In the late 1990’s the police agency I worked for, like many other agencies, adopted a new philosophy called Community Oriented Policing. It was based on the principles established in the early 1800’s by the father of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel. The nine Peelian Priniciples focus on the necessity of cooperation, trust, and respect between those who are charged with enforcing the law and the people they serve. The Community Oriented Policing Philosophy meant that we needed to develop real, authentic relationships and problem-solving partnerships with the community we were serving.
It was quite a change for our Department to undergo. Even though these principles had been in existence for almost 200 years, they hadn’t been the driving force of most police agencies including ours. Over the years, a divide between our department and our community had developed, a mistrust on both sides. The public didn’t know what went on behind the closed doors of our police facility and we were fine with that. There was a sense that the public didn’t need to know what we did, or how we did it, and they probably couldn’t handle it if they did know. But, our leaders at that time recognized that the tide was changing. In order for us to be more effective in our community, we needed to return to those Peelian Principles. We needed to bridge that divide.
One of the many aspects of adopting Community Oriented Policing as our guiding philosophy was to create an environment where real, authentic communication and relationship could develop. Because we held the authority, it was incumbent upon us to make the first move and invite the members of our public into a relationship with us. We did this through community forums, Neighborhood Watch meetings, and by developing a Citizen Academy that invited members of the public into our Department on a weekly basis to learn about every aspect of police work.
Creating the atmosphere however was only part of the equation. The much more difficult part was being open to hearing from our community members. It’s one thing to invite people into a police facility, it’s something quite different to encourage them to be open and honest about their thoughts, feelings, and impressions of you. It’s still another thing altogether to genuinely care about those thoughts, feelings and impressions enough to want to change any of them that are negative. This was a process and it was one that did not come easy and did not come overnight.
I can only speak for myself, but there was a natural tendency to go into these community meetings defensively. I can remember times when I was actually fearful of what the group I was meeting with would say about us. I’d prepare pages of statistics to counter every argument I thought they might bring up, trying to anticipate each of their issues. But what I learned very early on was the statistics I prepared didn’t matter as much as listening to and truly hearing what their perception was of us.
We as a Department learned that the perception of the public we served was as important as the truth about who we were. Very often it wasn’t the same, but it was still incredibly valuable. What we found was that their perception and the ability to voice that perception led to the beginning of a conversation, the beginning of a dialog, the beginning of a relationship. In those meetings it was the group’s perception that we had to understand and address first. It didn’t matter if their perception was based in truth or not. It didn’t matter if the statistics that we had backed or countered their claims. We had to listen and understand their perception first so that we could address it. And our community members had to do the same. They had to hear our perception. They had to understand where we were coming from as well. Once the perceptions were heard, the truth could be revealed and a relationship could begin. It seems simple enough, but it wasn’t always easy. Both sides often believed that they alone knew the truth and the other side was just flat out wrong. We were at an impasse until both sides understood the power of perception.
Perception feels like truth. It’s almost visceral, isn’t it? We feel it in our gut. We believe it so strongly that little can change our minds. But our perceptions are not equal to the truth. Truth is constant. Truth doesn’t change based on the person believing it. Truth is truth. Perceptions can change. Perceptions differ from person to person, from experience to experience. Both are important, but they are not equal.
We as a police agency had to work on changing the perceptions of the people we served so that the truth of who we were would become evident to them. And, we had to be willing to change our perception of our community members so that the truth of who they were would become evident to us. This revelation of truth came through relationship. It wasn’t just one meeting, one conversation. It had to be nurtured and developed and tested within the context of relationship, within the framework of true connection. That is where truth is known. That is where perceptions line up with truth.
One of the themes of the book of John is that of truth. There is one scene in particular that stands out to me when I think about truth being revealed. It’s in chapter 18 where we get to eavesdrop on a short conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in the midst of Jesus’ trial. John writes,
Pilate went back into the Praetorium, summoned Jesus, and asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
“Are you saying this on your own,” Jesus asked, “or did others tell you about Me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews. But now My kingdom is not of this realm.”
