Normalizing church cultures of restorative dialogue, apology and forgiveness so that communal expressions of peacemaking can spread into missional peacemaking.
“How can the church practice restorative justice internally?”
– Howard Zehr, Changing Lenses, Appendix 3 Study Questions
A simple way to map out all restorative practices related to churches is to locate them in reference to outreach activity (missional) or inreach activity (communal). This corresponds to the general distinction between 1) the church body being a blessing outwardly to the world and 2) the church body inwardly inhabiting God’s presence and character. From a restorative perspective, both outreach and inreach involve attention to relationships. Both involving making peace between people.
Traditional outreach practices for church groups with respect to restorative work would include ministries that serve offending and victimized people, and the promotion of restorative programming in society. Traditional inreach practices include frameworks for resolving church-related conflicts and harms peacefully, and the promotion of healthy congregations by normalizing practices of apology and reconciliation.
In between missional and communal realms, however, one can locate a third realm of practice that involves dialogue and relationship-building. This is an inter-group area where issues that tend to divide church groups either internally or with other Christians can be an area for trust-building and respectful co-existence. Conservative vs. progressive group-clash would be a classic example, represented by the Jerusalem Council narrative in Acts 15. This clash is commonplace within any religious denomination.
Peacemaking opportunities between communities distinguished by race, ethnicity, social class, etc., also apply to this middle zone. In our current times there is a heightened awareness for the need of “safe and brave spaces” to be made for groups representing oppressing and oppressed communities.
View a two-page PDF by Ted Lewis that lists out examples of practices in these three realms: Mapping Restorative Practices for Churches
Within communal practices, three areas can be distinguish (with examples in the above PDF):
- Post-incident healing
Restorative practices encompass both RESPONSIVE frameworks to harms and conflicts (intervention) and COMMUNITY-BUILDING frameworks to reduce harms and conflicts (prevention). The more a church puts its time and energy into community building for creating healthy church cultures, the less it will have to invest time into responding to harms and conflicts. And yet conflict is an inevitable part of every human community. The real issue is whether the communal culture promotes quick and healthy responses at the earliest stages. Read more about the Matthew 18 framework: Where Two or Three Gather.
Post-incident healing practices provide needed supports and dialogue when, months or years later, it is not wise or possible to bring both offending and victimized parties together. Guided facilitation processes are provided to people who remain in communities who seek wholeness, understanding, and forgiveness. Sometimes “parallel processes” can be helpful in cases involving sexual abuse and other severe harms. This entails separate processes of support for both harming and harmed people, where some community members may participate in both.
Another way to map out church practices is by a three-tiered pyramid that shows how most people would be pro-actively engaged with foundational practices for healthy church culture building. The middle zone of conflict transformation involves supports for heart-to-heart conversations that prevent further escalation of problems. Finally, restorative discipline is reserved for rarer cases where boundary setting needs to be upheld, and even here, the primary goal would be trust-building and the restoration of relationships. Many schools now use a similar framework for mapping out a comprehensive restorative approach.
Over time, this section of the website will build up more content related to COMMUNAL INREACH-BASED PRACTICES of church body life. This includes:
- Healthy Congregations
- Heart-Zone Dialogue
- Conflict Resolution
- Forgiveness and Apology
- Facilitated Dialogue Models
- Race and Reconciliation
- Harms and Trauma
- Clergy and Leadership Abuse
What are Re-Stories?
This Practices section will also be posting Re-Stories to narrate actual restorative casework in church settings (while maintaining confidentiality). If you have stories to share, please contact us.
Our Partners webpage is full of organizations that are also invested in ecclesial restorative practices, bringing both experience and expertise to this growing field of work
The place to begin experiencing restoration is not from the top but from the bottom, in our homes and communities. I continue to have faith that the community of God’s people can lead in this direction. Certainly we will often fail, as those in the biblical record did. But just as certainly God will forgive and restore us.
– Howard Zehr, Afterword, Changing Lenses (1990)