I. Biblical Theological Grounding
The words of Micah ring out clearly, setting the tone for justice ministries
in the Church: "He has told you, O Mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord
require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with
your God?" (Micah 6:8)
Justice is the basic principle upon which God's creation has been
established. It is an integral and uncompromising part in God's redemptive
process, which assures wholeness. Compassion is characterized by sensitivity to
God's justice and, therefore, sensitivity to God's people.
The gospel, through the example of Jesus Christ, conveys the message for
Christians to be healers, peacemakers, and reconcilers when faced with
brokenness, violence, and vengeance. Through love, caring, and forgiveness,
Jesus Christ is able to transform lives and restore dignity and purpose in
those who were willing to abide by his principles.
Jesus was concerned about victims of crime. In the story of the Good
Samaritan, Jesus explored the responsibility we have for those who have been
victimized: "`Which of these three, do you think, was neighbor to the man who
fell into the hands of the robbers?' He said, `The one who showed him mercy.'
Jesus said to him, `Go and do likewise.'" (Luke 10:36-37)
Jesus was concerned about offenders, those who victimize others. He rejected
vengeance and retribution as the model of justice to be used for relating to
offenders: "You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for
a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes
you on the right cheek, turn the other also;...." (Matthew 5:38ff.) Jesus also
indicated the responsibility Christians have for offenders: "I was sick and you
took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me....Truly I tell you, just
as you did it to one of the least of these... you did it to me." (Matthew
The Apostle Paul believed that this biblical concept of justice which was
reflected in the life of Christ was a primary molder of Christian community and
responsibility: "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through
Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God
was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against
them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us." (II Corinthians
While acknowledging that the biblical concept of justice focuses on the
victim, the offender, and the community in the hope of restoring all to a sense
of God's wholeness, it is also important to understand that our Methodist
heritage is rich with examples of ministries carried out in jails and prisons.
John Wesley (and others in his inner circle, including a brother, Charles) had
a passion for those in prison. As early as 1778, the Methodist Conference
adopted action making it the duty of every Methodist preacher to minister to
those who were incarcerated. United Methodists have reaffirmed and expanded the
mandate for prison ministry and reform in many different chapters of our
denominational history. This is a part of our identity and call.
Criminal justice in our world rarely focuses on the biblical initiatives of
restoration, mercy, wholeness, and shalom. Out of a desire to punish rather
than restore, governments around the world have made retribution the heart of
their criminal justice systems, believing that this will deter crime and
violence. The statistics indicate the colossal failure of retributive justice.
Therefore, we call on the Church to embrace the biblical concept of Restorative
Justice as a hopeful alternative to our present criminal justice codes.
Restorative Justice focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in
the desire to bring healing and wholeness to all.
II. Our Current Criminal Justice System: A Retributive Justice System
When crime is defined as the breaking of a law, the state (rather than the
victim) is posited as the primary victim. Criminal justice, as we know it,
focuses little or no attention on the needs of the victim. Legal proceedings
inadvertently cause crime victims, including loved ones, to experience shock
and a sense of helplessness which is further exacerbated by financial loss,
spiritual and emotional trauma, and often a lack of support and direction. Many
victims feel frustrated because, in most cases, there seems to be little or no
provision for them to be heard or to be notified of court proceedings. Victims,
moreover, are seldom given the opportunity to meet with their offenders, face
to face, in order to personally resolve their conflicts and to move toward
healing, authentic reconciliation, and closure.
Our criminal justice systems around the world have become increasingly based
on retribution. This focus on punishment has resulted in massive increases in
the number of incarcerated persons across the globe. Because prisons are often
places where dehumanizing conditions reinforce negative behavior, present
criminal justice systems actually perpetuate a cycle of violence, crime, and
incarceration, especially among those whose race, appearance, lifestyle,
economic conditions, or beliefs differ from those in authority.
Incarceration is costly. Citizens are therefore paying billions of dollars
for the support of systems that consistently engender a grossly dehumanizing
experience characterized by the loss of freedom, the loss of contact with
family and friends, the loss of self-determination, the loss of education, the
loss of adequate medical care, and the loss of religious freedom and
opportunities for spiritual growth.
