Dear President Trump:
Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are about restorative justice.
In the Old Testament reading, God’s people are sent into exile in Babylon. But God’s purpose is not punitive. It is restorative. After 70 years – during which time they are to seek the welfare of the city where they have been sent – God will restore them to the land. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
In the Epistle reading, Paul uses an image of olive trees. Because of their unbelief, God’s people are like a branch that is broken off a well-established olive tree. In its place, another branch – representing “outsiders” — is grafted in. But, says Paul, there is still opportunity for the original branches to be grafted back in if they once again trust God. (Romans 11:13-24)
Mr. President, last evening you ordered U.S. cruise missile attacks against a Syrian air base in retaliation for horrific chemical attacks against innocent Syrian civilians. The impulse to swiftly punish war crimes is understandable. But introducing more violence inevitably leads to greater harms. More innocent civilians end up as “collateral damage.” And these strikes will likely further destabilize the region, increase the probability of attacks against U.S. personnel, and further deteriorate fragile U.S. relationships with Russia and Iran. The International Criminal Court has been established to deal with war crimes in a way that doesn’t escalate the violence.
God’s justice is healing justice — restorative justice. Restorative justice insists on accountability for harms committed, while promoting healing to the extent possible. According to Dr. Howard Zehr, restorative justice asks questions such as:
- Who has been harmed and what are the causes of the harm?
- What are the needs of the person or group that has been harmed?
- Whose obligation are these? Who is accountable?
- Who has a stake in the situation?
- What is the appropriate process to involve stakeholders to address causes and put things right?
This slow process involves truth-telling, careful analysis, accountability, creativity, persistence and action. The end goal is not retribution but to promote healing to the full extent possible.
Restorative justice — increasingly being used in schools and the criminal justice system — also offers a hopeful path forward in our international relationships and in dealing with historical harms in our own nation — such as the displacement of indigenous peoples and the legacy of slavery.
Wishing for you great courage to act wisely in promoting justice that restores.
J. Daryl Byler