When Jon Moeller was in his 20s, he spent almost three years as an undercover cop, buying illegal narcotics off dealers in Kansas City.
“I was an adrenaline junkie,” he said. “I was doing six to eight drug buys a night, four days a week. It was the violent 1990s, when homicides and drugs were at an all-time high, crack was everywhere, and meth had just exploded onto the scene.”
He’d grown up in a Christian home but hadn’t committed himself to the Lord. When his police partner claimed that there was a nearby church so large, they actually paid their Sunday school teachers, Moeller started attending to see if that could possibly be true. The church pulled him in with service, asking him to help out with the youth.
“One night I was buying three ounces of crack cocaine in the projects, and a guy pulls out a sawed-off shotgun on me,” Moeller said. “The next day, I’m in a 15-passenger van with these Christians singing Veggie Tales.”
My life is not normal, he thought. He started to examine the depravity around him, the “pleasure principle” that made people reach for whatever was going to provide immediate enjoyment, be it drugs or alcohol or sex. It wasn’t so different from the adrenaline he was reaching for himself.
“God convicted me of my sin,” he said. “I started to learn and grow and truly understand what I had heard and read growing up. The dichotomy between my drug deal gone bad and Veggie Tales sing-along was a direct reflection of my spiritual condition.”
Moeller joined the FBI as a special agent and spent more than two decades working on cold-case homicides, child predator cases, and violent street gangs like MS-13. He cut the chains off a kidnapped girl, investigated the D.C. sniper case, and headed into a smoldering Pentagon in a Hazmat suit on September 12, 2001.
TGC asked him how he handled the spiritual darkness of crime, what he learned about Christianity from 9/11, and what he teaches his criminal justice majors at Dordt University about how to be a believer in law enforcement.
You’ve been in a lot of terrible places—trading cash with drug dealers, in the bedroom of a child rapist, climbing into the rubble of the Pentagon. How do you handle the darkness of evil you see in your job?
When I was younger and busting drug dealers, people used to ask me, “Are you willing to die for a ‘20 rock’ (0.2 oz) of crack cocaine?”
My response was pretty arrogant: “If I don’t do it, who’s going to?”
Back then, I compartmentalized all these different areas of my life—I could be catching bad guys on Friday, and with the good guys at church on Sunday morning. But the deeper my faith became, the more of a heart I had for people, and the more those lines began to blur.
I remember talking to a man who had raped and killed his nine-year-old stepdaughter in western Nebraska. He confessed to some of the most heinous things you can’t even possibly imagine. When he got done, I didn’t even have any follow-up questions. He enjoyed it that much. I looked across the table and saw pure evil, an absence of any light within him. It wasn’t the acts he had committed; it was who he was.
We’ve cheapened God’s grace and the good news of Jesus Christ, making it about being a nice person or being kind to others. We’ve watered down the gospel so much.
Because without the Lord, we’re all in the same sinful condition. That was something I struggled with—that my sin was the same as the pedophile’s. Our respectable sins—your pride, my selfishness—are the same before God as molesting kids. We need to view all sin the way God does. There is no “us” and “them;” we all need the blood of Christ.
As much as possible, as much as my job will allow, and for those that are open to it, I share the gospel. That’s a much bigger plan than trying to help people by attempting to stop the drug trade and claiming, “If I don’t do it, who is going to?”
It was a pretty dark time when you climbed into the battered Pentagon. You spent a month looking for remains and collecting evidence. How did that experience affect your faith?
I was at the Pentagon the day after 9/11, as Hazmat team leader, suiting up with my team to go in, and I was petrified because the place was still on fire. I looked at my team, who were waiting for me to say something deep and profound, or even inspirational. I looked at our partnering structural engineer, who was entering with us to keep us safe, and asked, “What kind of grades did you get in college? Were you a ‘Cs and Ds get degrees’ kind of student? I need to know.” The whole team started laughing—it helped to break the tension because we were scared. Our lives were in the hands of this engineer and his judgment. We were down there 12 hours a day for the next month.
At night, only two things stayed open at Camp Unity (the Pentagon’s south parking lot)—the Salvation Army and the North Carolina Baptist men’s disaster team. That’s how our needs were met, how we were fed, how we found dry socks. Those folks served our every need—physical, emotional, and spiritual—just as Christ would have. They would come over just to ask how we were doing, hand us a Bible, and pray with us.
I was able to see people living out their faith and serving in a completely different way. Who among us is willing to give up their job to serve strangers for a month during a time of need? I hope they know the impact they had on us—I will be forever grateful for each one of them. It was wonderful to know that there was a brother or sister in Christ there beside you—that was amazing.
Now you teach criminal justice to Dordt University students. Criminal justice is a gritty field. What do you tell them about being a Christian in law enforcement?
I tell our students two things: Get right with the Lord and fulfill his purpose—not yours—here on earth. The Lord is doing all kinds of things for eternity’s sake, and we get to join him.
Get right with the Lord and fulfill his purpose—not yours—here on earth.
The majority of my students have grown up in a Christian environment. Most haven’t been the victim of a crime or encountered someone who is pure evil. It’s completely foreign to them. Dordt students have a heart for others and want to help everyone, save everybody, and fix everything.
In class we examine the social theories, but more importantly, we discuss that all we are observing and experiencing in this world is due to the fall of man. It’s a sin problem. You must store that in the back of your brain as the foundation as to “why.” We also must remember that our sin is the same as those that we are now going to try to help or lock up. In the end, all of us need Christ.
Some of the students have already done internships and started to see this darkness.
I sit on a drug court panel in the county where I live, and we have a two-to-three-year process where we try to get people dried out and to keep them out of prison. We help them get to Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, get a job, get a checking account, do community service—things like that to get them back on their feet and start life again, straight. When people come in, they’re generally very resistant. But something happens after a year where their attitudes start to change. A lot of these folks realize they need the Lord and start examining, Why do I believe what I believe? I have to rely on something more than myself—what does that look like?
That’s exactly where I was 25 years ago as a narc. So as a panelist, it’s very rewarding to get the opportunity to help someone process what they’re thinking and experiencing. If they are able to reenter society without going to prison, great. If one of them gets saved through the process, even better. It’s all worth it.
There’s a saying, “If you want to find Jesus, go to prison, because everybody finds Jesus there.” But it’s true for many—when you’ve arrived in drug court and face a prison sentence, you’ve hit rock bottom. You have the opportunity to admit, confess, and repent. You’re held accountable. That’s how Christ treats us. He loves us enough to remind us where we’re supposed to be, and at times to rebuke or discipline us. To me, the drug court lines up perfectly with what we should be doing as the church.
Drug court lines up perfectly with what we should be doing as the church.
What is the best advice you have for those going into the field?
Scripture tells us constantly that we’re in a spiritual battle. We need to be asking ourselves, “How tight is my relationship with the Lord? Am I in the Word? Am I constantly in prayer? Am I in communion with other believers? What sin do I have in my life that needs addressing?”
Don’t ever sell out to the world. Remain firm in the Word, firm in your convictions as a Christian. This work needs to be about the Lord and for the Lord. We are just the tools.