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Mission Plan for Restorative Justice Ministries

I. Biblical/Theological Grounding

The words of Micah ring out clearly, setting the tone for justice ministries in the church: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8)

Justice is the basic principle upon which God's creation has been established. It is an integral and uncompromising part in God's redemptive process, which assures wholeness. Compassion is characterized by sensitivity to God's justice and, therefore, sensitivity to God's people.

The gospel, through the example of Jesus Christ, conveys the message for Christians to be healers, peacemakers, and reconcilers when faced with brokenness, violence, and vengeance. Through love, caring and forgiveness, Jesus Christ is able to transform lives and restore dignity and purpose in those who are willing to abide by his principle.

Jesus was concerned about victims of crime. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus explored the responsibility we have for those who have been victimized: "'Which of these three, do you think, was neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers' He said, 'The one who showed him mercy.' Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise'" (Luke 10:36-37).

Jesus was concerned about offenders, those who victimize others. He rejected vengeance and retribution as the model of justice to being used for relating to offenders: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; . . . " (Matthew 5:38ff). Jesus also indicated the responsibility Christians have for offenders: "I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me . . . Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these . . . you did it to me" (Matthew 25:36, 40).

The apostle Paul believed that this biblical concept of justice which was reflected in the life of Christ was a primary molder of Christian community and responsibility: "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us" (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

While acknowledging that the biblical concept of justice focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in the hope of restoring all to a sense of God's wholeness, it is also important to understand that our Methodist heritage is rich with examples of ministries carried out in jails and prisons. John Wesley (and others in his inner circle, including a brother, Charles) had a passion for those in prison. As early as 1778, the Methodist Conference adopted action making it the duty of every Methodist preacher to minister to those who were incarcerated. United Methodists have reaffirmed and expanded the mandate for prison ministry and reform in many different chapters of our denominational history. This is a part of our identity and call.

Criminal justice in our world rarely focuses on the biblical initiatives of restoration, mercy, wholeness, and shalom. Out of a desire to punish rather than restore, governments around the world have made retribution the heart of their criminal justice systems, believing that this will deter crime and violence. The statistics indicate the colossal failure of retributive justice. Therefore, we call on the church to embrace the biblical concept of restorative justice as a hopeful alternative to our present criminal justice codes. Restorative justice focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in the desire to bring healing and wholeness to all.

II. Our Current Criminal Justice System: A Retributive Justice System

A. Victims

When crime is defined as the breaking of a law, the state (rather than the victim) is posited as the primary victim. Criminal justice, as we know it, focuses little or no attention on the needs of the victim. Legal proceedings inadvertently cause crime victims, including loved ones, to experience shock and a sense of helplessness which is further exacerbated by financial loss, spiritual or emotional trauma and, often, a lack of support and direction. Many victims feel frustrated because, in most cases, there seems to be little or no provision for them to be heard or to be notified of court proceedings. Victims, moreover, are seldom given the opportunity to meet with their offenders, face to face, in order to personally resolve their conflicts and to move toward healing, authentic reconciliation, and closure.

B. Offenders

Our criminal justice systems around the world have become increasingly based on retribution. Although it is often cloaked or justified in the language of accountability, this focus on punishment has resulted in massive increases in the number of incarcerated persons across the globe. In the United States, for example, the prison population doubled between 1990 and 2000, even as the crime rate decreased during this period. Because prisons are often places where dehumanizing conditions reinforce negative behavior, present criminal justice systems actually perpetuate a cycle of violence, crime, and incarceration, especially among those whose race, appearance, lifestyle, economic conditions, or beliefs differ from those in authority.

Incarceration is costly. In the United States, the cost of incarcerating someone for a year ranges between $15,000 and $30,000. Citizens are, therefore, paying billions of dollars for the support of systems that consistently engender a grossly dehumanizing experience characterized by the loss of freedom, the loss of contact with family and friends, the loss of self-determination, the loss of education, the loss of adequate medical care, and the loss of religious freedom and opportunities for spiritual growth.

