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Faith Communities and Restorative Justice

Faith communities are touched by restorative thinking and practice in a number of ways. They may use restorative processes to resolve their own conflicts. Their members may be victims, offenders and/or family members of both. They may seek to influence their communities to support restorative programmes. They may sponsor, or their members may participate in, those programmes. And they may advocate for systemic change to make restorative justice a more prominent part of their community's response to crime. Or they may do none of those things. The following articles consider the challenging and sometimes complicated relationship between faith communities and restorative justice.

Maine Council of Churches. Restoring Victims of Crime - Building Healthy Communities
This material describes why and how a coalition of churches in the United States is committed to promoting restorative justice perspectives and practices in its state criminal justice system, churches, and communities.
Consedine, Jim. Developing Restorative and Transformative Justice: A Church Response to Crime
The author argues not just for restorative justice, but for transformative justice processes as well. Restorative justice has huge strengths, but some limitations. Transformative justice has less. God's justice, as revealed in the sacred scriptures and as defined by the Church in its teachings on the Common Good and other matters, cannot always be achieved fully if one deals only with the immediate matter of a specific offense. Transformative justice looks more closely at the background circumstances of the lives of those involved and seeks to redress some of the injustices existing there. It also recognizes the existence of governmental and corporate crime. Both restorative and transformative justice can provide imaginative and creative processes. Neither is a panacea for all crime. Both will provide fairer justice for all, bring some healing to victims, reduce re-offending, make communities safer and reduce the numbers going to prison.
Pranis, Kay. From vision to action: some principles of restorative justice
Faith communities are essential to any approach to restorative justice. The vision of restorative justice - a vision of responding to crime by focusing on repairing the injuries caused by crime and promoting healing for victims, offenders, and communities - probably cannot be sustained without the help of faith communities. There is an enormous gap between what we teach in our churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues and what we practice in daily personal and political life about the possibilities of forgiveness and redemption and about the fundamental dignity of all human life. Faith communities have the moral responsibility and the resources to help American society as a whole grapple with our present responses to crime and violence that intensify the underlying conditions of disconnection and alienation, two conditions that breed crime. (excerpt)
Katongole, Emmanual and Rice, Chris. Reconciling all things: A Christian vision for justice, peace, and healing.
Emmanual Katongole and Chris Rice, codirectors of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School, cast a vision for reconciliation that is biblical, transformative and holistic, helping Christians imagine a new creation in their everyday lives. They draw on the resources of the Christian story, including their own individual experiences in Uganda and Mississippi, to bring solid, theological reflection to bear on the work of reconciling individuals, groups, and societies. They recover distinctively Christian practices that will help the church be both a sign and an agent of God's reconciling love in the fragmented world of the twenty-first century. (publisher's description)
Berzins, Lorraine. Churches and restorative justice: pushing the edge.
Since 1974, the Church Council on Justice and Corrections (CCJC) has been the Churches’ voice of criminal justice experience and research in Canada. It was established by 11 denominations to examine the morality of Canada’s criminal justice policies and practices by reflecting theologically about the nature of justice, examining the impact of the present system on the lives of those it touches, and searching for pathways of redemptive change. That system, it declared early on, is off the mark in terms of faith values and principles of biblical justice (Shalom); largely because of features that prevent it from strengthening community. It actually makes community relationships weaker by failing to: 1) meet human needs; 2) address constructively the problems underlying crime; 3) heal those affected; 4) do what is needed to reduce danger and fear; and 5) rebuild trust and peace. (excerpt)
Botman, H. Russel. The Church Partitioned or the Church Reconciled? South Africa's Theological and Historical Dilemma
This chapter is interested in the occurrence of the theme of reconciliation as it has become an instrument of dealing with the intricacies of difference and unity in the apartheid and postapartheid context. It investigates a number of theological texts that have emerged within the South African context that are of particular significance in the examination of reconciliation as theme in the context of racial realities. (excerpt)
Smith, R. Drew. Ecclesiastical Racism and the Politics of Confession in the United States and South Africa
This chapter highlights important aspects of the race-bound histories of these churches, noting ecclesiastical and social factors that contributed racial separations and conciliatory steps by churches within both countries. The discussion situates church support of racial separation and reconciliation within a larger racial politics revolving, for segregationists, around notions of black otherness, and for persons concerned with racial reconciliation (especially between 1950 and the mid-1970's) around black empowerment. Finally, the chapter examines recent reconciliation initiatives within conservative wings of white Protestantism and the tendency to uncouple reconciliation from concrete social policy initiatives. The discussion concludes that a systematic commitment by white churches to black social and material interests is a fundamental prerequisite to genuine racial reconciliation. (excerpt)
Gnonhossou, Mathieu Segbegnon. Reconstructing justice in the land: How urban evangelical congregations in Cotonou and Porto-Novo can respond to the escalating phenomenon of antisocial behaviors.
The current context of escalating antisocial behaviours in Benin, in general, and in its major cities, in particular, demands that urban evangelical churches be freed from whatever is holding them back from offering an appropriate response to the situation. Biblical exploration of eighth century BC Israel and Judah coupled with earliest Christian movement's responses to social ills point to the reality that the fight against injustices in urban settings is an ancient scriptural tradition. When read from the perspective of current African theology of reconstruction, the narratives of Hosea's and Amos's prophecies compel Christians to engage the very roots of the plight that weak and powerless people now face in Cotonou and Porto-Novo. To this end, Christian congregations must be prepared to engage the failing voices that have tried and are still trying to respond to the social ill of antisocial behaviours in a critical manner. (excerpt)
Thesnaar, Christo. Restorative Justice as a Key for Healing Communities.
South Africa is indeed a country of many contrasts, of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. All South Africans were deeply affected by apartheid and this had a huge effect on how communities (including both offenders and victims) on all levels took shape; where they lived, the quality of their housing and neighbourhoods, the resources they had or did not have at their disposal, what schools their children attended, what opportunities they had for economic gain and how they were emotionally affected by the policies of apartheid. This article specifically intends to argue that communities should deal in a positive and urgent way with the divide caused by the past so that victims and offenders do not stay victims and offenders but are assisted to move on in their life journey towards healing and wholeness. The author believes that the key for reaching this goal is justice, especially restorative justice. With this qualification in mind the article wants to argue that the Christian church in particular can play a central role in implementing restorative justice in local communities. This will ultimately help to break the destructive cycle of being a victim today and an offender tomorrow, or the other way round. (excerpt)
Hauerwas, Stanley and Vanier, Jean. Living gently in a violent world. The prophetic witness of weakness.
Rather than contending for privilege by wielding power and authority, we can witness prophetically out of our brokenness. The church has much to learn from an oft-overlooked community -- those with disabilities, who point us anew to the very heart of the gospel. In this volume, theologian Stanley Hauerwas collaborates with Jean Vanier, founder of the worldwide L'Arche communities. L'Arche provides a unique model of inclusive community that is underpinned by a deep spirituality and theology. Together Vanier and Hauerwas carefully explore the contours of a counter cultural community that embodies a different way of being and witnesses to a new order -- one marked by radical forms of gentleness, peacemaking and faithfulness. The authors' explorations shed light on what it means to be human and how we are to live. The toughness of Hauerwas and the gentleness of Vanier offer a constructive synergy that, if listened to carefully, will lead the church to a fresh practising of peace, love and friendship. This invigorating conversation is for all Christians who desire to live more faithfully in the midst of a broken world. (excerpt)

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