In recent years the intersecting roles of faith, law enforcement, and community have been the subject of many intensive, heated, and sometimes even violent debates. Many ask questions such as:
- Are police officers the problem or the solution?
- What is the proper role of religion in the public square, or should it have any role at all?
- What is driving the rising violence across American and what can we do to stem it?
- How can we help make our communities more healthy and whole?
According to the FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin, “Creating a weekend for houses of worship and law enforcement to collaborate is a powerful way to enhance community policing. To this end, in 2020, a national social change organization partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to inaugurate the first National Faith and Blue Weekend.”
As evidence of the tremendous need, in a mere two years the Faith and Blue Weekend has grown rapidly with creative events from coast to coast. A Department of Justice website explains more about the significance and recent history of this new development.
“The initiative is based on the premise that law enforcement and faith institutions are key pillars of every community, and when they work together with community leaders, neighborhoods thrive. Faith & Blue’s objective is to recalibrate police-community relations through solutions-focused activities (…) that are organized jointly by faith-based or other community groups in collaboration with law enforcement agencies. These activities are an opportunity for law enforcement to work directly with local stakeholders to plan and carry out events that are inclusive and truly reflective of their community’s unique needs and capacities.
“Reverend Markel Hutchins and the team at MovementForward, Inc., an inclusive social change nonprofit organization, are the catalysts behind Faith & Blue. Hutchins first became involved with law enforcement in his native city Atlanta as a civil rights proponent who spent his early career working on behalf of community issues, often in opposition to law enforcement. Then, in 2009, following a divisive police-involved shooting, things changed. The Atlanta Police Department invited Rev. Hutchins in, ran him through a modified Citizens Police Academy, and gave him an inside perspective of the complexities involving policing and the use of force. For the first time, Rev. Hutchins was forced to view police-community related issues differently, and this led to a newfound conviction that getting law enforcement and communities to work together could solve problems.
The Faith & Blue website explains: “Communities are stronger and safer when residents and law enforcement professionals can relate as ordinary people with shared values, hopes, and dreams. And that’s what the National Faith & Blue Weekend is all about… helping people to remember that when it comes to law enforcement and the average citizen, then we can find ways to work together instead of being divided by our differences.”
Dr. Bryan Smith, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church Roanoke, devoted one of his recent episodes of his Star City podcast to this year’s Faith & Blue weekend, going on now. Dr. Smith elaborates: “Communities are stronger and safer when residents and law enforcement professionals can relate as ordinary people with shared values, hopes, and dreams. And that’s what the National Faith & Blue Weekend is all about… helping people to remember that when it comes to law enforcement and the average citizen, then we can find ways to work together instead of being divided by our differences.”
Gareth Stephenson is a chaplain with Shield Chaplaincy, serving the police departments of Roanoke City, Roanoke County, and Salem, as well as the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department. When asked his perspective on the two-year-old Faith & Blue program, he tells The Roanoke Star readers, “It does help and encourage officers to have faith and a blue line. It’s okay to pray and have faith and also to wear a badge. These two can go together and should.”
Those interested in getting Shield Chaplaincy email updates can text CHAP to 22828.
In our confused culture where many have been misled to demonize first responders, turn a blind eye to acts of violence, denigrate the healthful contributions of religion to public life, and pit one group against another, the Faith & Blue Weekend movement is a welcome antidote seeking to bring community members together in communication and collaboration where everybody wins.
May their tribe increase.