C. Community

Criminal justice, as we know it, is retributive justice. It is consumed with blame and pain. It is a system of retribution that pays little or no consideration to the root causes of criminal behavior. It does not aim at solutions that will benefit the whole community by helping the community to repair the breach and often fails to come to terms with the social conditions that breed crime. Retributive justice permanently stigmatizes the offender for past actions, thereby creating such a sense of alienation from the community that social reintegration is virtually impossible. An offender who is held in exile away from the community cannot be held accountable to the community for his or her wrongdoing. An ex-offender who is ostracized and kept in exile after paying his or her debt to society is further violated. He or she is stripped of the opportunity to fully understand the consequences of the crime committed, to make restitution to the victim, to be reconciled with the community, or to heal and become a viable member of the community.

III. Our Vision of Restorative Justice

The gospel, through the example of Jesus Christ, conveys the message for Christians to be healers, peacemakers, and reconcilers when faced with brokenness, violence, and vengeance. The concept of restorative justice shows us specific ways by which to transform lives and effect healing.

Restorative justice asks: Who has been hurt What are their needs Whose obligations are they

We label the person who has been hurt "the victim." But the victim is essentially a survivor who need not remain a victim for his or her entire life. The victim needs healing and emotional support. Victims (survivors) want people to recognize the trauma they have endured and how this trauma has affected their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Often survivors/victims need counseling, assistance, compensation, information, and services. Victims/survivors need to participate in their own healing. They may need reparations from the offender, or the victim may want to meet the offender and have input during the trial, sentencing, and rehabilitation process.

During the healing process, the victim often asks: Why me What kind of person could do such a thing Therefore, they may want to meet their offender to receive answers to such questions. Victims deserve to have these questions answered and to hear that the offender is truly sorry.

Victims suffer real pain; however, encouraging vengeance does not heal pain. The community needs to aid in the recovery of the victim. The community can help the victim by not ostracizing him or her, by learning how to accept him or her as a person and not just a victim.

Offenders are harmed as well. An offender is harmed by being labeled for life as an offender. One or more bad decision or action sometimes measures the total of an offender's life. Offenders are further harmed when they are denied the opportunity to make amends, to have respectful interaction with others, and to develop healthy social skills before, during, or after incarceration. Often young offenders do not have constructive guidance or a good role model in the community. Sometimes they need treatment for a disorder, life skills development, or mentoring with clear and achievable expectations of heightened self-awareness and accountability.

The victim and the community need to identify ways the offender can remedy hurt and harm caused. The offender needs to understand how his or her behavior affected others, and acknowledge that the behavior was indeed harmful. The offender needs to be transformed into a contributing citizen of the community with a system of limits and support.

Crime hurts the community. When crime occurs, the neighborhood is disrupted; people become more isolated, fearful, distrusting, and uninterested in the community. Restorative justice helps to release the community members from their fear of crime; it empowers them with the knowledge that circumstances are not out of their control. The community needs to express pain and anger to the one or ones who caused the harm. However, we need to take one step further by helping in the healing process. We need to understand and address the causes of crime to prevent future occurrences. The victim, community, and offender (when possible) need to help others who face similar struggles.

Restorative justice opens the opportunities for personal and community transformation. This transformation cannot be mapped, planned, or put into a program or structure. Nevertheless, it can be encouraged and nurtured.

United Methodists have the will, the vision, the opportunity and the responsibility to be advocates for systemic change. We are called to minister with all parties affected by crime: the victim, the offender, and the community.

Expectations are high for the faith community to lead the way in practicing restorative justice. We need to own and advocate a vision for restorative justice. We need to be supportive to members of the congregation who are victims, offenders, and their families, and especially to those who work toward restoration in the criminal justice system.

The church must initiate models of restorative justice with service providers, policy makers, and law enforcement. We need to work in partnership with the criminal justice system to make it more open, accessible, humane, effective, rehabilitative, and less costly. We need to see our own capacity in community breakdowns and in the racism and classism present in the enactment and enforcement of criminal law. We must also advocate for social and economic justice to see the restoration and strengthening of our communities.

