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A few days ago in Dallas, Texas, hundreds of shots rang out, targeting police officers. Before the shooter was stopped, five Dallas police officers were dead, six other officers were wounded, and some civilians had been shot. President Obama remains mystified as to the motives of the shooter, although he is always quick to assign the darkest motives to white people or conservatives. In this case, he has been unable to accept the words of the shooter who claimed he wanted to “shoot white people, especially white cops.” That actually seems fairly clear. 

Whereas many reports seem to emphasize racial division, the facts reveal some more powerful truths. One cannot escape the fact that there are some people in the world who are, in the words of C.S.Lewis, “as crazy as a poached egg.” The poached eggs of the world are going to do crazy things. They will do them with guns, cars, bombs, knives, poison, planes, box cutters, or garden implements. No manner of round-up of pointy things or things that go bang can ever eliminate threats. There is always something else dangerous to use. It is, however, helpful to try to identify those who are poached and, when possible, seek to limit the damage they can do. 

In the case of the Dallas shooter, there were some clues to his excentricities. In addition to having a vast assortment of guns and bombs and backyard maneuvers, he had made some of his former military colleagues nervous with his apparent passion for ladies’ undergarments. That may have led to his separation from the army. In any case, he was an angry, unhinged guy who got caught-up in hatred and the easy social narrative of those who represent the fallacy that the police are always wrong. Of course, it is true that unrighteousness acts are done by some police officers. Most officers, however, are dedicated and principled. In the heated environment of recent incidents during which black citizens were shot by police, there has been no shortage of those who are ready to rush to judgment.  Every incident involving a police officer’s use of force needs to be thoroughly investigated in an impartial way. If there is misconduct, it needs to be identified and prosecuted. There is no excuse to overlook misconduct, nor is there room to assign ill motives automatically. The fact is that every incident is filled with facts. Facts are pesky things. They either are or are not. Misconduct needs to be named and pursued, regardless of who is identified. 

In the midst of the swirling anguish, anger, and pain of the Dallas shootings, the facts must be discovered and revealed. Follow-up actions must be discerned and undertaken.  But all the facts do not involve misconducts. 

Take, for instance, the case of Shetamia Taylor, an African American mother who was at the demonstration with her young son — a demonstration that, until the shooting started, was peaceful. While the hail of bullets was flying, she was hit in the leg. Ms. Taylor grabbed her son and told a nearby officer that she had been hit. Unable to move away from the field of fire, Ms. Taylor said that “with utter disregard for their own lives,” an officer laid his body over her and her son. Seeing that the shooting continued, two more officers came close as well. One laid his body to cover her head. Another laid down over her legs and her son.  Beside them another officer was shot and killed. She said that “these heroes” disregarded their own safety to protect her. A black woman wounded by a deranged gunman was given protection by three white police officers who were willing to give their own lives for someone they did not know, someone who had been a demonstrator, protesting police! Nothing was clear as the bullets flew and officers fell, other than the fact that a civilian was in danger, and these principled officers were willing to offer themselves for the ultimate sacrifice to protect someone with whom they surely disagreed. 

The facts are that this is the norm.  Certainly, there have been incidents of police officers’ misconduct. When that happens, the facts need to be investigated and pursued, and the individuals prosecuted when appropriate. We also need to recognize how many millions of interactions–even cross-racial interactions–take place without incident. It is foolish and wrong to describe police interactions as all biased. It just isn’t so.

How, though, do we process problematic situations? The pattern can be applied to most incidents, not just ones involving police. Any conflict can be addressed. Fact-finding and appropriate action are not only possible, they represent what righteousness requires. 

 

The day of the shooting was not only a day that I marked with sadness about theviolence, but also one that was significant to me for other reasons. It was the anniversary of the day I graduated from Air Force Pilot Training forty-five years ago. (Don’t go jumping to conclusions too quickly about how ancient that makes me. I’ve been told I was the youngest person to earn their wings in Air Force history since World War II.) Admittedly, it was a long time ago, but there were great things I learned about problem-solving as a pilot. 

The first things one must do in assessing an emergency (or a “situation”) while flying a plane are:

            1. Maintain aircraft control

            2. Analyze the situation

            3. Take proper action

When something occurs, it is not sufficient to suspect what is going on; rather, it is critically important to be sure. It is also vitally important to maintain aircraft control. It is tragic when that is not done, and people perish addressing a situation in or with the plane. 

In aircrafts, as in life, problems fall into two categories: horrible problems and not horrible problems. There are two different approaches to the issue depending on whether the problem is horrible or not.

If it is a “horrible problem,” pilots call it a “Bold Face Emergency.” It is so named because the checklists to handle life-threatening problems are written in Bold Print. Bold Face emergency procedures must be learned verbatim. Any deviation in wording, punctuation, or even spelling is punished by getting a failing grade. Before, during, or after a flight, a flight examiner can ask what the procedures are for one of the Bold Face procedures. Any mistake gets an “F.”

Other issues that are less critical require only a 70% grade to pass. Those situations can be addressed more leisurely and not quite as critically. Naturally, it is very bad to misdiagnose a situation as non-critical when it actually is critical. It is equally foolish to treat something peripheral as though it deals with essentials.

In the Anglican Communion, we are dealing with many problems. Some of them are in the category of horrific and deal with issues of salvation. Other issues are more peripheral, and their pursuit does not result in a loss of salvation.

 

Scripture is clear that there are some things that are so egregious that their pursuit separates us from the redeeming love of Christ. When those things occur, we need to treat them like the Bold Face emergencies that they are, and say, “No!” To do less is not loving. It is not loving to offer to bless that which God says needs to be redeemed. 

 

Likewise, decisions and actions that overturn Scriptural authority are Bold Face emergencies as well and should be treated as such, also with a “No!” 

Other matters on which there is Biblical silence or lack of clarity need to be treated with more flexibility. Others who have opinions about those things that differ from mine might be right, and I might be very wrong. I need to approach those matters with a great deal of humility and a lack of stridency. 

In addition, much like the absolute heroism in the midst of the Dallas shootings, we need to identify heroism from those around us, even those with whom we disagree. We need to celebrate their nobility and appreciate their kindness whenever it appears, even when it complicates disagreements and undermines our arguments. Just because it is not helpful to my narrative, truth cannot be ignored. For example, everything about same-sex relationships is not bad. There are noble, righteous, and good things found in them. However, nobility and righteousness are never found in sexual expression in same-sex relationships. We can affirm the nobility of friendships, creativity, loyalty, and a host of other things. What we can’t do is to overlook that which God says reaps an ill harvest.

We have to seek and celebrate Biblical truth and righteousness, and lovingly but clearly address that which is out of order. We need to do that in in the midst of violence, bigotry, and sin. It is a hard and high calling, but that is the calling we have.