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Biblical Justice and Restorative Justice

The Bible was a source of inspiration for many who constructed the institutions of contemporary criminal justice. It was also a resource for some of the early practitioners of restorative justice. Its influence on both groups continues. The following articles examine the relationship between biblical justice and restorative justice.

The image of God in each of us could change how Christians view prison reform
from the entry by Elise Amyx on Institute for Faith, Work & Economics: On Monday, January 26th, faith leaders gathered in Washington D.C. to discuss restorative justice as a Christian approach to the criminal justice system. The United States is home to more incarcerated citizens than any other nation in the entire world. With 25 percent of the world’s prison population behind bars in the U.S., prison reform is an issue of rising bipartisan support in Washington. It’s also a huge concern among Christian social justice advocates, especially since there is a strong link between incarceration rates and poverty rates and reform may greatly improve overall human well-being.
N.T. Wright on judgment
from the entry by Nils von Kalm on Soul Thoughts: Whether we are Christians or not, whenever we think of judgment, especially with regards to Christianity, we have this idea of judgment as being that of a wrathful, vengeful God (and as a friend of mine pointed out to me this week, this is where the idea of penal substitution fits in to much evangelical thinking as well). But to people who are suffering and consistently persecuted, the idea of God coming back to bring judgment and justice is good news indeed. They see it as what it is – the setting right of all things.
Biblical view of justice
I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the single greatest hurdle in the path of true justice as detailed in the Bible, [...]
Restorative justice: A biblical view of justice
from the entry by TM Moore at We are obligated to live justly toward our neighbors, and, in part, that requires that we take appropriate preventive steps to guard his wellbeing and property. The statute cited in our text above reflects the third facet of the Biblical teaching on justice, which we may refer to as restorative justice. According to the Law of God, when injustice has occurred, whoever is responsible for it must take steps to set things right again.
Transformative Justice and “Cities of Refuge:” Miklat, Miklat Zine (REVISED)
from the article by Lewis Wallace and Micah Bazant in Miklat, Miklat Zine ....Another strategy for addressing transgression, mentioned in the Torah, are the Cities of Refuge or Miklat Arei. In theory, a person accused of a serious crime, even a capital offense, could flee to a City of Refuge and live out their life, safe from violent retribution. The Talmud states that these cities should be evenly spaced throughout the land and accessible by wide and well-maintained roads. At every crossroad there should be a signpost marked Miklat (Refuge). The Cities of Refuge were not only a location for individual sanctuary but a vehicle for spiritual expiation and cleansing of society and the land.
A chance to heal unholy wounds
from Bronwyn Pike's article in the National Times: For many years, religious organisations have grappled with the need to improve the ways they deal with abusive behaviour by their own clergy. In my previous role as director of social justice in the Uniting Church during the 1990s, I worked with my colleagues to develop sexual abuse complaints procedures. In that task I gained an appreciation of just how challenging and complex this issue can be.
The measure with which we measure
from the article by Andrew Skotnicki in Baylor's Christian Reflections issue on Prison: The decisive factor in overturning not only the ordeal, but the fear of Christians to will the punishment of others, was the inauguration of systems of law—first canon law which began its development in the late eleventh century and, in its wake, secular legal systems. With this epic turning of the moral tide, a third factor was brought into the equation of viewing human weakness: an offense was not only an affront to God and to the victim, it was also an affront to the law. In light of this legal revolution, perhaps the most influential revolution in Western history, the meaning of human acts against their fellows took on a new appellation and gravity. They were not only sins that required forgiveness by a priest in confession, they were also crimes, and the offender had to be punished because he or she had broken the law.
Christian critiques of the penal system
from the article by L. Lynette Parker in Baylor's Christian Reflections issue on Prison: ....While approaching the issues from different theological and philosophical traditions, the above authors nevertheless agree on the problems with contemporary criminal justice and together begin to trace the outlines of a solution. The problems: institutional forces benefit from a destructive status quo; the public view of prisoners makes citizens indifferent to their plight; and an emphasis on individual responsibility fails to take seriously the systemic injustice that prisoners face. The solutions: remember that prisoners, too, are made in the image of God; address the systemic causes of crime; and learn to love the people touched by crime.
Doing justice honourably
From Janet Sim Elder's post on Per Crucem ad Lucem: A crucial question in this election year is how do we do justice honourably with both victims and offenders? How can recidivism continue downwards and how do public attitudes change to being solidly evidence-based? How do we face the challenge of changing the justice landscape? Can we provide the moral courage to help our society take steps towards a more just and merciful society?
Forgiveness scholar opens up on role of faith
from Francis X. Rocca's article in The Christian Century: Today, at least 1,000 academic researchers and "countless therapists" specialize in forgiveness studies, Enright said, but at the time, a library search turned up not a single piece of scholarship on the subject in any of the social sciences. Enright found himself drawn to the area and began leading a seminar on forgiveness at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he was a tenured professor. Among the assigned readings for the seminar were selections from the scriptures of various religious traditions. Those texts raised questions that led Enright back to back to Christianity: first to what he describes as a liberal Methodist church, then to an evangelical Protestant congregation, and finally back to Catholicism.
Peace Studies programmes
from the entry on PCPJ Blog: Michael Westmoreland-White compiled this.... As a service, I thought I would list all the U.S. colleges and universities that have programs with names like “peace studies,” “peace and global studies,” “peacebuilding and conflict resolution studies,” etc. I found there were enough that I decided just to list the church-related ones and do the others in a separate post. Typically, such programs are multi-disciplinary involving faculty from several departments including international studies, history, philosophy, religious studies, international law, economic development, and/or political science or sociology. The earliest such programs in the U.S. were in institutions related to the “historic peace churches” (Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Friends/Quakers), but it has spread beyond them.
A justice that reconciles -- new study guide from Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand
Harris,Scott. Learning to Live with Evil.
