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Responding With Restorative Justice

​By Chris Broussard and Matthew Daniels, J.D., Ph.D.

On September 18, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a eulogy for four children murdered in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

“They did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. … In spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. … Somehow, we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.”

Dr. King didn’t speak in a spirit of vengeance or focus on punishing the guilty. Instead, he talked about responding to this grave injustice with hope. Hope that good would come from this monstrous evil and that the hearts of the evildoers would change. On that day, Dr. King spoke of a justice that restores people and views even the brutal offender as a part of humanity.

The Biblical Foundation for Justice

Genesis 1:26 tells of the Lord creating humanity. “God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness …’” Every human being is created in the image of God. This beautiful reality is foundational for understanding biblical justice. Every human being is inherently and immeasurably valuable.

In the simplest terms, the word “justice” means “to make right.” The writer of Psalm 89:14 declares to God, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne.” “Righteousness” and “justice” are paired often throughout Scripture. “Righteousness” is right-ness, specifically in relationships, and “justice” is to make right.

So, to act justly is to take wrong situations or broken relationships and make them “right” again. Because every human being is inherently and immeasurably valuable, to act justly is to make right any relationship in which any human being is treated as less valuable than another.

Retributive and Restorative Justice

While “retribution” is a punishment or payment for wrongdoing, “restore” means to bring something back to its original condition or intent. God’s intent for every human being—man, woman, black, brown, white, young, old . . . and His intent for you—is that we will know our infinite worth. So, restorative justice makes right of broken relationships and helps hurting people.

Restorative justice considers the humanity of those who offend and view the offenders as more than just their offense—it sees them as children of God rather than as the totality of their horrific actions. Jesus’ work on the cross is the ultimate example of this kind of justice. Through his death and resurrection, he paid the price that God’s justice demanded as a penalty for our sins. His actions on the cross enabled a broken and fallen humanity to once again enter into relationship with a holy God.

At the crux of restorative justice—where we seek to make perpetrators and victims whole—is humility and selflessness. Restorative justice looks out for our neighbors and even takes on their problems as our own. When someone—or some group in society—is harmed, we are quick to spot the need. We don’t just look at what has happened and say, “It isn’t my business,” or, “It doesn’t impact my community,” or, “I just can’t get involved.” No, a justice seeker sees the need and acts to restore the parties involved to their true level of humanity … the imago dei.

Start By Asking ‘Who?’

Who in your neighborhood, school, or city is suffering harm at the hands of another? Who has been made to believe his or her worth is far less than God intended? Who might God be calling you to help?

Dr. King’s “who” included four children in Alabama. He responded to their murders with a call for restorative justice.

Just imagine what our world would be like if we practiced this kind of justice. A kind of justice where we were quick to restore and renew … where we viewed an offense as an opportunity to mend a relationship rather than propagate a hurt … where we saw an offense as a wrongful action committed by a person made in God’s image and refused to label that person by those actions. Restorative justice allows righteousness and justice to operate in tandem and reflects the very throne of God, where truth, love, and mercy reside.

This article is adapted from Share the Dream: Shining a Light in a Divided World through Six Principles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a new video Bible study co-hosted by Chris Broussard and Matthew Daniels, J.D., Ph.D.

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Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.


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