When I was the president of Hope for Peace & Justice (www.h4pj.org) we worked hard to popularize the idea of “restorative justice.” That organization is still doing that worthy work, but having two other fulltime jobs greatly limited my involvement with H4PJ, though we are still financial contributors and activists.
Working for restorative justice in Texas and the rest of the South seems a lot like trying to grow a forest in the desert. The soil was not receptive, and the environment usually hostile. Worst of all, though, was the fact that even good people seemed largely disinterested.
Most of us don’t even know what restorative justice is:
Restorative justice (also sometimes called reparative justice) is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, “to repair the harm they’ve done—by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service” In addition, it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future offences. It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offence against an individual or community, rather than the state. (from Wikipedia)Almost everyone who reads this definition nods their head in agreement. Then one of two things happen: 1. We promptly forget it because this is not an issue that involves us, or 2. We become a victim of a crime and we promptly forget this because what we really want is revenge.
This past Sunday the assigned Gospel lesson was the story of the Prodigal Son. I’m not sure restorative justice has a chance in a culture when our religion seems to be designed to produce the best possible “Older Brothers.” Somehow we miss the call to become more like the Father who knew all that the prodigal had done wrong, but, rather than extract vengeance for the hurt, the Father sought to restore the wandering boy to a productive place in society—a ring, a robe, a home, and unconditional love.
If disciples of Jesus don’t offer such who will? Actually, no one, because very few Christians seem to care about true prodigals.