N.T Wright’s latest book, Evil and the Justice of God, is an invitation to the Christian community at large to revisit the problem of evil. As a response to his own theological journey as well as the relatively recent barrage of international examples of evil, Wright enters into an open-ended academic dialogue wherein he tables his own well-reasoned reflections on the topic. More importantly, though, the pastoral quality of his writing solicits various potentially broader audiences to consider, for themselves, whether evil is real and how scripture informs our understanding and response to the issue. He proposes both a renewed Christian rubric for understanding and talking about evil and teases out the implications for Christian action in three areas.
Green, Lara Michelle. An exploration of the role of spirituality in selected restorative justice programs for youth in Ontario
While in Canada, restorative justice is rooted in Aboriginal and Judeo-Christian spiritual traditions, little research has focussed on this area. This study sought to explore the spiritual dimension of restorative justice. In-depth interviews were conducted with 20 respondents representing 12 different restorative justice programs in Ontario. These included: victim offender reconciliation programs, youth justice committees, various Aboriginal justice programs and community justice conferences. Respondents were asked a series of questions related to the role of spirituality in restorative justice programs. The findings indicate that the question of spirituality is a very complex one. A number of definitions of spirituality were offered. Three quarters of the respondents indicated that there was a role for spirituality in restorative justice processes noting that for processes to be successful, participants had to reach a meaningful level of engagement. This was related by many of the respondents to a spiritual dimension, whether explicit or implicit in the programs. The implications of these findings are discussed.
Sarre, Rick. Restorative Justice: Exploring its Theological Roots
As Rick Sarre notes in this article, restorative justice has been emerging within the justice systems of a number of countries in the last decade. The key element of restorative justice, he asserts, is the pursuit of justice practices that, as far as possible, rebuild relationships broken by crime rather than damage them further. On this basis, Sarre explores religious roots or connections of restorative justice in historical terms. Additionally he develops some of the possibilities for churches in seeking to enhance restorative justice principles.
Wichert, Tim. A Mennonite Human Rights Paradigm?
Mennonites are uneasy about human rights. We have not ignored them entirely, and sometimes use the language of rights when convenient. But human rights language tends to be a “second language”, after the preferred language of compassion, care and community. Yet human rights have become an integral part of the international legal system, and have been one of the most significant, non-violent, “political” contributions to public peace, justice and order in the past 50 years. They play an important role in moderating conflicts. Human rights institutions have ensured that there is a systematic international response to torture, unlawful detention, violence against women, and refugees. And at a national level, legal instruments like the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or the American Bill of Rights, provide the basis for a rule of law which has largely ensured public peace, justice and order. But human rights present a significant challenge to peace theology, which has been the primary tool for developing Mennonite responses to conflict and victimization, especially through the preferred options of forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation. In my view, Mennonites need to move beyond ambivalence and develop a human rights discourse to enhance the viability of peace theology - and restorative justice - as a more universally helpful response to conflict. A Mennonite human rights paradigm could have a significant impact on behalf of those in need. My perspectives on human rights arise from my training in law, some time engaged in the practice of criminal law and refugee law, and the past 13 years working with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which included a three year secondment to the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland.(excerpt)
Cavanagh, Tom. Thirsting for a Restorative Justice Rather than Execution.
We as American Catholics were called upon on Good Friday to not only oppose the death penalty but to rebuff a justice system based on expediency and efficiency in favor of a justice system founded on the common good, focused on the healing of the victim, offender, the families and supporters, and all members of our communities. To do this will take great courage. Let us pray together for courage to create peace in our communities through a restorative justice. (excerpt)
Consedine, Jim. Restorative Justice - A Gospel Response to Crime.
In dealing with issues of crime and law and order, the Church has to proclaim the age old message that Jesus came to bring the world: “Good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, new sight to the blind, healing fort he sick, freedom for the oppressed.” That is our mandate. The teaching of Jesus can bring new light to bear on the difficult issues of conflict and crime in the community. They offer grounding principles to deal with them. These will involve promoting processes based on justice, equity, fairness and accountability. But such an approach must always be guided by wisdom, tempered by mercy, and allow for the possibility of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation for both victims and offenders. (excerpt).
Lapsley, Michael. The Role of Punitive Justice in Reconciling: Is this a Christian Concept?
The other thing I wanted to say, that I've been very struck in this conference by the amount of pain and anger that is here in this community. As the Christian community, we do not often allow ourselves sufficient space to acknowledge the feelings that we have. We're too quick to say 'That's not appropriate as a Christian.' Too, too, too quick. And when I hear pastors saying, "How can I preach reconciliation when I have this kind of anger?" my response is to say, "Stop preaching. Stop preaching. Do some more listening, to others and to yourself. Work through some of that pain, anger and frustration and desire for revenge. Wrestle with it long enough that it can begin to be transformed and redeemed. And maybe visit it again and again, maybe visit it in a while, maybe in six months, in a year, in another year." But particularly we who are ministers of the gospel are not going to be of any use to others unless we wrestle with the depths of our own messed-upness, and our own wounds. Because then we cannot be the truth if we preach a gospel that sounds sweet, and people see we are burning with anger. (And I just want to say also that I don't think anger is a sin. What we do with it might be sinful, but anger is anger. It is what we feel). (excerpt)
Thorburn, Stan. Punishment and Sentencing: Courts and Community. A Question of Attitude.
In our responses and attitudes as Christians to the problem of crime and the depravity of criminal behaviour and its perpetrators, we surely have to begin by acknowledging that every person, criminal or not, is of such value to God that there is rejoicing amongst the angels, Jesus tells us, when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10). (excerpt)

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