This past weekend we had a few guests at Church: Leroy and Joan Willems with the Mennonite Central Committee, and Will Gonzalez, Chief Deputy Prosecutor with the City of Phoenix. They came to share with us something that has been sweeping through communities and transforming how they go about “being” community: Restorative Justice.
The thrust of their version of this flavor of justice is trying to “fix” broken situations in a way that helps the offender to hear from their victim and take responsibility for their actions, and helps the victim seek the kind of justice that will actually help heal their psychological and emotional injuries. I have heard of “restorative justice,” as opposed to punitive or retributive justice, for many years and have only a cursory understanding of it at best. This year my congregation is trying to steep themselves in this more biblical perspective of justice, according to those who are promoting and practicing it–like the Mennonite Central Committee and it’s many ministries.
One of our guests suggested that this type of justice is much harder. It is much easier to punish or banish (which is how our criminal justice system mostly works, using punishment as a deterrent–how’s that working out for us so far?). Of course, there will be situations when the offender is unable to listen or take responsibility. But, according to Mr. Gonzalez, restorative justice has already begun to transform entire schools who have sought to implement it, and is beginning to find its way into our criminal justice system. The rates of repeat offenders has dropped dramatically among those who participate.
Isn’t that God’s vision: to “restore” creation, including us?