Criminal justice, as we know it, is retributive justice. It is consumed
with blame and pain. It is a system of retribution that pays little or no
consideration to the root causes of criminal behavior. It does not aim at
solutions that will benefit the whole community by helping the community to
repair the breach and often fails to come to terms with the social conditions
that breed crime. Retributive justice permanently stigmatizes the offender for
past actions, thereby creating such a sense of alienation from the community
that social reintegration is virtually impossible. An offender who is held in
exile away from the community cannot be held accountable to the community for
his or her wrongdoing. An ex-offender who is ostracized and kept in exile after
paying his or her debt to society is further violated. He or she is stripped of
the opportunity to fully understand the consequences of the crime committed, to
make restitution to the victim, to be reconciled with the community, or to heal
and become a viable member of the community.
III. Our Vision Of Restorative Justice
The gospel, through the example of Jesus Christ, conveys the message for
Christians to be healers, peacemakers, and reconcilers when faced with
brokenness, violence, and vengeance. The concept of restorative justice shows
us specific ways by which to transform lives and effect healing.
Restorative justice asks: Who has been hurt? What are their needs? Whose
obligations are they?
We label the person who has been hurt "the victim." But the victim is
essentially a survivor who need not remain a victim for his or her entire life.
The victim needs healing and emotional support. Victims (survivors) want people
to recognize the trauma they have endured and how this trauma has affected
their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Often survivors/victims need
counseling, assistance, compensation, information, and services.
Victims/survivors need to participate in their own healing. They may need
reparations from the offender, or the victim may want to meet the offender and
have input during the trial, sentencing, and rehabilitation process.
During the healing process, the victim often asks: Why me? What kind of
person could do such a thing? Therefore, they may want to meet their offender
to receive answers to such questions. Victims deserve to have these questions
answered and to hear that the offender is truly sorry.
Victims suffer real pain; however, encouraging vengeance does not heal pain.
The community needs to aid in the recovery of the victim. The community can
help the victim by not ostracizing him or her, by learning how to accept him or
her as a person and not just a victim.
Offenders are harmed as well. An offender is harmed by being labeled for
life as an offender. One or more bad decisions or actions sometimes measures
the total of an offender's life.Offenders are further harmed when they are
denied the opportunity to make amends, to have respectful interaction with
others, and to develop healthy social skills before, during, or after
incarceration. Often young offenders do not have constructive guidance or a
good role model in the community. Sometimes they need treatment for a disorder,
life skills development or mentoring with clear and achievable expectations of
heightened self-awareness and accountability.
The victim and the community need to identify ways the offender can remedy
hurt and harm caused. The offender needs to understand how his or her behavior
affected others, and acknowledge that the behavior was indeed harmful. The
offender needs to be transformed into a contributing citizen of the community
with a system of limits and support.
Crime hurts the community. When crime occurs, the neighborhood is disrupted;
people become more isolated, fearful, distrusting, and uninterested in the
community. Restorative justice helps to release the community members from
their fear of crime; it empowers them with the knowledge that circumstances are
not out of their control. The community needs to express pain and anger to the
one or ones who caused the harm. However, we need to take one step further by
helping in the healing process. We need to understand and address the causes of
crime to prevent future occurrences. The victim, community, and offender (when
possible) need to help others who face similar struggles.
Restorative justice opens the opportunities for personal and community
transformation. This transformation cannot be mapped, planned, or put into a
program or structure. Nevertheless, it can be encouraged and nurtured.
United Methodists have the will, the vision, the opportunity, and the
responsibility to be advocates for systemic change. We are called to minister
with all parties affected by crime: the victim, the offender and the
Expectations are high for the faith community to lead the way in practicing
restorative justice. We need to own and advocate a vision of restorative
justice. We need to be supportive to members of the congregation who are
victims, offenders, and their families, and especially to those who work toward
restoration in the criminal justice system.
