he lives (he admits it’s a reality he doesn’t have to think about), knowing full well that he, with or without Jesus, wouldn’t suffer the same fate as those he’s actively encouraging — or the fate of those who did “fight back,” reflecting Yancey’s call that ended in a loss of life truly is white privilege — a naive, white privilege at that.

That Yancey — a man of God and a soon-to-be priest, is suggesting the kind of confrontation with police that invariably leads to physical injury at best, loss of life at worst, however sincere, is an abdication of his calling and his obligation to properly shepherd his flock in addition to everyone else within his sphere of influence.

Church leaders should be saying the exact opposite of what Yancey is saying. To those who may encounter police officers, however aggressive, answer them calmly and politely — even if they’re wrong.

If you’ve been wronged, it’s easier to fight injustice if you’re still alive.

Derryck Green has earned an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies, an M.A. in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and will receive his Doctorate in Theology and Ministry from Azusa Pacific Seminary this fall.

  1. Comment by Diaris on June 17, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Remember that Corrie ten Boom’s family engaged in plenty of illegal activity in hiding Jews from the Nazis. I think we all agree that these were good, decent people doing their Christian duty. In most situations we should follow Paul’s injunction to obey “the powers that be.” But not always.

  2. Comment by Orter T. on June 17, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Some thoughts from the perspective of a mother who is glad my son dropped out of police academy:

    1. One of the most stunning and sobering realizations I had was that there was a lot of things the academy could teach my son in but in the final analysis he would never be more than a sinner in as much need of God’s grace as the next person. I was dismayed at the lopsided response of the United Methodist Church in response to the confrontation between the police officer and the young black man in Ferguson–there were two mothers’ sons involved in that confrontation and two families forever changed.

    2. In contrast to other professions police officers have a high rate of divorce, drug abuse and suicide. When it comes to judging police actions, they can not be judged with the same perspective as the rank and file person. They work at a whole other level that few can comprehend. My son talked about the “thin blue line” which demonstrates how close enforcing the law comes to breaking the law. In any given situation, a police officer has to make a judgment call and it can result in someone else’s death or even their own.

    3. Having grown up in the 60’s this is not my first rodeo when it comes to the hand wringing about “the big bad police are whupping up on the poor ole black folks”–and you can fuss about my terminology, but when push comes to shove this is the message being conveyed. All that has changed in the last 50 years is it is a new set hands being wrung. My mother also spent 6 years as Head Start Director for two counties in East Texas–aka the Deep South; Head Start was one of the programs that emerged out of the Civil Rights movement. What I know is that if a police officer never “whupped up on another poor ole black folk”, their situation will not have changed. The plight of poverty stricken blacks has not changed–I am dismayed that I am hearing the exact same verbiage that I heard from my mother in 1967. The root problem is not that the police are “whupping up on them”; the root problem is nobody has addressed the question “Why are they STILL the poor ole black folks” 50 years after Head Start, Affirmative Action, desegregation of schools….

    4. I suggest that anybody that thinks this is something that can be legislated out of existence, go to Fort Sumter, and its museum and learn that we are dealing with a core divisive issue that has been present since this country came into existence. And if you think the south has healed from the Civil War, then go to the Confederate Cemetery in Marietta Georgia. As recently as last year things were added to the cemetery that stress what it was like for the people of the south after the war. We are dealing with the aftermath of the sins of our fathers who viewed having slaves as a way of life and they lost that way of life under horrific circumstances. There is also a National Cemetery in Marietta with an interesting story–the man who donated the land wanted all the fallen soldiers from the North and South to be buried in the same place but too many believed that “former enemies” should not be buried together. In the end, the land was donated to the US government for the burial of Union soldiers. There are two different cemeteries that tell two different perspectives of the Civil War and in the long run I can not say anybody really “won”; all it did was change the name of the problem from slavery to race relations.

    5. The solution: If the church wants to be involved in race relations then it needs to be approaching it from the perspective of grace extended to all parties: sympathy for the blacks who never chose to come here and grace towards whites who were taught what we now realize in hindsight to be a questionable way of life. In his book “What is So Amazing About Grace”, Philip Yancy draws a profound conclusion: legislation can change the external actions of people, but only the grace of God can change a person’s heart and how they view others. Just maybe the poverty stricken blacks could get to a point of forgiveness and be able to move on. Based on my years spent in East Texas, and my mother’s job as Head Start Director, I can testify that the people followed the government mandate to give blacks a boost, but that mandate did absolutely nothing to change how blacks and whites viewed each other.

  3. Comment by Arbuthnaught on June 18, 2015 at 3:33 am

    Yancey is a disgrace. He slept through civics. You do not challenge your arrest on the street. You cuff up and then challenge your arrest before a judge. That way, the police never shoot anyone or throw anyone to the ground. The McKinney police officer resigned in disgrace and the system will likely punish him for excessive force. Yancey is not Bonhoeffer organizing resistance to the Nazis though in his little mind he may believe so. If black lives mattered to liberals they would tell blacks not to resist arrest on the street, but make their case in court.
    Yes, chrisitan resistance is propper but only against totalitarian reigmes, or against godless laws, not in ROUTINE, ORDINARY, criminal cases.

  4. Comment by David on June 18, 2015 at 10:11 am

    There is a huge difference between pacifism and active, non-violent resistance. Jesus was by no means a pacifist. He did in fact practice non-violent resistance however. Christians of the first three centuries did the same and many were killed as a result yet Christendom thrived. Read some of Walter Wink’s book to gain more insight. While I cannot (unlike Rachel Dolezal) relate to the black experience I have been to Palestine and seen up close and personal what Palestinians have to endure. I’ve also seen what active non-violent resistance can accomplish and it’s pretty powerful stuff.

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.