How can you talk about restorative justice to people who just want blood?
We must value human life as a Christian people. We must value human life without a “but” or an “if.” The minute we start to think people are too far from saving or restoration, this is the moment we renounce our faith.
America showed a form of barbarism after news of Osama bin Laden’s death. It was our blood-hungry sacrifice to the gods of war. And this concept of vengeance fuels injustice through the very vein of our “justice system.”
I pictured Jesus preaching by the White House gates where Americans were celebrating:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well” (Matthew 5:38-40).
Jesus meant these words then, and he does now.
When I tell people I’m against the death penalty or that I value prisoner rights, I often get a hypothetical for a response, as in: “Brett, say someone broke into your mother’s house and killed her. Wouldn’t you want them to rot?”
My answer, I pray, would be no. Using the electric chair or a lethal injection would not bring justice to my mother.
True justice would be understanding, working and praying toward restoration. Imagine our families working together to understand the situation (i.e., drug problems, poverty issues), working with the prisoner inside the prison, with the families outside.
Imagine beginning the heartbreaking, healing process of forgiveness and eventually changing that person’s life (and my own) such that we could help others in a similar situation.
A few years ago, when I was very active in prison restorative justice programs, I befriended a country boy inside prison. He was tall, gaunt and a bit frightening-looking at first.
However, when you got to know him, you immediately noticed his humility and desire to form community. He quickly became one of my closest friends, and we found out we grew up in the same kind of country town not too far from each other.
One day he said he wanted to show something to me he had never shown anyone. I agreed, if he was sure, and then he gave me a newspaper clipping, considering my every reaction through watery eyes.
The paper clipping was about him, and it was an editorial in The Tennessean from the associate editor writing about her experience the previous day.
The editor’s elderly mother’s house was broken into and robbed while only the elderly lady was in the house. The editor described the robber as being “vicious” – demanding her to get back as he took her property.
The editor kept writing about the court experience and how much hatred she had for this “man” who broke into her mother’s house.
She portrayed the man as an animal and proceeded to end the editorial with something like, “Well, he’ll be out in five years anyway, but he should get life for doing something as awful as that to the elderly.”
I handed the story back to my friend, not knowing what to say. He kept this in his wallet, probably looking at it every day, reminding himself of who he was. I was angry at the editor, but I was also thinking about my mom.
What would I have done if I were in the editor’s position? I didn’t know for sure, but I knew from that moment that this whole “restorative thing” we kept talking about was real – and it had serious consequences.
It almost meant something like giving that thief another valuable from your house, or taking a shot to the other side of the face.
Later that week in conversation, I discovered that my friend had robbed a home one block from my mother’s house.
That was something.
But here’s the question: Do we live in fear? Or are we called to something remarkably transformational? I’m for the latter.
Brett McReynolds graduated from Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with a degree in Christian ethics. He works for Vanderbilt Medical Center.