Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Easter, Creation and Restoration
distributed 4/17/17 - ©2017

This Sunday is Easter. In churches with holiday crowds, the sermons, anthems and hymns will proclaim the central good news of the Christian faith. It is a joyous and hopeful message about newness of life, forgiveness of sin, grace and healing.

In virtually all of those churches, not a word will be said about the devastation of God's creation. Pastors might be silent because they don't want to bring up a depressing topic on a day of celebration. But mostly, the environment will not be mentioned because that "issue" is seen as peripheral to the Easter message.

They're wrong, of course. Christianity cannot be reduced to a simplistic "God saves the people" without any consideration of the rest of creation. Indeed, I've come to see that it is a perversion of the Christian gospel when our teachings of grace and restoration do not include deep obligations to the other-than-human.

That awareness came to me in a powerful way 15 years ago, not through environmental reflection, but in an encounter with a kid in a restorative justice program.

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"Fred" is a high school student who got into trouble. His acts of vandalism were nothing major, but he was headed toward court, some jail time, and a police record. But Fred was saved from that when he was diverted into a restorative justice program.

Restorative justice is hopeful and effective alternative that is taking hold in courts and schools across the US. Restorative justice takes a very different approach than the punitive justice system that is common throughout western civilization. (In many other cultures, these restorative principles are ancient wisdom and standard practice.)

Punitive justice sees a problem with the criminal, the offender. The solution to crime is to punish the person who broke the laws. There may be an attempt at rehabilitation, but punishment is the guiding principle.

Restorative justice recognizes that the criminal has caused a problem, but it does not believe that the problem can be solved through punishment alone. The offender has not just broken a law. He or she has caused hurt to victims, and has injured the entire community. The goal of restorative justice is to bring healing to all involved -- the victim, the offender, and the community.

It was as a member of the community that I came to spend some time with Fred. By being diverted from the criminal justice process, he had been saved from a jail term, but he was not off the hook. He had healing to do -- for himself, and for others.

He had to make some financial restitution and do community service to clean up his acts of vandalism. Then, the restorative justice process brought Fred face-to-face with some of the victims of his actions. He had to sit down with the people whose property he had damaged, and hear about the consequences of what he had done. They had a chance to speak to him about how they were violated, about the anger and hurt that they felt. That chance to speak and be heard brought an element of healing to the victims that never would have happened in a punitive justice process.

Restorative justice recognizes that the need for healing goes beyond the victims and the offender. The broader community was damaged by Fred's actions, too. The governing board of my church was asked to meet with Fred as a representative of the community. He had to come to us and offer a confession. We spoke to Fred about how we were hurt collectively by his actions. We told him about our hopes and dreams for our community, and about our hope for his life as a functioning member of that community.

For Fred, the restorative justice process worked. He turned his life around. And there has been healing for the victims and the community, too.

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The hour that our board spent with Fred taught me that there is more to justice than dealing with the offender, and there is more to salvation than forgiveness of personal sins. Healing involves the hard and grace-filled work of bringing together the victim, the offender and the community.

With Fred, the community was a local neighborhood. When we become aware of environmental sin, though, the community is much larger. The dominant human culture is causing harm that ripples through the entire web of life. The whole Earth community is impacted by our pollution, our depletion of resources, and our disruption of nature.

Real justice is not found through punishment or forgiveness for the offender, alone. Restitution and healing must reach out to the direct victims, and they must be given voice in naming their hurt. And the broader community, too, must be engaged in restoration. The cry of creation must be heard -- truly heard -- if we are to find forgiveness and restoration from our culture's environmental sin.

Most of this Sunday's Easter proclamations will be grounded in a worldview and a theology that fits comfortably with the punitive justice model. That theology sees the problem of sin almost exclusively in relation to the offender. It is all about punishment or grace for the sinner. It sees salvation largely in terms of individuals bound for heaven, or in people who are freed from the burden of guilt.

A theology of salvation that is grounded in punitive justice will see the non-human parts of God's creation as irrelevant. It will feel no drive to bring about healing for the wounds that humans have inflicted on the natural world. That's a cheap grace, and it does not bring hope or healing to those who have been harmed.

A restorative theology of salvation -- one that looks to healing for the victim, the offender and the community -- will be able to proclaim the joyous hope of Easter to all of creation.

That message of restoration and healing for the community is at the heart of the Christian faith, even if it is not named in many Easter sermons. The New Testament books of Colossians, Romans and 2 Corinthians speak of the saving work of God in Christ as a work of restoration and reconciliation. It is not about punishment, but healing. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself."

A restorative theology of salvation recognizes that the whole community is damaged by sin and evil. It acknowledges that healing is not complete until the whole community is engaged. And the Bible passages which speak most eloquently of the restorative justice of God are precisely the ones that speak most directly about how God's salvation extends beyond the human to bring healing to all of creation, to the entire community of the cosmos.

My hour with Fred was a vivid introduction to the wisdom of restorative justice. It opened my eyes and my heart to a truth far greater than his deliverance from a jail cell. That hour has allowed me to perceive fresh insights into the saving work of God in Christ, a work of restorative, reconciling justice, a work that brings healing to all of the creation.

We really cannot proclaim the Easter good news faithfully without proclaiming the restorative work of God for all of creation. Such an Easter message is a real cause for celebration.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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