General Conference 2000 - May 2 - 12

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Text of: 30850-FO-NonDis-O

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 25:36, 40)

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 5:18-19)

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

A. Victims:

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.

B. Offenders:

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.

C. Community:

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 community.

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 justice;

speak prophetically and consistently against dehumanization in the criminal justice system;

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 governmental organizations;

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 crime.

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 following:

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 criminal justice.

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 Methodist Church.

Manage the Restorative Justice Ministries budget and assist in procuring additional funding for these ministries in strategic locations across the Church.

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 justice.

B. Continue to implement and expand the special mandates from the 1996 General Conference.

At Conference and Jurisdictional Levels:

1. Support networking at annual conference, central conference, jurisdiction, and other levels to expedite processes of training and resource sharing.

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 church ministries.

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 different outcomes.

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 agencies to:

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 officials.

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 justice system.

Promote victim-offender mediation and other restorative justice processes.

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.

 

 

 

 

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