“Then You are a king!” Pilate said.
“You say that I am a king,” Jesus answered. “For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked. And having said this, he went out again to the Jews and told them, “I find no basis for a charge against Him.” -John 18:33-38
Pilate is faced with an angry mob outside his palace. They are demanding he execute Jesus for the crimes He has committed, but Pilate is unclear as to what exactly Jesus has done to deserve such punishment. Pilate asks Jesus if He is claiming to be the King of the Jews. Jesus responds to his question with his own question. I believe He is asking Pilate, “Do you really want to know who I am or are you just asking because that’s what others have told you about me?” Pilate quickly rejects Jesus’ question and distances himself from any association with the Jewish people. He wants no part of them and could care less who their king is or who is claiming to be their king. Pilate wants to get to the bottom of the issue to quiet the angry mob. Jesus doesn’t pass up this opportunity to reveal that He is a King but not the kind of King that his accusers believe He is. He tells Pilate that He is in this world to testify to the truth, to be a witness of the truth. And then we hear Pilate’s rhetorical question, “What is truth?”
That question breaks my heart. Although it was no doubt said sarcastically or flippantly I believe there is a sliver of Pilate’s heart revealed. He doesn’t believe there is such a thing as truth. He has no doubt been burned. It’s clear to him in this moment that he is being used. The angry mob wants him to execute this man so their hands won’t have his blood on them. He has lost hope. There is no truth in his world. And yet, it is standing right in front of him.
Jesus is not only a witness to the truth, John tells us in an earlier chapter that Jesus said, “I am the way, the Truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Truth is real. Truth is available, even to Pontius Pilate, but he doesn’t see it. He is blinded by his perception of the world and he is missing the truth that is standing in front of him.
Truth – the Truth – Jesus, is available to us. Truth comes to us through a relationship with Him. It’s not just one church meeting, or one simple prayer. Truth comes to us when we lay out our perception of who we think He is and openly accept the Truth of who He really is. It comes through a real, authentic relationship with Him that is nurtured and cultivated. It is understanding who He is and understanding who we are in Him. Truth is a beautiful thing that has never and will never leave us. Truth desires to live within us. It is the greatest possession we will ever have and it’s meant to be shared with others.
Our Nation is divided and is in pain. These past few weeks have highlighted that pain like no other time in recent history. We have gradually become accustom to feeding that divide by expressing our perceptions as truth and drawing lines in the sand, daring others to cross them. We have forgotten how to have dialog with one another, meaningful conversations, and the importance of valuing others perceptions. We come at each other defensive and armed with statistics to prove our side of the argument, and have forgotten the value of hearing others and being heard.
Truth is no longer present in places where we used to find it. But make no mistake, Truth is alive and well! Truth is alive in those of us who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We are the only ones who can bring the light of Truth into this dark world, and we cannot do that outside of relationship. Jesus is not only our Lord and Savior, He is our model. It was through relationship that He brought people to know God’s love for them, His forgiveness for them, His salvation for them. His desire is to work through us to bring more to know Him. We have to resist the urge to draw endless lines in the sand by spouting our perceptions, opinions, and views as if they are truth. Only Jesus is truth. And if we are to heal this divide in our nation, we need to create an environment for relationship and truly connect with others, listen to their perceptions, value them, and allow Truth to reveal Himself within the context of love.
Father, heal our land. We are broken and need your Truth, your Son Jesus, to bring us peace and to bridge this divide. Use us, Lord, as lights in this dark world, that others may come to know you by the love that they see in us, your love. Father our perceptions of people and experiences we have had have turned our hearts away from you. Do not let us fall into the hands of the enemy who would like nothing more than for our pride and the strength of our opinions to be our demise. Humble our hearts so that we can be used by you to bring healing to all who are hurting. Thank you for being a constant, for never changing, for being available when all hope seems to be lost. You are God. You are here. And You are Love. Thank you, Father. In Jesus’ name, amen.