The Cross and the Badge
by Dan Schaeffer
I was only 15 when the police visited my home one Sunday morning. This was during the time when police officers were called "pigs," and worse. But I had never had much contact with police officers, other than watching some police shows on TV.
But that day will stick in my memory till I die. My mother had been very depressed the last several weeks, and walking home from church that day I spied the police cruiser in my driveway. A sinking feeling came over me, and I raced home.
Inside I found my grandparents and sister with an officer. No one knew where my mother had gone. She had talked about suicide, and now that was a real concern. The officer was on the phone trying to coordinate efforts with another officer who had located my mother sleeping in an apartment our family owned over my father's medical office.
Since my mother wasn't responding to their voices and knocking, the officer at my house spoke quietly and gave permission for the other officer to knock down the door. You could have heard a pin drop in my house. We all prayed fervently and held our breath. Then, after a few moments of silence, the officer quietly said, "All right," and put the phone down on the counter. He walked into the room where our family was waiting and said quietly to my grandmother, "I'm sorry, your daughter has passed away."
The crying and wailing that ensued would have affected anyone. And this officer was no exception. He also had a mother.
He said he was very sorry, and then went back to the phone to leave us to our grief. What else could be said? But less than 20 seconds later, he rushed back into the room and announced excitedly, "They've found a heartbeat, and she's breathing!"
Today, my mother is alive and well and living for Jesus, but I will never forget that police officer.
It was then I began to suspect that being a police officer was a much more demanding occupation than I had realized. They patrol the streets of our cities and towns and neighborhoods. They are a familiar sight with their patrol cars, uniforms, badges and guns.
We see them race by with sirens blaring, or if we're not careful, in our rearview mirror motioning us over where they will "remind" us of the penalty for speeding. Many of us have no more contact with police officers than that. But among those thousands of officers that answer the call to "serve and protect" are Christians-missionaries with a badge.
They have been called by God to fulfill one of the most demanding occupations on earth, to be salt and light to the worst elements of society, while protecting the rest of us from violence and evil.
Officer Bill Rhetts of the Riverside, California City Police Department is the Regional Representative of Police Officers for Christ International. He was 18 years old when he decided he wanted to be a police officer. Unfortunately, it was also the same year he got arrested.
Rhetts was sure that his chances of entering police work were finished, but upon striking up a conversation with the arresting officer, he learned he could still fulfill his dream. Rhetts never forgot that ride in the back of the police car, because it helped him empathize with the many who would one day ride in the back of his.
Phil Graper was looking for a new job. Having worked in a number of jobs, most recently in a cold storage warehouse in Los Angeles, Graper wanted a new career. He began to consider police work. While certain elements of it appealed to him, he admits to being slightly apprehensive about entering a field known to breed negativity and how that might affect his Christian faith.
He took a chance and applied to the Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff's Department. He was accepted. After graduating from the academy, he was assigned to the jails, a pre-requisite for patrol work. There, Graper was subjected to the worst elements of society, the very thing he had worried about. To his surprise, he felt God leading him to remain in the jail and exercise his faith where he was.
Lieutenant Al Flowers of Key West Police Department in Key West, Florida, had a strong Christian upbringing and was involved in church youth groups as a young man. He was led to police work, he says, because he felt that by doing so he could possibly influence some of the worst people in society to become Christians.
As Flowers freely admits, "I truly believe I was sent to the Key West Police Department to be a missionary for Jesus Christ. The more people I can help be Christians the better the city of Key West will be."
Deputy Sheriff Daryl Parker of the Orange County Sheriff's Department never planned on being a police officer. He had worked his way through college to become a teacher.
After working hard to make his dreams come true and armed with his hard-won degree, he was dismayed to learn the starting salary for a teacher was $14,000 a year, hardly enough to support himself, his wife and their new child.
Frustrated, he began looking for a job, and while visiting his parents in California, he heard the Sheriff's department was hiring. He applied and was accepted. Parker's calling into the police force was never something he had dreamed about or sought after, but one he felt clearly he had been led into. He says, "I prayed and asked God for direction, and he gave it to me."
Devotion and Duty
Bill Rhetts became a Christian after becoming an officer. Although raised in a good home, (his family went to church regularly), he
admits, "My belief in God was limited to the basic facts of his existence." Police work and his sin nature soon began to take a toll on him, and in 1986, he was divorced from his wife. This brought him to a new low and the realization he needed to change.
He began attending church soon after asking Jesus to come into his life. Although he continued to attend church, he admits, "Repentance wasn't yet a part of my vocabulary." He continued doing much of what he had been doing before coming to Christ-partying, getting drunk and becoming involved in a compromising lifestyle until God finally got his attention.
"He showed me what I looked like inside, and I didn't like what I saw." This understanding and an incredible event in his life would finally shake him out of his spiritual lethargy.
Phil Graper, working in the jails, realized that if he was to keep his faith strong while dealing day in and day out with some of the most hardened individuals on earth, he would have to "spend time in the Word, in prayer and in fellowship with other believers." This enabled Graper to have a healthy faith and perspective in a depressing atmosphere. In fact, as he says, his faith and his surroundings conspired to make his spiritual life stronger.
"In police work," Graper says, "you become a realist. I think God wants us to be realists, to see ourselves and our world for what they truly are. Then, all the everyday workings of God in our lives take on a truly miraculous nature."
