Restorative Justice: A Way of Life – Rev. Laurel Liefert

The Board of the congregation I serve recently passed a Restorative Justice (RJ) policy. We are in the process of exploring how restorative practices can be applied in the context of a faith community. Most often RJ has been used as an alternative to the retributive criminal justice model when a crime has been committed. In the context of a congregation, we realize that it is about restoring right relationship in a situation involving harm or conflict.

My hope is that over time we will be able to co-create a culture of restorative justice in our faith community, with restorative practices as “a way of life.”

I offer this excerpt from The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr:

“During the years I have been involved in this work, many people have commented that restorative justice is in fact a way of life. At first I was mystified: how can an approach designed initially to respond to crime become a life philosophy? I have concluded that it has to do with the ethical system that restorative justice embodies.

The Western criminal justice system is intended to promote important positive values – a recognition of the rights of others, the importance of certain boundaries on behavior, the centrality of human rights. But it does so in a way that is largely negative: it says that if you harm others, we will harm you. As James Gilligan has argued, it is a mirror image of the offending act. Consequently, to make it humane, we have to bring in other values to govern and mitigate it. It does not, in itself, offer us a vision of the good.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, provides an inherently positive value system, a vision of how we can live together in a life-giving way. It is based on the assumption – a reminder for those of us living in an individualistic world – that we are interconnected. It reminds us that we live in relationship, that our actions impact others, that when those actions are harmful we have responsibilities.”

Zehr recognizes, as do I, that to envision what a truly restorative system or approach might look like will require dialogue among many and diverse voices. He also recognizes that dreams and visions are important.

Here is the Afterward in another one of Zehr’s books called Changing Lenses:

“I believe in ideals. Much of the time we fall short of them, but they remain a beacon, something toward which to aim, something against which to rest our actions. They point a direction. Only with a sense of direction can we know when we are off the path.”

Rev. Laurel Liefert
Namaqua Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Loveland
Northern Colorado Faith Leaders Caucus

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