The biblical concept of shalom gives us a comprehensive vision for how God intends society to be. It also gives the church a comprehensive, holistic mission, especially in the urban context. In Jeremiah 29:7, the prophet Jeremiah penned these words to God’s people on behalf of God Himself: Seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its shalom you will find your shalom.
Many of our English translations define the word shalom as peace. But that is a thin translation that really doesn’t convey the fullness of the word shalom. Peace is simply the absence of hostility or conflict, but shalom is much more than that. Shalom speaks of wholeness, health, harmony, reconciliation, thriving, both individually and collectively. The word shalom is so rich and full of meaning that it’s hard for our English language to capture it in one word.
To give a succinct definition, shalom is the presence of harmonious relationships marked by joyful thriving. Shalom is present in a community not merely when there’s no violence, but when all the relationships and structures in a community function in a way that maximizes human flourishing. Thus, shalom speaks to all of our relationships, with God, others, self, and creation. God wants us to experience shalom in our relationships with others – both as individuals with other individuals and group entities with other group entities.
One of the relationships God wants us to experience shalom is the local police department with the local community. The police department is a local law enforcement agency meant to purge evil, uphold the rule of law, and establish justice. This is important, because shalom and justice go together (Psalm 85:10, Isaiah 32:16-17). Where there is sin, there is injustice. Where there is injustice, there is a lack of shalom. It’s a problem when shalom is vandalized and injustice prevails, because God wants our shalom communities to be ethical and just communities. This means that God wants the police department to act in a just manner, sustain just relationships with the community, and do justice, so that shalom can exist in the relationship between the police and the people of the community.
When police officers mistreat people, commit acts of brutality, operate with implicit bias, walk in racism, they’re committing acts of injustice. When they commit acts of injustice against the people of the community, they stop the relationships from thriving and they vandalize shalom, which then destroys trust, respect, and love in their relationship with the people. This is our current situation in North Philadelphia. There’s a lack of shalom and justice in the relationship between the police department and the community, which has caused all kinds of problems.
Not only does God desire the relationship between the police department and community be marked by justice; He also desires it be marked by love. In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus commands us to love our neighbors and gives us a parable to show what it actually looks like. We see in the story that love is emotions felt and actions performed that display a commitment to the well-being of another person. We are called to love people in our community despite the differences that may be between us. Therefore, God calls police officers and people in the community to love one another.
The church is called to be peace makers and agents of shalom in the community (Jeremiah 29:7, Matthew 5:9). We must press into the injustice, lack of shalom, and broken trust in order to help heal the fractured relationships and maximize shalom. As we reform the oppressive and abusive behavior of the police department and as we help to restore the relationship with the community, then “justice will make its home in the wilderness, and righteousness dwell in the grassland” – and only then will it be true that “righteousness will yield shalom, and it’s fruit be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:16-17).
Furthermore, the church is called to be agents of love in the community. We must exemplify Christ-like love towards the community and the police department. In doing so, we model what it looks like to love our neighbors. As we do that, we must also take action in order to help the two entities better love one another. Therefore, we must find ways to call them to love one another, restore the relationship, help them exercise love towards one another.