Sunday, January 20, 2013


Being outside of the U.S. has given me much needed perspective on the gun debate that has raged there for years, but has especially increased in the wake of the Newton massacre. I feel good about my understanding of the little research out there about if having a guns in houses makes communities safer or whether a country like Canada, France, or the UK has more or less violent crime than the U.S. taking into account the different definitions of crime and violent crime and the different reporting mechanisms in those countries.

But instead of weighing in on the debate, I’d rather share a story about forgiveness. Sometimes, instead of talking, you just need to listen, and this story spoke to me. I read a New York Times story about a convicted murderer who killed his girlfriend and an alternative process, a type of restorative justice process that was arranged by the deceased girlfriend’s parents.

To remind you of what I said earlier on justice, I am used to people using justice to mean punishment—punitive justice. Sometimes people use the term “justice” to refer to repayment—retributive justice (this corresponds to the vengeance or atonement purpose of punishments where the punishment must be proportionate to the crime). However, from doing volunteer work in environmental education and environmental justice as well as theological studies, my best or favourite understanding of justice is restorative. Justice is bigger than punishment, isn’t it? Justice is setting the wrong things right. Justice isn’t just chastising; it’s renewing, restoring, reconciling. It’s not just diagnosing, it’s healing; it’s not just exposing, it’s transforming.

You will not find a perfect restorative justice process in the story you are about to read, nor will you necessarily agree that the sentencing was the best form of restorative justice. Also the victim is dead and is not restored to life in any way. I am encouraged that the current alternative community process of restorative justice is a few steps closer to whatever we might imagine restorative justice to begin to look like, especially as the wrong things in the life of the murderer and even his family (anger, rage, etc.) are being set right. Out of the ashes of his wrong and his mistake, his life is being restored in a better way. Take a moment and read about forgiveness playing a role in the criminal justice system.

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