This afternoon, Edi and I visited the Corrie ten Boom house in Haarlem, the Netherlands. The house is only accessible via guided tour, which is offered several times per day. A chain of events resulted in us taking the Dutch language tour with the assistance of a Dutch-American English translator who had brought a couple of family members there for the tour.
We were already familiar with the story, but going to the actual house where the hiding place is located makes the story all the more powerful. Adding to that was hearing the story told by a Dutch woman in Dutch. It’s one thing to read about the story or watch the movie. It’s another thing to sit in the house and ponder what it would be like to face the police in the doorway, hoping they don’t find what you’re hiding.
Hiding, because it’s illegal.
The circumstances today in Baltimore and elsewhere in America are different than the circumstances during the Nazi occupation of Europe. The public discourse seems to have devolved into two overly simplistic positions: pro-police or anti-police. Or, if you prefer, pro-law and anti-law.
Both positions make the same error: conflating the law with right and wrong. Some law, and therefore some law enforcement, is good. Some law, and therefore some law enforcement, is bad.
One reason I respect Corrie ten Boom’s disobedience, which cost her family their lives, is because she was motivated by love to doing the right thing even when it was illegal. Her Christian faith played an important role in the strength of her character and conviction in her actions. That put her at odds with the police and she chose disobedience to the law (and police), and obedience to what is right. For that, she is held up as an example by many people.
Does that mean violent and destructive rioters are doing the right thing? Absolutely not. It’s not because they’re breaking the law that they’re wrong, it’s simply because they’re doing wrong. When people who are doing something wrong break the law, the police may rightly enforce the law. But if the police are wrong in their enforcement, we’re right to oppose their actions.
We ought not defend or praise rioters as good examples when they’re doing wrong, just as we ought not defend or praise police as good examples when they’re doing wrong. Framing the debate as police v.s. citizens without any reference to moral action sets us up for two bad outcomes: the one in Baltimore that everyone is watching on TV, or the one we experienced a glimpse of today at the Corrie ten Boom house.
How should we respond? The answer seems so simple: do what is right. Paul gives that very advice: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Rom 12:17-18 NIV)