Today, my friend Jamie Arpi-Ricci wrote an excellent reflection on evangelicals and justice. He is positive, as am I, about the current shift towards activism for the “least of these.” He cites human trafficking as a cause worthy of the church’s attention. But: What exactly do we hope will happen to the offenders when they’re finally captured?
It seems to me that evangelicals still have a western view of judgment. We see the court system as being retributive, when the biblical narrative offers a paradigm that is much more restorative. Our goal as Christians should be that both the victim and the offender find wholeness or shalom and can become fully human image-bearers once again. Unfortunately, few Christians actually question the judicial system in United States. The reason for this lack of criticism comes as we have failed to think theologically about the nature of justice.
Jaime Arpin-Ricci writes the following:
What concerns me about such examples is that they reveal an underlying mistake in our understanding of justice as Christians. Without question, the man [human trafficker] deserves to face the judicial system and I share in the hope that his punishment is adequate to keep him away from harming others for as long as is possible… That said, I also believe that at the heart of true justice is the offensive and stubborn grace of God that desires the redemption of the offender as well….
I am not suggesting that these people do not deserve to be punished, but rather that the justice that Jesus calls us to- the justice that we are to hunger and thirst for- is first and foremost about forgiveness and redemption. Even the act of punishment is subservient to that purpose. This is restorative justice, the same justice that transformed the Christian-killing Saul of Tarsus into the Apostle Paul, arguably the most influential Christian in our history. We romanticize Paul’s story, but that he would become a central leader to the early church would have been a bitter pill to swallow for many of the other Christians. Yet that is the nature of grace and restorative justice.
One of the central causes of this disconnect for many current justice orientated Christian ministries is the lack of a solid, developed theology of justice. The heart is right and the commitment to action is essential… We risk parroting the retributive justice of the world rather than embracing the counter-intuitive grace of God that can transform even the worst of sinners into brothers and sisters in Christ. READ THE REST OF JAMIE’S ARTICLE
Question: Do you believe that our evangelical theology of justice is underdeveloped? How do social justice causes and our goals for both victims and offenders need to be reflected in the church’s approach to activism? Other thoughts?