The Church must initiate models of restorative justice with service
providers, policy makers, and law enforcement. We need to work in partnership
with the criminal justice system to make it more open, accessible, humane,
effective, and rehabilitative, and less costly. We need to see our own
complicity in community breakdowns and in the racism and classism present in
the enactment and enforcement of criminal law. We must also advocate for social
and economic justice to see the restoration and strengthening of our
communities.IV. A Call To Action
As United Methodists we are called to:
repent of the sin we have committed that has fostered retributive
speak prophetically and consistently against dehumanization in the criminal
establish Restorative Justice as the theological ground for ministries in
The United Methodist Church and to build bridges of collaboration and
cooperation to advance the practice of Restorative Justice with boards and
agencies within The United Methodist Church, with United Methodist and other
Methodist communions around the globe, with other faith communities in the
United States and worldwide; and with non-profit organizations, and/or
intensify our redemptive ministries with those who work in criminal
justice, victims of crime and their families, those who are incarcerated in
jails and prisons and their families, and communities traumatized by
At the General Church Level:
1. Restorative Justice Ministries Inter-Agency Task Force:
Continue and expand the work of The United Methodist Church's Restorative
Justice Ministries through the Inter-Agency Task Force, which serves as the
global coordinating committee for criminal justice and mercy ministries
mandated by the 1996 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, by the
A. Maintain and broaden the involvement of general agencies in this Task
Force, including: the General Board of Global Ministries (as "lead" or
"administrative agency"), the General Board of Discipleship, the General Board
of Higher Education and Ministry, the General Board of Church and Society, the
General Council on Ministries, the Council of Bishops, and other relevant
agencies and initiatives.
B. Fulfill these specific functions:
Provide a biblical-theological basis for a restorative justice approach to
Be a center for resourcing, teaching, learning, and networking.
Work collegially with other groups and organizations whether they are
inside or outside the denomination, religious or secular, by finding common
ground to bring about systemic change in the spirit of mediation (even when
there is disagreement about theological rationale).
Coordinate the training, networking, and advocacy for Restorative Justice
Ministries of The United Methodist Church by working with jurisdictions, annual
conferences, central conferences, districts, local United Methodist Churches
and their communities.C Serve as the primary advocate and interpreter of
Restorative Justice Ministries.
Identify and expand critical models and facilitate the development of
Restorative Justice Ministries, on a global basis, at all levels of The United
Manage the Restorative Justice Ministries budget and assist in procuring
additional funding for these ministries in strategic locations across the
2. Specific General Church Agencies:
A. Identify and implement disciplinary functions that can strengthen The
United Methodist Church's effectiveness in the area of restorative
B. Continue to implement and expand the special mandates from the 1996
At Conference and Jurisdictional Levels:
1. Support networking at annual conference, central conference,
jurisdiction, and other levels to expedite processes of training and resource
2. Encourage annual conferences to establish inter-agency restorative
justice task forces to coordinate restorative justice ministries within their
bounds, with special emphasis on partnership with the Restorative Justice
Ministries Inter-Agency Task Force and the facilitation and resourcing of local
At the Local Level:
1. Encourage local congregations to provide adult and youth education
programs on restorative justice: theory, practice, issues, models, resources
(utilizing curriculum resources, printed and audio-visual, provided through the
above mentioned connectional sources).
2. Encourage congregations to provide safe space to enable people to share
real experiences of victimization, incarceration, or other direct encounters
with the criminal justice system and/or restorative justice processes.
3. Encourage congregations to schedule a "Restorative Justice Ministries
Sunday" to generate deeper awareness by the entire congregation regarding the
contrasting paradigms of retributive justice and restorative justice--and their
4. Encourage congregations to organize or form direct service and/or
advocacy efforts to support the work of restorative justice.
5. Work with local ecumenical and/or interfaith agencies and other community
Convene consultations of representatives of the restorative justice
community to define policy/legislative needs and strategies.
Encourage/resource congregations to work on restorative justice--working
through regional judicatories and media.
Encourage/initiate dialogue with correctional/criminal justice system
Identify and nurture criminal justice system leaders (e.g., judges,
attorneys, wardens, police, etc.) regarding "restorative justice."
Involve local congregations in ministries with juvenile detention centers
and domestic violence centers .
Build covenant discipleship groups at the local level for restorative
justice advocates, as well as for other persons involved in the criminal
Promote victim-offender mediation and other restorative justice
Identify and develop coalitional partnerships with victims assistance
groups, advocacy groups, jail and prison ministry groups, ex-offender
assistance groups, etc.
Plan and implement strategies for advocacy that encourage legislative
support for restorative justice programs.
Info About Petition 30850-FO-NonDis-O