Reminders: Restorative Justice

Reminders: Restorative Justice

by Ardith Hoff

The “restorative justice” system for resolving disputes was practiced by indigenous people for centuries.  The basic principles of the system are applied in some Mennonite and Amish communities to this day.  It came into wider popularity in the 1970s when Nelson Mandela took over as president of South Africa.  He instated it in the courts there as a way to resolve long-standing disputes between Blacks and Whites following apartheid.  The idea is that the victims of injustices and the perpetrators sit down together.  They are required to listen to each other and try to resolve the issues amicably.

The basic tenets of restorative justice have been implemented in families, schools, courtrooms, and even prisons around the globe.  The idea behind most programs is to help the perpetrator understand how his or her actions have impacted another in order to learn to refrain from repeating the offence.  It is also to make sure that victims are allowed to confront the offender and to suggest just compensation. 

The hope is that both victim and offender will find some level of empathy with the other.  Ideally, both will examine themselves in light of God’s will for them.  In the process, both victim and offender might start to identify with the other more fully.  It is hoped that offenders will be less likely to reoffend, and victims will be less likely to seek revenge.  Each of the parties involved is required to examine their own liability in the dispute, to take responsibility for their part in both the incident and its resolution. 

Ideally, both parties will examine themselves in light of God’s will for them.  As it states in Romans 12:1-3: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.   Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”