IV. A Call to Action

As United Methodists we are called to:

  • repent of the sin we have committed that has fostered retributive justice;
  • speak prophetically and consistently against dehumanization in the criminal justice system;
  • establish restorative justice as the theological ground for ministries in The United Methodist Church and build bridges of collaboration and cooperation to advance the practice of restorative justice with boards and agencies within The United Methodist Church, with United Methodist and other Methodist communions around the globe, with other faith communities in the United States and worldwide, and with nonprofit organizations and/or governmental organizations; and
  • intensify our redemptive ministries with those who work within criminal justice, victims of crime and their families, those who are incarcerated in jails and prisons and their families, and communities traumatized by crime.

1. At the General Church Level:

Restorative Justice Ministries Committee:

Continue and expand the work of The United Methodist Church's Restorative Justice Ministries through the Restorative Justice Ministries Committee, which serves as the global coordinating committee for criminal justice and mercy ministries mandated by the 1996 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The members should include:

  • two bishops named by the Council of Bishops, attending with funds from the Episcopal Fund;
  • one elected board member and one staff person (responsible for Restorative Justice Ministries within the named agency) from each of the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Discipleship, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the General Council on Ministries and the General Commission on Religion and Race-all to be selected and funded by their respective agencies;
  • one member from United Methodist Women and one member from United Methodist Men-each selected and funded by their respective agency; and
  • up to seven members-at-large selected by the Council of Bishops in order to ensure that the committee as a whole reflects the varied constituency of the church by gender, age, laity, and clergy; and that the committee have persons who can contribute to Restorative Justice Ministries.\

Fulfill these specific functions:

  • Provide a biblical/theological basis for a restorative justice approach to criminal justice.
  • Be a center for resourcing, teaching, learning, and networking.
  • Work collegially with other groups and organizations whether they are inside or outside the denomination, religious or secular, by finding common ground to bring about systemic change in the spirit of mediation (even when there is disagreement about theological rationale)
  • Coordinate the training, networking, and advocacy for Restorative Justice Ministries of The United Methodist Church by working with jurisdictions, annual conferences, central conferences, districts, local United Methodist churches and their communities.
  • Serve as the primary advocate and interpreter of Restorative Justice Ministries.
  • Identify and expand critical models and facilitate the development of Restorative Justice Ministries, on a global basis, at all levels of The United Methodist Church.

2. Specific General Church Agencies:

We reaffirm the 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 General Conference mandate which led to a program of Restorative Justice Ministries and recommend that the church continue to support and strengthen its commitment. We recommend the following:

  • that the Restorative Justice Ministries Committee continue to give guidance and oversight to the operation of the Restorative Justice Ministries with each board/agency providing the funds to continue the work of Restorative Ministries as outlined below;
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries provide resources to annual and central conferences to enable them to develop Restorative Justice Ministries with victims, offenders, prisoners, their families, and communities
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries provide funding to enable the assignment of missionaries, including youth and young adults, to serve in restorative justice ministries with victims, offenders, prisoners, and communities;
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries provide funding to support gatherings of United Methodists working in the fields of criminal justice, community corrections, and restorative justice. The events will be focused on the relationship between faith and work;
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries provide funding to organize global consultations on restorative justice to be held in central conferences, bringing together United Methodist leaders from across the globe who are using restorative justice ministry strategies and techniques to transform and resolve social, political, religious, economic, racial, and ethnic conflicts and end violence within their churches and communities;
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries work with annual and central conferences and their ecumenical, interfaith, and community partners to develop victim offender reconciliation programs and neighborhood conflict resolution programs based on restorative justice ministries models to serve the church and community;
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries, in consultation with annual and central conferences, continue to organize training events in restorative justice ministries;
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries continue to work to evaluate and identify model programs of restorative justice ministries and develop the network for these ministries;
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries work with the boards and agencies to develop written resources to assist the church in their work in these ministries;
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries work with the Disciple Bible Study Ministries in order to increase the involvement of annual conferences and local congregations in ministries with prisoners, ex-offenders and juvenile offenders;
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries develop a group of United Methodist trained mediators who can respond to conflicts in the community and who can assist in training other United Methodists to serve as mediators in their communities;
  • that the General Board of Global Ministries develop electronic resources and a quarterly newsletter to provide information and updates on new developments in restorative justice ministries around the world to serve The United Methodist Church;
  • that the General Board of Church and Society intensify their advocacy for social and economic justice in order to restore and strengthen communities;
  • that the General Board of Church and Society continue to advocate for a criminal justice system that is not racist, less costly, more humane, effectively rehabilitative and accessible to family members of victims and offenders;
  • that the General Board of Church and Society provide training and resourcing to annual and central conferences and local churches that intend to advocate for a more just system of justice;
  • that the General Board of Church and Society intensify its advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty throughout the world;
  • that the General Board of Discipleship work to develop print and training resources, including Sunday school resources, for local churches to use as they embrace restorative justice ministries. This directive includes: the development of resources and training for reconciling parents and youth offenders; the development of small group resources that support victim and offender reconciliation; and the provision of material for small groups that wish to explore restorative justice issues within the local church;
  • that the General Board of Discipleship work to explore the development of a training and certification process for laity and local church pastors carrying out restorative justice ministries;
  • that the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry continue to provide certification for chaplains and explore the development of certification for others interested in professional ministry with restorative justice ministries;
  • that the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry work with United Methodist seminaries to promote curriculum and practicum offerings in those seminaries in areas of violence, crime, and criminal justice from a restorative justice perspective;
  • that United Methodist Women continue to start units within jails and prisons to promote restorative justice;
  • that United Methodist Women continue ministries with families of prisoners;
  • that United Methodist Men work jointly with the General Board of Church and Society to resource UMM to become involved in the various aspects of Restorative Justice; and
  • that United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men consider working with Disciple Bible Study Ministries, KAIROS, and other Bible studies/retreats to start units of Christian disciple making with prisoners, ex-offenders and juvenile offenders.

