Tuesday, May 05, 2009
I was in Kingston for business yesterday but I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with our son, Isaac, who was in the city from Montreal. Isaac, a seminary student at MCGill is participating in a week-long course on restorative justice. Part of the concept of restorative justice is that there are many circumstances where this form of justice can be more effective than our system of punitive justice. Often we incarcerate people for long periods of time during which there is no attempt at rehabilitation and certainly no effort towards reconciliation with those who have been harmed. In our understandable anger at those who have committed serious crimes we speak of "locking them up and throwing away the key" or fume that the death penalty should be reinstated.
Many Christian churches offer programs which explore alternatives to retribution. Isaac's was only part way through his first day, but he said that the group of participants alone was worth it. There are people from Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, there to address the ongoing pain of atrocities committed in those countries. There are participants who have harmed others and some who have been harmed, all seeking a different response to those our societies usually uphold.
In Native tradition and current practice there are healing circles where people are brought together to attempt reconciliation. Healing and forgiveness are at the core of Christ's reconciling love and Restorative Justice programs are an attempt to open the door to these possibilities.