By Michael Ashcraft —
Gruesome crimes that cannot be “unseen” sometimes weigh down on and break the heart of police officers who got into law enforcement with enthusiasm and idealism.
Without a “Biblical mindset,” the men and women in blue turn to anger, alcohol and divorce at higher frequencies than almost any other group in society, says Paul Lee, executive director of the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers (FCPO).
Police have a divorce rate of 75 percent and a domestic abuse rate of 40 percent, the FCPO website says.
“If you have the scriptures behind you and you have a firm foundation, then you know that lost people are acting like lost people,” Lee says. “Today we have lost people and lost cops out on the streets clashing and acting like lost people while Satan claps his hands together with glee.”
The FCPO’s 250 local chapters reach out to the nation’s 1.1 million local, state and national enforcement officers with the Gospel from a perspective that cops can understand. (Also, this non-profit aids cops with PTSD.)
Lee accepted Jesus into his heart in 1995 — after 17 years of handling the stress of police work in his own strength. He immediately joined the Chattanooga chapter of FCPO and was hooked to their Bible studies and discipleship support group.
“Once I realized I had this whole new family that loved me, I was sold,” Lee says. “We began to read scriptures and learn to apply the scripture on the streets, which was a challenge. If you’re not reading the Bible, you don’t know what to do.”
Many officers don’t have the advantage of growing up in a Christian home, Lee says.
Raised in church, Lee left God and began working in law enforcement. After years of apprehending criminals and witnessing unimaginable monstrosities on the cruel streets, Lee descended into an abyss of anger, distrustful cynicism and heavy drinking.
He divorced his wife.
“Being a police officer and seeing all the evil and trying to deal with that evil in my own strength, I had become calloused,” he remembers. “I felt nothing. I hated everybody. Nobody told you the truth.”
When his mother died, he thought over his life. In the shower before her funeral, Lee remembered her dedication to Christ and reflected on his own prodigality.
“I knew the life I was living was totally wrong. I had faulted God for 20 years. But the death of my mother totally broke me and brought me to the lowest point in my life.” Lee says. “My life was passing before my eyes like a bad B-movie. I was crying uncontrollably.”
In the shower, Lee said three things to the Lord: “I give up. I surrender. I throw in the towel.”
Those phrases weighed with extra meaning to him as a cop. “I had plenty of people give up to me. I was a cop,” he says. “I have many people surrender to me. They gave up control. They sat where I told them to sit. They stood where I told them to stand.”
“Throwing in the towel” was a boxing term that coaches use to save their boxers who refuse to give up but are being beaten so badly they might die.
“I was so beaten by the world,” he says. “I couldn’t take another punch.”
Almost immediately, he joined the FCPO chapter at his police station and changed his outlook on life and police work. He worked the streets with renewed vigor and optimism, with the mentality of representing Christ to the people who never knew Him.
He and his brothers started a one-year Bible reading program. Twenty-three years later, he has read the Bible 23 times. What he saw in scriptures, he applied immediately to police work.
“What I found in the Bible was kind of shocking. There wasn’t an exception clause for law enforcement officers,” Lee says. “As a matter of fact, we have to do it cleaner and better than others. We are the hands and feet of Christ. We might be the only ‘Christ’ people see in their lives.”
Policing the streets with a Biblical mindset is better than any other, he says. Without Christ, cops may take home too many burdens from the job. Or they might not process well the hate of politicians or lawbreakers, like those in New York who recently held a vandalizing protest called “F— the police!”
The cop, Lee says, is only an agent of enforcement, a tool in the hands of a loving and correcting Lord. God doesn’t expect the cop to shoulder the burden of the trials he is subjected to each day.
“In my lostness, our mantra was to start drinking heavily” before getting saved, he says. “The feeling of aloneness and loneliness and that nobody really cares. With a Biblical mindset, you realize that God has put you there for His purposes, to carry out His mission, whatever that might be.”
The Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers sponsors cops to attend marriage retreats. The accumulation of stress on the job and subsequent drinking takes a heavy toll on marriages.
With an understanding of how cops think and act, police officers who are Christians are perfectly poised to reach out to their colleagues. The FCPO encourages sporting events and barbecues to bring the gospel to unsaved buddies.
“Were on the mission field. It’s the most ripe mission field of the world, and we’re not taking advantage of it,” Lee says. “You don’t have to beat people over the head with the Bible. You just keep the compassion of Christ. Your purpose is far greater than just throwing somebody in jail.”
Michael Ashcraft teaches journalism at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. All photos are from the FCPO website.