Notice the wording of the verse, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” According to this verse, and verses 2-8 that follow, when a task or action is done seems to be highly important. Our tasks or actions should be performed at appropriate times and doing them at other times could be deemed inappropriate. In other words, everything we do should be done at the right time—and there can be wrong times for doing what we do.
Is it possible to do the right thing at the wrong time? Certainly.
Case in point is the Indiana state trooper who was recently fired from his job after having been employed for fourteen years by the same law enforcement agency. [For privacy reasons, I have purposely omitted all identities involved in this incident.] The trooper was fired for witnessing about his faith in Jesus Christ and inviting others to visit the church he attends. Now, before we all rush to judgment regarding the trooper or the state agency, let’s gather a few other important facts.
The trooper had violated department policy on at least two occasions. The first time, a complaint report had been filed by a citizen. The trooper was reprimanded by his superiors and told not to share his faith while on duty as a public servant. Also, an attorney filed a lawsuit on behalf of the complainant but the suit was later settled.
Somewhat surprisingly, he did not comply with the order given by his bosses and continued to share his faith while on the job. It was reported that sometimes, while in the performance of his duties, he would do his witnessing to those whom he had pulled over. Eventually a second citizen filed a similar complaint. Subsequently, the trooper was removed from the field and assigned to an administrative desk job while an internal investigation got underway. After the two-month investigation was completed, the state agency decided they had no choice but to fire the trooper. Meanwhile, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the second complainant also (a fact which, by the way, authorities state had nothing to do with the firing).
As a former deputy sheriff and corrections officer (in another state) and as a current assistant pastor here in Indiana, I will admit that I have mixed emotions about this matter. There are two reasons why my position on this could easily be somewhere in the middle.
First, Jesus taught that believers are to be witnesses for Him (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20 and other scriptures). We are instructed to go into all the world—including locally—and spread the message of His gospel.
Second, any employer has a right to expect that a person under his/her employment will fulfill the requirements of the job in accordance with company/agency policies and procedures.
Pertaining to the event described above, I would remind the reader of the following facts:
Fact #1: The trooper, on at least two occasions, witnessed while on duty.
Fact #2: The trooper was ordered by his employers not to witness on duty.
Fact #3: The trooper had lawsuits filed against him two separate times.
Fact #4: The trooper deliberately ignored his supervisor’s order and continued to witness.
Also, let’s consider a similar event in scripture. In the book of Acts, the apostles continually witnessed to others of their faith in Christ, and declared that His grace was available to all of them too. Subsequently, the apostles were commanded by the authorities to stop the witnessing (sound familiar?). Notice how the apostles responded. "We must obey God rather than men," they said. And they continued to share their faith (Acts 5:29, 42).
Therefore, after giving this trooper’s real-life scenario some serious consideration, I have come to believe this about the matter: There is a distinct difference between the apostles in scripture and this trooper’s situation. The trooper was employed by the state, whereas the apostles were not employed by the Jewish leaders of their day. When the trooper’s employers told him to stop witnessing, he had, to my mind, two choices: a) stop witnessing while on duty, or b) find another occupation. That opinion may seem brash to the reader, but think about it.
The trooper could have stopped his witnessing on duty and continued to witness on his own time without his uniform (“…a time for every matter under heaven”). Or he could find another job where his witnessing would not conflict with the policies and procedures of his new employers. As the German theologian Martin Luther once said, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty, not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.”
I believe the law enforcement agency was within its rights to tell the state trooper he could not witness while in uniform. The reason is clear. When on duty, he is actively representing the state and should have complied with the agency’s policies. As Ecclesiastes 3:1 points out, it is important that some things be done at certain times, and not be done at other times. “…There is…a time for every matter under heaven.”
One final thought: If the time ever comes when pastors and other private citizens are told by the government (for whom they do not work and by whom they are not employed) that they can no longer bear witness to their faith, then they should continue to witness —and continue to witness for the same reason the apostles did— "We must obey God rather than men."