I used to think that justice simply meant receiving the consequences of one’s actions.
In high school, I participated in a mock government program for teen students. Once a year, we would go to our state capitol, hold our own elections for senators and governor, and pass legislation through our mock senate committees. In preparation for these activities, students were assigned a different research topic each year.
My senior year assignment was the death penalty. I remember drowning in research that ultimately led me to the prison system and complex sentencing laws. I discovered that our country has a grossly overpopulated prison system and legislation that encourages mass incarceration. I had a hard time with the idea of the death penalty because I couldn’t imagine taking away someone’s opportunity to earn back the right to freedom. On the other hand, the death penalty is only sentenced for the most heinous of crimes. Shouldn’t those who commit such blatant wrongdoing receive justice? Does the death of the perpetrator mean justice for the victim? What about those who have been wrongly accused? What does justice look like for them?
That was the first time I realized justice is complicated. Through the gospel, I have learned that our God loves both justice and mercy. I am not here to be political, or to promote one side over the other on complicated issues such as the death penalty. However, I do believe that God has called us to be a people who reflect His image through the act of restoration (Psalm 146:7-9, Jeremiah 22:3).
The justice He calls us to is one that goes beyond an act of retribution to extending restoration to both the victim and the perpetrator. Restorative justice is where evil and sin receive their just punishment, but where the children of God receive the opportunity for restoration to right living. Choosing to incorporate restorative justice into daily life is a weighty commitment to make, but the rewards are far greater than the sacrifice.
During her senior year of high school, Missy Deal was confronted with the reality of sex trafficking in Asia. After discovering that there are an estimated 403,000 slaves in the United States (fmchr.ch/gsi), she felt a call to become involved in prevention and restorative work. Upon graduating from Greenville College (now University) in 2016, Deal became involved at Eden’s Glory, a safe home for survivors of sex trafficking. Eden’s Glory was created through the Bond County, Illinois, branch of the Set Free Movement. As the lead house manager, she confronts the consequences of injustice every single day.
“A person who has been trafficked has been stripped of their most basic humanness. Some of these women do not know what it means to eat things other than prepackaged meals, or how to take showers on a normal schedule. These are basic human functions they have been stripped from,” Deal says.
Countering those injustices is not easy. Deal says that for “each of these moments enduring injustice, expect to spend twice that time trying to restore it, and that takes time and patience, and being in the journey for the long, hard haul.”
But staying in the journey for the long haul is restorative for both the survivors and for Deal.
“Oftentimes we interact with people, and we say, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ Working here has changed that for me to ‘What has happened to them?’” Deal says. “It is our job to love them, and love them loud and long and hard and courageously.”
For Deal, this perspective applies to the perpetrators as well. In order for justice to be brought to those involved in human trafficking, public policy needs to change so that convictions can be made possible, and victims need tangible support when pursuing justice through the legal system. However, Deal recognizes there is always more to the story.
“What happened to this person that they would do this? In a way, he or she is also stuck in shackles.”
It’s a radical way of thinking, but in a sense, perpetrators are also victims.
Eden’s Glory is one example of a group of people who have heard and accepted the call to live out restorative justice, by seeking out the vulnerable and taking steps to change unjust systems. This is a radical, selfless way of life. Though it looks different in every situation, this is a call placed on each one of our lives. The sobering fact is that somehow we all participate in perpetuating injustice whether actively, passively or even unintentionally. So how do we confront this issue? Deal suggests asking, “Who is included in my circle, and who is not?”
Deal says the “question can be asked in every circle: your home, your workplace, your friends, your church, the leadership of these places, in the art around your house. Who is represented in the books you are reading? Now, what change can you make to include that person into that circle? We need to strive to include this voice in all areas of our lives, because it will open our eyes to see people and things we have learned to ignore.”
Asking this question requires putting yourself at risk. This risk may include giving up comfort, confronting heartbreaking realities, and changing your current way of life. But as the brave few like Missy Deal have discovered, it is absolutely worth the risk.
“When our women learn to do these small tasks, a little bit of their freedom is restored,” Deal says. “When our women learn how to forgive, or can sleep through the night without having a nightmare, or learn how to cope with stress in helpful rather than hurtful ways, these are all justices being restored.”
Called to Engage
We too are called to engage in this restorative and transforming work.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Whose voice will you bring into your circle?
Kalei Swogger Pogue is a 2019 graduate of Greenville University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, participated in student government, and wrote for the Papyrus online news website and Vista magazine. She is a committed supporter of the modern abolition movement.