Historically, religion and police departments have been sort of odd bedfellows. Not that police officers aren’t religious, or churches can’t cooperate with police, but when the two institutions join hands on a structural level, the results have been ugly. You’ve got the Crusades, for one. The Spanish Inquisition, for another. And let’s not forget the Salem Witch Trials right here in the United States. And then there are the countless smaller incidents of churches who scuttle aside scandal by dealing with it “internally,” only to make things worse.
So maybe that’s why eyebrows are being raised by a recent vote by the Alabama Senate to allow Birmingham’s Briarwood Presbyterian Church to form its own police force.
The church runs a good-sized elementary school, and lawyers argued that the between the respective sizes of the congregation and student body populace, an armed police force is justified. They also pointed out that many colleges employ their own police force, such as Baylor and Brigham Young University.
These are valid arguments. There have always been valid arguments for churches to link arms with police departments, armies, militias and what have you. The question is whether or not it’s wise, and whether or not the possible cons outweigh the pros. That’s a question that history has weighed in on a few times but who knows? Maybe Briarwood Presbyterian Church can buck the trend.