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First Impressions

In Spring 2017, I became part of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) as a police chaplain. I remember the day when I was introduced for the first time to the 5th precinct, during the roll call, when the officers begin their dogwatch shift (night shift). To be honest, it was really awkward.

First of all, I am not a police officer. I’m just a civilian, so I didn’t belong there. Second, it was my first time, and I didn’t know anyone in that room, except the chaplain program coordinator and my fellow chaplain, Father Carl. It was awkward. I don’t know how else to describe it, except it was Really Awkward! I was so glad that they were with me, that day.

I was introduced to the officers, and the dogwatch sergeant asked me if I wanted to share anything with the officers, but kind of looking at me like, “what would you have to say?” I stood up and said, “Hi, my name is Sean Lee. I’m a pastor at Southview Seventh-Day-Adventist church on 58th and Wentworth Ave. I’m here to support you. Let me know if you want to talk, I will always be here for you.”

I looked around the room, and I thought these officers were angry or something. Almost everyone was chewing something, and they just had no expression on their face, staring back at me. I sat down, talked with a few officers around me and that was it. Father Carl told me that he felt the same way, when he began. He said it would go away eventually, as time went on. So Father Carl and I talked about the next roll call and he offered to join me again.

I showed up early on that day, I scanned my brand new MFP police ID and went into the meeting room. I saw that Father Carl wasn’t there, so I texted him and he texted me back, “I can’t be there, sorry.”

I was nervous again. I intentionally sat in the middle of the meeting room, hoping to have some officers sit next to me or somewhere close. No one sat around me, and it was obvious I was a civilian. It was super awkward again, because I didn’t know anyone at this roll call, either. The Sergeant asked me the same thing, “Chaplain, do you have anything to say before we go?” Typically, we are not encouraged to pray in pubic, but I offered to pray for them if they wanted me to, and I told them I would be available for anything they needed. I greeted the officers as they left. No one had anything to say.

I walked to the parking lot after and got into my car, then I prayed for the safety of the officers and the city of Minneapolis. I opened my eyes and realized that I had parked in the lot for squad cars.  The parking lot for visitors were on the other side of the parking lot. How awkward was that?

As I sat in my car, thinking about how to make things better, someone knocked on my car window. I literally jumped because I thought nobody was around my car. Plus, I was in the police parking lot, and unfortunately, law enforcements officers had been targets for ambush. When I looked out, it was one of the officers from the roll call. He said, “Hey Chaplain Lee, I’m so glad you are here because I wanted to talk to you. I really need prayers these days. Can you pray for me?” I said, “Of course, Officer. I am more than happy to that.”

We talked for a while. Lots of things were going on in his life. I listened to him for a while. Finally, he asked me to pray for him. I prayed with him. After I prayed, he asked me if I could come with him in his squad car, ride along with him that night. I cannot share what we talked about or what happened but he literally did not stop talking the entire night. It was inevitable that we would become good friends.

This changed my view of the MPD officers. Initially, I felt like they were not on my side, and I wasn’t comfortable in their presence. I felt the officers were cold, cynical and not fun to be with. But once, I got into their social loop, being able to be part of their community, being able to make personal connections, everything changed. Now they come to me to talk about their personal issues. There’s still have some barriers, and they don’t show their true characters. But the officers became my friends, people I cared about, people I ministered to. My view of law enforcement officers changed.

This situation is called “in-group/out-group.” If I see someone as out-group, and that person shows a negative behavior, I perceive it as his/her norm, a character trait. If I see someone “in-group” and that person shows negative behavior, I perceive it as accidental/incidental, and not normal.

Lets assume that you are Vikings fan and if a Vikings payer did an illegal tackle, you would see it as incidental, not as a bad play. But when you see a Packers player do an illegal tackle, you disparage them and call them out, “yeah, Packers are always like that.”

When you deal with someone on the out-group, you profile the person negatively because our brain needs to efficiently process and connect different cognitive concepts. If the human brain profiles someone or certain kind of demographics based on short and negative encounter on a regular basis, it will become prejudiced. Accumulation of prejudices will produce certain reactions. Bottom line is, we all do this unconsciously.

What about in your journey? What kind of out-group or in-group are you part of? How do you identify yourself and how do you profile people in an out-group? Do you identify as an immigrant minority? As Korean-American? Or Korean-Korean? What about political preferences? What about in your faith journey? Are you conservative Adventist? Or are you liberal or progressive Adventist? Do you support ordination of women or are you against them?

Have you encountered similar situation like me, that your view of an out-group changed when you built a personal relationship?

Today, I would like to challenge you to think and take action on this. Just think about who you feel comfortable with (in-group) and who you feel out of the loop with (out-group). And if you believe that you are a follower of Christ, who asks us to go to everyone, why don’t you be more intentional and try to build a bridge that wasn’t there before.

For God so loved the world, the He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:16-17 (NKJV)

We are all created equal, and we are all an image of God. Furthermore, God gave His only Son to save all of us. All of us are called to be children of God. I pray that we all consider others part of our in-group. It is not natural, and it is not easy. Sometimes you have to initiate the process to build connections and you might have to go the extra mile. But, we are all called to love one another like Jesus loves us. We are living in the time of division and polarized society. People love to profile people outside of their comfort zone, and slam negative characterization. I think we can show others a positive light, as Asian American Adventist Christians. This is what I call, the foundation of the Great Commission. Without this foundation, we cannot really do mission that Jesus has given us.

Can you imagine the word where all of us consider everyone as in-group? That would be so awesome. I believe we can begin that journey now.

Sean SaeHyun Lee 李世炫 이세현 is the Associate Pastor of Southview SDA Church, Associate Youth Director of Minnesota Conference of SDA, Police Chaplain Minneapolis Police Dept. He lives in Minneapolis with his wonderful wife, and two boys.

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