Restorative Justice

Christians, among others have championed this particular process, because it extends beyond the courtroom, seeking better outcomes than punishment alone can give.

It brings both parties (the offender and the victim) together to talk with the hope they can come to agreement about where some repair can begin to take place – not necessarily in just a monetary way but rather a satisfactory healing to the victim’s situation. In some measure, this will involve accepting responsibility, repenting, forgiving, and accepting someone who has hurt them. Often the offender will also undertake some sort of rehabilitation program. This overall process reflects God’s pattern of justice, punishment, forgiveness and grace as outlined in the Bible.

While the offender must still experience the punishment imposed on them by society’s judicial system, rather than majoring on the broken law restorative justice focuses on the harm done to the victim and the community, with the aim to pay back or make right the situation as much as is humanly possible. Repairing the harm done to the victim often changes the heart and lives of offenders and promotes reconciliation among those affected by the crime. For the victim this helps to heal the wounds, to enable forgiveness and to restore love and trust while for the offender it helps them to feel the pain and cost of the damage caused. It involves both parties, looking beyond themselves to the other person, which is a much healthier interaction.

In order to bring about the desired outcomes this process is negotiated and mediated rather than imposed – one party is not permitted to dominate.  It allows for repentance and forgiveness to be exercised, encouraging personal accountability, and for showing love which desires the good of the other.

Consider the aim when you discipline                            your children – is it restorative?

These behaviours can bring about long term changes of attitudes and habits resulting in mental and emotional release and healing hurts which otherwise would cause long-term negative problems. Such an approach involves, moving from being self-centred to other-centred, and enables everyone to move on without the baggage and bondage of the past.

Meaningful restitution needs to take place to rebuild trust where there has been wounding.  It is the responsibility of churches and society to ensure such measures are increasingly employed whereby the needs, rights and responsibilities of both parties are dealt with in a constructive, harmonious and sensitive way that brings wholeness and closure to the offence along with a change of direction (no repeat offending) indicating repentance is genuine (Lk 3:8, 19:8).

Restorative justice reflects a partnership model rather than a dominating situation; submission and co-operation rather than alienation through control. It gives the offender the chance to be heard, yet clearly see the impact of their actions. As revenge presupposes that the one taking this action is morally superior to the one on whom the revenge is taken, Christians are to avoid any payback and leave the judgement for sin and evil to God, while seeing the offender as one made in the image of Jesus, and treating them with dignity and respect – just as if they were Jesus (Mt 25:34-46).

Restorative justice has as its main agenda a concern for healing of hurts and renewal of relationships providing a setting for forgiveness. It seeks to change the nature of the people offending, without which lasting change can’t take place in society. The justice of God is not primarily retributive or vengeful but restorative. He intervened in the world to make things right (1 Pet 3:18).  As Christians, we are called to spiritual restoration but to gain credibility we must address the current injustices felt by those in poverty and the plight of those who are victims of abuse and exploitation.

See also: accountability, correction, co-operation, crime and punishment, discipline, hurts, justice, reconciliation, restitution/restore, revenge, submission, victim.


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