3. At Jurisdictional/Central Conference and Annual Conference Levels:

  • support jurisdictional/central conference and annual conference networking as modeled by the Southeastern Jurisdiction's and South Central Jurisdiction's Restorative Justice Network Group, or bring together clusters of contiguous conferences or expedite processes of training and resource sharing;
  • encourage conferences to establish inter-agency restorative justice task forces to coordinate Restorative Justice Ministries within their bounds, with special emphasis on partnership with the Restorative Justice Ministries Inter-agency Task Force and the facilitation and resourcing of local church ministries.

4. At the Local Level:

  • encourage local congregations to provide adult and youth education programs on restorative justice: theory, practice, issues, models, and use of resources (utilizing curriculum resources, printed and audiovisual, provided through the above-mentioned connectional sources);
  • encourage congregations to provide safe space to enable people to share real experiences of victimization, incarceration, or other direct encounters with the criminal justice system and/or restorative justice processes;
  • encourage congregations to schedule a "Restorative Justice Ministries Sunday" to generate deeper awareness by the entire congregation regarding the contrasting paradigms of retributive justice and restorative justice-and their different outcomes;
  • encourage congregations to organize or form direct service and/or advocacy efforts to support the work of restorative justice; and
  • work with local ecumenical and/or interfaith agencies and other community agencies to:
  • convene consultations of representatives of the restorative justice community to define policy/legislative needs and strategies;
  • encourage/resource congregations to work on restorative justice through regional judicatories and media;
  • encourage/initiate dialogue with correctional/criminal justice system officials;
  • identify and nurture criminal justice system leaders (e.g., judges, attorneys, wardens, police, etc.) regarding restorative justice;
  • involve local congregations in ministries with juvenile detention centers and domestic violence centers;
  • build covenant discipleship groups at the local level for restorative justice advocates, as well as for other persons involved in the criminal justice system;
  • provide victim-offender mediation and other restorative justice processes;
  • identify and develop coalition partnerships with victim assistance groups, advocacy groups, jail and prison ministry groups, ex-offender assistance groups; and.
  • plan and implement strategies for advocacy that encourage legislative support for restorative justice programs.

Adopted 2004
revised and readopted 2008
Resolution #5034, 2008 Book of Reolutions
Resolution #258, 2004 Book of Resolutions
Resolution #241, 2000 Book of Resolutions

See Social Principles, ¶ 164A and F.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2012. Copyright © 2012 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.