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Grace, forgiveness, justice

December 18, 2012

As a Christian, the comment resonated with some experiences I’ve had in describing what I do. I work for a Christian prison ministry advocating for restorative justice and training on restorative justice programmes. I also volunteer as a restorative conferencing facilitator. People often have very strong reactions to this. 

Some are confused when I describe what I do. I’ve received comments about people being criminals and the best way to deal with them is to be harsh. Some people criticise me for caring more about offenders than victims. Others even comment that the offender has lost part of his humanity. It is a total dismissal of the “criminal” with very little thought about the “human being.” 

At the same time, many of these folks are devout Christians. They would proclaim grace and forgiveness. But, for those who have committed crimes that is not the case. Both conservatives and liberals can be very punitive. 

Then, there are the people who have family members caught up in the criminal justice system and some who have been victims of crime (often both). Their views offer a very different perspective. They are interested in what I do and really like the ideas presented by restorative justice. They see the human being capable of causing great harm. At the same time, they still see daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, cousins and parents. These are people that someone loves despite the criminal activity. 

I’m often amazed when these two groups meet and open up about their stories. I don’t know why it surprises me, but that sharing of stories helps to change perspective. I see it in restorative conferences when victims and offenders communicate from the heart. It also happens when those who have a loved one in prison shares from the heart. The offender, the criminal, that person not worth considering becomes a human being, becomes a loved one. This doesn’t excuse harmful behaviour, but it does open doors for a different justice response.  A response based in grace and forgiveness instead of punitiveness.  


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