Take justice and give forgiveness. These are the ideas behind restorative justice. These are the themes of the movie Take. In the film starring Jeremy Brenner and Minnie Driver, on the day before his execution, the criminal (Renner) comes face to face with the mother (Driver) of the boy whose life he took. It is a painful and honest moment, but one that ultimately finds true forgiveness.
When the Clapham Group heard about the movie Take as a cultural artifact seeking to influence our culture and the legal system on behalf of the restorative justice movement, we got very excited to help. In the end, we partnered with Prison Fellowship and the directors of Take to develop a small group bible study to accompany the movie. Additionally, we developed a website, giveforgiveness.com, which gives people the opportunity to publicly post forgiveness and stories of restorative justice in their lives. The website serves as a poignant testimony of the need for restorative justice in our legal system.
Our legal system works in such a way that when someone commits a gross crime against another person the victim(s) of the crime are protected from ever having to engage with the criminal after the crime. In rightly seeking to protect the victim from having to face unnecessary interaction with the criminal, we have unfortunately built a wall that in many cases prevents the criminal from understanding the full impact of how their crime has tragically altered a real person’s life. Many sociologists believe that this is a significant factor in criminal recidivism.
The problem is that the legal system compartmentalizes the lives of the victim and criminal. Compartmentalizing means building walls to prevent conflict. We all do it, both personally and communally. In our personal lives we compartmentalize thoughts and values we see as being contradictory to each other. In a communal setting, many of us compartmentalize our personal and professional lives, especially in the realms of politics and religion. Compartmentalization is a good and necessary tool to manage conflict, but it is crucial to intentionally seek meaningful conversation in the proper context so that we do not silo our lives off from each other.
Restorative justice seeks to reconcile both criminal and victim without compartmentalizing two lives that are forever intertwined by the criminal offense. The heart behind restorative justice isn’t to say that the compartmentalization between the victim and the criminal should not exist. Rather, it honors the humanity of both criminal and victim, seeking to foster true reconciliation that would not be possible without the opportunities for criminals and victims to interact.
Restorative justice is characterized by four key values:
- Encounter: Create opportunities for victims, offenders and community members who want to do so to meet to discuss the crime and its aftermath
- Amends: Expect offenders to take steps to repair the harm they have caused
- Reintegration: Seek to restore victims and offenders to whole, contributing members of society
- Inclusion: Provide opportunities for parties with a stake in a specific crime to participate in its resolution
Here at the Clapham Group, not only do we believe in the redemptive opportunities of restorative justice, but we believe in restoring our culture for the common good. In order to do this we must be able to transcend the walls that we seek to build to protect ourselves from each other. Many believe the answer to doing this is tolerance. But, the tolerance our culture oozes is nothing more than an apathetic coexistence with one another. It does not actively seek to harmonize our lives together. True tolerance seeks to put windows in the walls built by compartmentalization so that we are able to truly acknowledge one another and pursue the true, good, and beautiful for the common good.
We should not and cannot think of any one person’s life as a mere embodiment of profession, religious creed, sexuality, political preference, or criminal record. In the same way the lives of a criminal and a victim are forever interwoven by the injustice of one criminal act, each of our lives are woven together by the metanarrative of God’s story: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Therefore, “let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). We know from Scripture how the story ends, for we serve a God who has guaranteed true restorative justice for all creation.