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Restorative trend emerging in criminal justice ministry

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–In contrast to the retribution that has characterized the American justice system, an emerging trend toward restorative justice is being fueled by Christians engaging in criminal justice ministry.
Tom Turner, criminal justice ministry coordinator for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, told participants in Discipleship and Family Week, July 8-24 at Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center restorative ministry “provides healing for those wounded by the crime and violence in our society through encounter, reparation and reintegration.”
Retributive justice sees crime as a violation of the law, with the state as the victim, Turner said. In contrast, restorative justice views crime as a violation or harm to people and relationships.
The aim of justice under retribution is to establish blame and administer punishment. Restoration seeks to identify obligation, meet needs and promote healing. Turner said the process of retributive justice is a conflict between adversaries in which the offender is pitted against state rules, intentions outweigh outcomes and one side wins while the other loses. Restorative justice involves victims, offenders and the community in an effort to identify obligations and solutions, maximizing the exchange of information between them.
For example, Turner told of a teenager who broke into the apartment of a widow, breaking a collection of pottery figures and taking $80. The teen was arrested, but an unusual outcome was reached when the widow and the teenager were asked to participate in mediation. The goal was to work out a solution to everyone’s satisfaction.
In the course of the conversation, the teenager learned the widow had made the clay figures herself, but because of arthritis she could not re-create the works that had meant so much to her. Until that conversation, he had not understood that insurance does not take care of emotional trauma.
At the same time, the widow learned that the teenager’s father had abandoned his family and that the mother worked two jobs, making her unavailable to parent the teenager. Mediation helped her see him through different eyes.
Consequently they reached an agreement whereby he would work for her on Saturdays to help repay the debt.
A byproduct of that mediation, Turner said, was that the other senior adults in the apartment building felt less threatened after the resolution.
“Laws were made to help us live successfully together,” Turner said. “The Ten Commandments give us precepts, the precepts come from principles and the principles come from the person of Jesus.”
Restorative ministry includes preventive ministry, victim/offender mediation, ministry inside the correctional institutions, aftercare for released prisoners, ministry to victims and families and equipping criminal justice ministry teams in churches.
“If we want to do what Jesus would do, we want to talk about justice that produces healing. It’s the justice Jesus spoke of,” Turner said. “We don’t need to go in to the prison to minister unless we know who we are. To walk into the prison and know that God is at work and God is going to use that time, there’s nothing like it.”
Turner said among the materials used across the United States, “Southern Baptists have the best resources to use in criminal justice ministry for growth and for healing in (discipleship materials such as) ‘MasterLife,’ ‘Experiencing God,’ ‘Making Peace With Your Past’ and ‘Search for Significance.'”
“God has called us and equipped us for ministry,” he said. “If we are going to respond to him, we must meet those needs.”
People interested in criminal justice ministry may contact Turner at 101 Forest Ridge Dr., Mars Hill, N.C. 28754; telephone (828) 689-4088; e-mail, [email protected].
Discipleship and Family Week, July 18-24, was sponsored by the discipleship and family division of LifeWay Christian Resources.

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  • Charles Willis