Thursday, March 2, 2017

Briarwood Vice: Mall Cops Dorky No More


Forget Miami, or Chicago, or Detroit.

There's a huge crime problem going on in Birmingham, Alabama.  And no, it's not the entire city of Birmingham that's going to hell-in-a-handbasket.  It's one of the city's largest churches.

Briarwood Presbyterian apparently has become so exasperated with their criminal element that they're petitioning the state for the right to create their own police department.

It's vindication time for much-maligned mall cops everywhere.

Briarwood is a large, wealthy, and mostly white congregation affiliated with a conservative Presbyterian denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America.  In addition to its church activities, they sponsor a Christian school and a seminary, all of which, according to church officials, combine to host approximately 30,000 events annually on church properties in two counties.

Ostensibly, the church figures that running its own police department would improve safety, although it's unclear how much crime has taken place at the church that has overwhelmed the resources of Birmingham's conventional police department.  It's also unclear how Briarwood would save any money by sponsoring its own police department, since health insurance alone for peace officers likely is far more expensive than it is for pastors, or rent-a-cops. 

Even more unclear is how large their proposed police force is going to be.  One report says they're only talking about employing one full-time cop.

That ought to have the criminal element quaking in their boots.

Meanwhile, questions abound regarding a drug bust on the Briarwood campus back in 2015, and whether parents of kids involved in that incident are pushing for ways to cover up such juvenile indiscretions.  Church officials say they'll play judge and jury regarding the oversight of their proposed police department's activities, and will only need outside help if they ever determine somebody they catch needs to be locked up.

After all, it would look pretty bad for a church to have its own jail.

Of course, it would also look pretty bad if a church and its police department had a convenient arrangement to cover up any allegations of child abuse, or other sexual abuse on campus.  It's not like churches don't already have a problem with pedophilia, and who would report to whom if, say, a youth volunteer was accused of a felony?  And that youth volunteer was a heavy tither to the church?  Yes, in a civil police department, quid-pro-quo exists, but not as readily as it would in a clubby church setting.

The funny thing - or maybe it's not so funny - is that the Bible says nothing about churches running their own police departments.  Actually, the Bible indicates that churches are supposed to be where the criminal element can go to find healing from their brokenness.  And actually, even though all sins aren't crimes, at least according to our penal codes here in the United States, all sins make us criminals in God's eyes.  Which is why we need a Savior, Who is His Son.

So let's suppose a member at Briarwood has committed a sin and broken the penal code - will that member be able to go and repent of that sin to a Briarwood pastor and enjoy professional confidentiality of pastoral privilege?  Or will the pastor have to summon Briarwood's staff cop and bust the congregant then and there?  Technically, according to the Bible, anybody who breaks a law is subject to the ruling authorities regarding any punishment, so maybe having a church police department will help congregants tow the line when it comes to 'fessing up when they park in a handicapped spot at church.

Briarwood tries to argue that they're no different than a college or school district that runs its own police force.  But yeah, there is a difference.  For one thing, many colleges that have a police force also have some sort of criminal justice degree program, graduation from which their student cops are being trained.  And school districts generally try to keep their kids separate from bad influences in the surrounding community, which includes the often altruistic objective of creating some sort of buffer between hardened criminality and adolescent delinquency.

The church should be separate from the world in terms of the actions of its people, yet in terms of its witness, what good is a church if its members spend so much time there that they're not demonstrating their faith while interacting with the world around them?  Perhaps Briarwood's quest for its own police department isn't as much indicative of its importance in the broader Birmingham community as it is its detachment from it.

As far as anybody knows, if Alabama's governor agrees, Briarwood would be the first organized church in modern times to have its own police department.  Yet "the Sheriff of Briarwood" somehow has a strangely familiar ring to it, doesn't it?

Even if nobody is robbin' the hood.


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