Midwife at the Birth of a Movement
Yet notwithstanding its heterogeneous character, it is not an extraneous detail that the first architects of restorative justice were Christian peace activists intentionally striving to put their Christian faith into practice in the public arena. Nor is it immaterial that the first major book in the field, Howard Zehr’s Changing Lenses was written for a church audience, published by a denominational publishing house, and included an entire chapter on the biblical conception of justice. Biblical theology, one might say, was midwife at the birth of the movement and without the influence of core Christian values and beliefs the central tenets of restorative theory might not have emerged with such clarity and conviction. – Christopher Marshall, introduction to All Things Reconciled (2018)
Communities of Restoration Explores Justice in Church Settings
“How does an ecclesial context shape the theological apprehension and praxis of justice?” This question orients the content of Community of Restoration: Ecclesial Ethics and Restorative Justice by Thomas Noakes-Duncan. This book shows why a theological account of the theory and practice of restorative justice is fruitful for articulating and clarifying the witness of the church, especially when faced with conflict or wrongdoing. This can help extend the church’s imagination as to how it might better become God’s community of restoration as it reflects on the ways in which the justice of God is taking shape in its own community.
“In this timely, acute and wise study, Thomas Noakes-Duncan rightly identifies justice as a power that heals, restores, and reconciles rather than hurts, punishes, and kills. He gives us an excellent work of ecclesial ethics, because he is never satisfied not only until the church performs Jesus’ story, but also until that story both learns from and profoundly enriches the world’s story. How justice and the church ever got separated in imagination or practice is a tragedy: for how they should be correctly practised as the same thing, Noakes-Duncan here offers an articulate, vigorous and compelling account.” – Sam Wells, St Martin-in-the-Fields, United Kingdom
“Emergence of Restorative Justice in Ecclesial Practice” by Thomas Noakes-Duncan in the Journal of Moral Theology, Volume 5, Number 2 “Restorative Justice” (2016) edited by David M. McCarthy.
(Same volume includes: “A Theological Understanding of Restorative Justice” by Margaret R. Pfeil)
“By recognizing how the practices of a living ecclesial tradition were far from incidental to its origins, the church might hopefully take up the challenge of the early pioneers of restorative justice to be a community of restoration par excellence.”
Thomas Noakes-Duncan, from Wellington, New Zealand, examines some of the deeper, untold elements of the Mennonite-based thinking that fed to Ontario’s Elmira case in the mid-1970s. He then shows how Howard Zehr’s work and writing continued the “mission mandate of the Mennonite Church. The first goal was to pursue shalom through the work of reconciliation. The second was to provide a prophetic witness to the injustices committed by the rulers and authorities” in society. After discussing the ecclesial-supports that were vital in maintaining early VORP program identity as distinct from government systems, he delves into the complexities of mainstreaming trends that, in part, led to a greater disassociation of church involvement in RJ.
“Restorative justice arose not from the speculation of criminologists, nor was it without a conceptual or values-based framework helping guide its practice, but it emerged, rather, from the well-springs of the Christian and Jewish tradition and from the living faith of Christians seeking to be peacemakers in the midst of the criminal justice system.”
Read more about the Mennonite-Anabaptist roots of restorative justice in Canada in the 1970s.
Early VCR Videos Reflect Ecclesial Investment in Restorative Justice (late 80’s)
- “Restorative Justice: Making Things Right” (22 minutes), produced by the Mennonite Central Committee. A short, powerful explanation of the philosophical and Biblical underpinnings of restorative justice, and contrasted to the goals of retributive justice. Interviews with Howard Zehr, Dave Worth, Dave Gustafson, Ron Claassen, Elaine Enns, state officials, among others. A great primer for explaining the concept of RJ to those who know little about it.
- “Restoring Justice” (51 minutes), produced by the Presbyterian Church, USA for the National Council of Churches. A thorough overview of RJ philosophy and sample practices in Oregon, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania. Divided into three sections, looking at victims, offenders, and communities. A good combination of theory and practice. Interviews with Howard Zehr, Mark Umbreit, Kay Pranis, Dennis Maloney, among others.
Presbyterian Church USA
The 200th General Assembly (1988) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a statement on “Prison Violence and Nonviolent Alternatives” that reaffirmed the theology of previous General Assemblies in urging that “individual Presbyterians and the entities of the General Assembly . . . advocate a social order where compassion and justice characterize efforts toward those in the criminal justice system.” The statement went on to call for “changing a prison system that is based on the concept of punishment to one that encourages the restoration of the offender to the community and the development of alternatives to incarceration.” The statement expressed concern regarding the violent nature of prisons as institutions and expressed “the need to develop a nonpunitive philosophy that stresses the use of the least restrictive alternatives to imprisonment, including community-based corrections.”
Other Church Related Documents
Presentation by Daniel Van Ness in March 2002 at the Justice that Restores Forum The Role of the Church in Criminal Justice Reform Van Ness 2002
Online listing of Catholic documents promoting restorative justice. Also, Catholic Social Teachings on Restorative Justice – 2009– by Most Rev. Ricardo Ramirez, C.S.B.
Bishop of Las Cruces
From Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA): A Social Statement on The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries (2013)
United Methodist JustPeace resource webpage.
If you know of other church documents at denominational levels which can be featured, please contact us.