Restorative Justice: Rethinking How We Deal With Crime
Tragedies, crime, and destruction surround us everywhere we go. We don’t have to come face to face with it very often. Yet simply by turning on the news we are inundated with more violence and exploitation. We have only to think of the Alberta RCMP officers who were recently killed, or the 24 year old man who was dragged to his death beneath a car in Maple Ridge. How do we react to this? Do we shake our heads and keep our distance, muttering about the need for tougher sentencing and stricter jail terms?
Langley ARPA decided to host an evening on the topic of justice and how we, as lights in the world, should react to crime. We met on March 5th and were blessed with two excellent speakers: Langley MP Mark Warawa and the executive director of M2/W2 Restorative Christian Ministries Wayne Northey. At this meeting we learned more about a concept that is Biblically based but rarely heard of in our Canadian circles: restorative justice.
What is Restorative Justice?
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the ultimate example of God fulfilling his justice and bringing forth restoration. Restorative justice attempts to follow this Biblical precedent by dealing with crime seriously but always with an attempt to seek restoration for the criminal, the victim, and all of society. For example, if a youth is caught vandalizing a store front, a process would fall into place that would try to make the young person realize just how wrong his actions were. This would involve a meeting with the store owner and then a sentence (settled outside of the courts) in which the youth must work to fix the wrong he has done. This does requires vulnerability from individuals like ourselves because we would have to deal first-hand with criminals, rather than leaving it completely to an impersonal justice system.
Restoration means more than just serving a sentence. It requires restitution and acknowledgment of wrong towards the victim. Ideally, the criminal should realize the wrong he committed, make payment for that crime, and then work towards being a positive influence in society. Ephesians 4:28 says “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” Notice how it is not enough to just steal no longer. He must also change his life so that he has a positive influence on the rest of society. That is restoration.
Is This Biblical?
We are well aware of the total depravity of mankind. It affects every aspect of our lives, spiritually and physically. Our depravity is evident in the way we violate God’s intended purpose for our lives and the sacred gifts he has given us, with crimes such as rape, child exploitation, vandalism, child pornography, same-sex marriage and murder. Throughout the Bible, God makes it very clear that he is a God of justice. Injustice provokes His wrath so God never deals with sin lightly. However He often uses punishment in order to work towards restoration of the original state of goodness.
Throughout the Old Testament, the theme of shalom, or peace was constantly reaffirmed. Crime disturbed the shalom of the nation. It was not simply an act against the crown. Rather, it hurt the very peace and stability of the nation. One only has to think of the example of the sin of Achan and how all of Israel suffered because of the stolen property hidden in his tent (Joshua 7). Another example is the continual theme of how Israel would chase after the gods of the surrounding nations and fall away from the covenant. God would punish them severely, but He never left it at that. He always punished with the purpose of calling His people back to obedience and to a right relation with Him. If it were not for this restorative justice of God, we would be completely forsaken.
What can we do?
Christ’s command to visit those in prison still applies today. Organizations like M2/W2 have a large wait list of prisoners who are waiting to meet with a volunteer who is willing to visit them every couple of weeks. Volunteers can be a friend to the prisoner and serve as a shining light of the hope as well. We can also research this topic more and speak with our elected officials about it. For more information, visit www.m2w2.com.
Burke VanderHorst, Mark Penninga