Seeing the worst of humanity could make you cynical. Graper admits to occasionally thinking that if he were God, he would have looked at how terrible people can be and be tempted to wipe the slate clean and start over. But knowing God won't do that makes Graper more convinced than ever of God's grace and mercy for all sinners, including himself.
Each officer cited their involvement with a local church and their personal time in prayer and Bible reading as the thing that kept them centered spiritually.
Only God knows what they will face each day, whether it is nothing but routine paperwork or a life and death situation. They understand that they must be prepared for each contingency, and this drives them to a deeper dependence on Christ in their lives.
Trial by Fire
For many of us, the greatest danger we face on the job is a paper cut or catching the bug that's going around the office. But for an officer, each day brings the possibility of death.
In November 1991, while patrolling in Los Angeles, Bill Rhetts noticed a group of five gang members acting suspiciously in a church parking lot. It was noon, and there were many people outdoors. A "sixth sense" told him something was going on. Confronting the gang members, he was immediately met with a hail of gunfire.
Most police shootings last 3-4 seconds and are over. This one lasted 30-40 seconds, during which time Rhetts had to move, walk, run and skip shoot underneath cars. After running out of rounds, Rhetts reloaded another magazine into his pistol.
Eventually, he fatally wounded his assailant. None of the assailant's bullets hit him, though at one point the gang member was less than 10 feet away.
He would learn later that these gang members were planning on killing members of a rival gang who were inside the church attending a discipleship class.
This was Rhetts' wake-up call, and shortly after this incident, he recommitted his life to Christ and has never turned back.
Daryl Parker responded to a call of a despondent woman wielding a gun, demanding to speak to then President Ronald Reagan. On the way, Parker prayed his familiar prayer for dangerous situations: First, that he would get home, and second, that he would make the right call. Reciting the 23rd Psalm the whole way, he was the first to arrive on the scene. As he arrived on the scene, Parker recalls feeling a serene calm fall over him, "an assurance that everything was going to be all right, that no one would get shot."
First on the scene, Parker aimed his weapon at the gun-wielding woman. He had full authority to shoot her, but he chose not to. As other officers arrived and trained their guns at the woman, trying to calm her, she pointed her gun at Parker's sergeant who had arrived. Just as a Sheriff tackled her from behind, she pulled the trigger.
The gun, a double-barreled derringer, didn't fire. After examining the bullets in the gun, it was determined the bullets' primers had been dented by the firing pin, but did not fire. When the gun was reloaded with new bullets, both barrels fired perfectly.
This was just another example to Parker of how God watched over him. He had indeed walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and God had been with him. The woman was sent to a psychiatric hospital, and everyone went home unharmed.
The Secret Weapon
Perhaps the most powerful weapon a Christian officer wields on the job is the love of Christ in him or her. It is the last thing criminals expect to be used against them.
Deputy Graper in the Los Angeles County Jail discovered that treating the inmates in the jail with respect and dignity went far towards getting a hearing about his faith. It would be tempting to treat criminals with contempt, but Graper's faith urges him to see these people as God does, sinners in need of a Savior.
Officer Bill Rhetts was working a beat by himself on the streets of Los Angeles the day he responded to a domestic violence call. When he arrived at the scene, he cancelled any arriving units. But, to his dismay, Rhetts was confronted by a violent 6'5", 250 pound muscle-bound man who fearlessly challenged Rhetts to fight. This man was fresh out of prison and didn't respect, nor fear, the law and was itching for a confrontation.
Rhetts did the most unthinkable thing. Instead of challenging the man, he began to speak to the suspect about God. He told him about the love of Jesus for him, and as he spoke, he saw the anger melt away from the man. The man began to weep, and literally fell into a docile sitting position. The violent criminal changed in a few moments to a meek, weeping man, hungry for the love of the Lord.
Al Flowers has a similar story. Working the graveyard shift on Key West, he is assigned to deal with some of the most heinous criminal activity. Investigating a brutal murder at a nearby motel, he had to question two of the criminals. The first criminal was hardened, and when Flowers tried to share his faith, the criminal made it very clear he wasn't interested.
Most people would stop there, but Flowers made a point to speak also to the second suspect. This man had a spiritual hunger and was terribly concerned about the evil he had done. Flowers had an opportunity to talk and pray with the man. The criminal admitted to Flowers that he did believe in Jesus and that what he had done was wrong. As Flowers shares, "The people police officers come in contact with may have done terrible things, but it is not too late for them to be saved."
Rhetts' latest shooting happened in March 1997. "I shot a gang member twice. He lived. But what was profound and so awesome was I was able to hold this man in my arms as he bled. I was able to tell him I forgave him and show him I cared for him. Praise God he lived."
With every danger comes the opportunity for Christ to be glorified. This goal is at the heart of these Christian officers, and this is the mission field many Christian men and women across our nation and world who serve as police officers have chosen.
They are missionaries in uniform, seeing the worst of humankind, standing in the line of fire with both their faith and their lives and bringing the love of Jesus to people who may have never heard of him. They bear both the cross of Christ and the badge of office.
Dan Schaeffer is senior pastor of Foothills Evangelical Free Church in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. He is the author of The Bush Won't Burn and I'm All Out of Matches (Discovery House).