Winright Addresses Policing in Fleer Lecture

Winright.jpgThe 2022 Fleer Lecture at Central Methodist University brought prominent ethicist and author Dr. Tobias Winright to the Fayette campus on Tuesday, where he gave a talk on “Just and Unjust Policing: Abolition or Reform?”

Central’s Dr. Kevin Carnahan, professor of philosophy and religion, introduced the featured speaker for the night, calling him “a person with both practical knowledge and theoretical knowledge” on the subject of policing.

“Tobias actually served in uniform. . . which is important because, as opposed to many people in the area of ethics, he actually did the things that he writes about,” said Carnahan.

Indeed, Winright began his talk by describing his background as the only member of his family to go to college, while at the same time becoming a police officer in the same department where his mother also served. Being from a Christian background, he said, he quickly became interested in the issues around policing that persist to this day, such as racism and excessive use of force.

“These were issues I thought hard about,” said Winright, who is now a professor at Saint Louis University. “I saw a lot of things, I experienced a lot of things, and I wrestled with them.”

He went on to earn a master’s degree in theology and ethics at Duke University, then attended Notre Dame for his doctoral studies. Winright said he started at Notre Dame two years after the Rodney King incident and later wrote his dissertation on the subject of the use of force in policing, having been affected by seeing things of the same nature in his time as an officer.

Winright’s talk addressed the relationship between Christian theology and the ethics of policing, saying that violence has always been an important moral issue for Christianity, but rarely have theologists had much to say on policing specifically. He did, however, say that Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis preached about treating criminals with human dignity because humans are all created in the image of God.

“It’s hard to see a murderer. . .in the image of God,” Winright said, but “the image of God is not something that’s earned, and it’s not something that can be lost.”

The professor went on to describe different methods of policing around the world and even within the United States, outlining four models in particular: the crime fighter/military model, the emergency operator model, the social enforcer model, and the social peacekeeper model. Winright called for a move from the military model toward the peacekeeper model in the US, citing the need for a community-oriented approach addressing the root causes of crime.

He wrapped up the lecture by taking questions from the audience in Linn Memorial United Methodist Church.

Winright is Associate Professor of Theological Ethics in the Department of Theological Studies and Associate Professor of Health Care Ethics in the Gnaegi Centre for Health Care Ethics at SLU. His most recent books are the T&T Clark Handbook of Christian Ethics, published in 2021 by Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, and Serve and Protect: Selected Essays on Just Policing, published in 2020 by Cascade Books.

The Fleer Lecture series on values-based education is generously funded by Dr. Gilbert Fleer ‘55 and his wife, Ruth ‘58. Fleer was an assistant professor of religion at CMU from 1959-1965. He went on to serve as a United Methodist counselor for many years counselling young adults. The Fleers’ strong support of leadership training led them to fund the Gil and Ruth Fleer Fund for Excellence in Values-Based Education at CMU.

Winright’s full lecture can be viewed at

Learn More
Apply Now