Learning When to Break the Rules

The Lord Almighty says, “Is there no more wisdom in Teman? Has wise counsel perished from those with common sense? Has their wisdom decayed?”  

Jeremiah 49:7         


On April 5, 2008, Christopher Ratté took his seven-year-old son, Leo, to a Detroit Tigers baseball game.  Leo wanted a lemonade, so Christopher bought him one at the concession stand.  

Mr. Ratté is a professor of classics at the University of Michigan. As an archeologist, he is absorbed with the past, and this may help explain why he had no idea that Mike’s Hard Lemonade was an alcoholic drink.  


A security guard noticed the boy with the alcoholic drink, and soon Christopher and his son were surrounded by a cluster of security guards. The two were escorted from the game and Leo was examined by a nurse, who found no evidence of inebriation.  

No matter. Leo was forcibly taken by ambulance to the Children’s Hospital in Detroit. In the emergency room, they found no evidence of alcohol in his blood. Nevertheless, Leo was taken into a private room by officers from the Child Abuse Division.  

By this time, Leo’s mom had been contacted and arrived at the hospital, but even she was denied permission to see or speak with her son. The boy was placed in the custody of the Wayne County Child Protective Services. Scared and confused, little Leo cried himself to sleep.  

To lessen their son’s trauma, the parents called Leo’s aunt in Massachusetts – who drove all night to take custody of her nephew. The aunt was not only a social worker, but a licensed foster care provider. Yet, she was refused custody of her nephew.  

A couple of days later, a juvenile court judge ruled that the little boy could return home – but only if the father moved out of the house and agreed not to speak to his son.  

After two weeks of anguish, the authorities quietly dismissed the case.  

The response of the officials, police, social workers, and judges was all the same: they hated to do what they did. They all claimed they were just following rules. No one, apparently, had given them the authority to exercise reason, compassion, or common sense.  

What was the purpose of these rules that everyone felt obligated to follow? We can only assume that the rules were made to protect children. And yet, it was not an unwitting academic dad who harmed this little child; this child was severely traumatized by the very agencies whose mission was to protect him.  


Laws and rules, of course, are absolutely essential. Yet, the Bible says that all the rules that God makes can be summed up in one phrase: Love your neighbor as yourself.  

We can hide behind rules as a way to excuse our behavior: “I was simply following procedure.” But to God, rules are the expression of compassion and justice. And, if that is so, we must not only learn to follow rules, but also to break them in the interests of love and common sense. 

(text 2013 copyright by Marty Kaarre)