Acton Institute Powerblog

Church, State, and Restorative Justice

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Last week Rick Warren’s church hosted the fourth Saddleback Civil Forum. This time the forum focused on reconciliation, particularly on the roles of the church and the government in promoting and fostering reconciliation after crime and conflict.

The forum included special guests Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, and Miroslav Volf, a prominent theologian and native of Croatia.

One of the things that typically happens in the course of tyranny and genocide is that the church’s social witness is either sidelined and marginalized or simply subsumed under governmental control. President Kagame said that during the Rwandan genocide, the government and the church “were almost one and the same.” This severely hampered the church’s ability to act as a critical and mediating institution between the government and its individual citizens.

We featured the book, As We Forgive, on a past series of posts here on the PowerBlog when we asked, “What social conditions promote reconciliation?” This book is a powerful exploration of concrete cases of restorative justice at work in Rwanda after the genocide.

In a guest post on the PowerBlog, author Catherine Claire Larson described the essential role that economic institutions play in reconciliation. In describing ministries that work to promote micro-finance, Larson writes that “by creating economic opportunities where interdependence is vital, they are really creating ideal environments for reconciliation and restoration.”

The inspiration for Larson’s book, a documentary film of the same name, premiered on PBS earlier this year.

I also explored different Christian views of the government’s role in promoting restorative justice in a law review essay, “To Reform or to Abolish? Christian Perspectives on Punishment, Prison, and Restorative Justice” (PDF).

That the government has some positive role to play in promoting restorative justice rings true in a number of concrete cases. Of course the state must respect the vital role that other institutions, like the church, must play. But sometimes punishment can be a means toward restoration.

Chef Jeff, a prominent personality on the Food Network, was in Grand Rapids earlier this year to discuss how his time in prison gave him the opportunity to reflect on his life and make positive changes to promote social well-being.

“In prison, it was the first time in my life I ever read a book. The first time in my life that someone told me that I was smart. The first time someone told me I had potential,” he said.

As Chef Jeff puts it, “Prison saved my life.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • sini ngindu bindanda

    Thanks a lot for your forum: Church, State and Restorative Justice in which you had as guests Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, and Miroslaw volf, a prominent theologiean and native of Croazia.
    As I am concerned, I don’t know nothing about a prominent theologian from Croazia, but about Paul Kagame, I am suprised that you consider him as someome who played a positive role to instore peace in Rwanda after the so called “genocide”. It is really that there was genocide in Rwanda and none can dare to say that it is not true. But, you forget that Kagame is party of the problem, the conflict, of that genocide. By shutting and killing the former president of Rwanda, Habyarimana, he provocated what Rwanda started to do. You are aware that during the elections in which he was proclamed presidente elected by majority of the peoples all of Rwandese oppositors were thrown in gail by Kagame.
    More forther, Kagame and Munseveni of Uganda invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo, killing directly or undirectly more than six millions peoples of Congo, occupying the territory of Congo exploiting illegally and trading illegally the minerals of the Republic of Congo. Obligging the people of East of Congo to flew from their land and leave it to Kagame, Munseveni and their so called “general” Laurand Nkunda. If what the Coalition of the Western countries did and are doing by using Kagame have been done by other countries which with you do deal, you should not invite Kagame to be considered as a peace maker man. The International Court of Haye condemned Munseveni unfortunalty leaving free Kagame to have killed people of Congo and their mineral trafic. But Munseveni was not be affraid.
    My question, why did you not invite the criminal President Bashir of Soudan as well as peace maker man? Does Bashir does worse than what do Paul Kagame?
    All the materials produced by the Frence lawyers demostrated the implications of Kagame as man party of the Rwanda genocide of Rwanda and troubles in the Great Lakes Region are still true and nobody can prove the contrary.
    Why do you implement by “deux poids, deux mesures”?
    During the cold war cold Western used and placed Congo to the front line; after the Western won the cold war, the same Westernian used Congo neighbors to destroy his people, exploit illicitment his row materials and close eyes to their struments like Kagame. He feels quiete because you incorage him that he brought peace instead to be isolated and blamed.
    Said that Kagame and the Church were one to find peace is a true way to insult the peace.
    What is involving in Congo, surprisingly at the silence of International Institutionals including yours is a tremendous thing.

    I think you may help to get peace differently, I mean in the true way. Kagame did not contribut to make peace, he is party of the trouble and not of the solution to the peace!

    Thank you.