In my role as a Cub Scout leader, I took my group to visit a police station last month. We needed to observe a “team” that served the community–and a police department certainly fit that bill. The boys got to step inside a jail cell, go inside a police car, meet a K-9 police dog. It was a well-attended and much-enjoyed field trip. My older son even got to try on “official” police handcuffs.
As my group of first-graders took turns crawling in and out of the police cruiser–pressing buttons to make the sirens squeal and the lights flash–we parents snapped pictures of our sons. I heard more than one parent say to his or her son that night, “Let this be the only time I see you in a police car.” Or, “This better be the only time you go inside a jail cell.”
I’m a mother, too–I understand that sentiment. Which parent would ever want her child to be on the wrong side of the law? Who hopes his son turns to a life of crime? Nobody, of course. We want our children to be responsible, well-adjusted, capable individuals. We want them to be safe.
But I made a point that night, though, during the police station visit, NOT to tell my sons never to get arrested or never to find themselves in the back of a police car or sitting in a jail cell. Being a responsible, honorable man of integrity might one day dictate that they take a course of action that lands them in jail. Other honorable men have faced that fate before them.
Growing up, I remember reading about people in Bible stories who were arrested, imprisoned, or beaten for breaking the law by teaching people the ways, love, and mercy of Jesus. Even Jesus Himself was executed for breaking the law–claiming to be God–and He died a criminal’s death.
When I was a little girl, I thought, I’m so glad we live in the United States of America, where innocent people aren’t punished–where nobody gets arrested for following God’s ways. I was convinced that those things happened in some other time, some other land, some other place. Not where I lived.
My knowledge of history suffered some gaping holes. I’d never heard of the children who were arrested for peacefully protesting injustices during the civil rights movement. I had no awareness of the plight of “suffragettes” like Susan B. Anthony, arrested for “unlawful voting” in the 1800’s simply because she was a woman. I would be 17 before I would know the story of Rosa Parks, arrested for refusing to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger–an act of nonviolent disruption that fueled the movement to desegregate city buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
These people were charged for breaking unjust laws or for standing up against injustice. They were men and women and children of integrity who valued justice more than the reputation of being an upstanding citizen. They were honorable, courageous, and they paved the way for real change. They did not stay safe.
Nor did the 90-year-old Florida man charged with “public food sharing” for serving meals to a handful of homeless people in Fort Lauderdale less than 2 years ago.
I certainly don’t want my children to consider themselves above the law. If they were ever to be arrested for drunk driving, breaking and entering, or even littering, I would want them to feel the consequences of that. I am not advocating an attitude of anarchy. I AM advocating that they count the cost of following Christ.
After the police station visit, I talked with my sons about how sometimes people choose to follow God’s ways over the laws of the land and get punished for it. In the Bible, the apostle Paul experienced this–so did Jesus’s disciple, John. I explained that they, too, may face a time when obeying the law might not be consistent with obeying God. If they find themselves in jail because they have broken an unjust law, I told them they should call me–I would come and bail them out. Proudly, I added to myself.
Some of my “core values” include being wise, brave, and kind. I’m hoping to raise my boys to value these same traits. And sometimes that comes with a cost.