The Justice We Seek

By Bill Mefford

As the investigations around trump continue to ramp up and the focus of those investigations increasingly comes closer to trump and his inner circle we can expect the political rancor to become even more negative, if that is possible. I believe it is.

We can also expect the behavior of trump to become even more erratic and potentially harmful. This man knows no boundaries when it comes to self-promotion and self-protection. We should brace ourselves for not only more foolishness, but also more harm as he lashes out against others to distract from attention being appropriately paid to the corruption that has maligned this administration from it's onset.

I, for one, am glad that he and his administration are at the center of these investigations. No one should be above the law. In fact, positions of leadership should come with higher expectations, though many of us have forgotten that in light of the infant-like statements and behavior of the person who, for the time being, resides in the White House.

My approval of the investigations is that I know the more political space being devoted to these investigations and their immense political fallout means that there is less space being given to codify the harm this administration seems hell bent on causing people. That can only be a good thing.

But I also find myself wondering to what end are all of these investigations coming to. Is it faithful, as a follower of Jesus, to hope for significant jail time for trump or the members of his cabinet or campaign team? I honestly find myself perplexed by these thoughts.

Take Michael Flynn, trump’s former National Security Advisor and campaign surrogate who actually started the chant directed towards Hillary, “Lock her up” that still, even after the election is long past over and decided, gets screamed by ravenous crowds at trump “rallies.” Of course, it is necessary, I believe, to point out the obvious hypocrisy at play here: he who cast many stones is looking increasingly like he will have many more stones cast at him. The “lock her up” guy may himself be locked up.

But is that what I want or hope for? Is that what we who follow Jesus should want? I am not saying that trump, Flynn, Kushner, Trump Jr., or the whole lot of them should not be held accountable. Quite the opposite! Again, I strongly approve of the investigations and I hope they are thorough. But I think the justice Robert Mueller and his team are seeking differs from the justice that we are called to seek.

This is the difference between retributive justice and restorative justice. Retributive justice is about punishment; attributing the proportionate punishment to the person or people who has committed wrongdoing as defined by legislation. Retributive justice resides on the questions: who is to blame and how much should they pay for the laws they have broken? One of the problems which plagues retributive justice – which is exactly what our current criminal justice system is built on – is that that these questions are detached, especially from the person or persons who are most impacted by the crime, the victim(s). The criminal justice system does virtually nothing to bring healing to victims.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, asks questions like, who was hurt by the offense? Who is accountable for causing that hurt? What actions can be taken to provide for healing for the victim(s) and for the restoration of the offender? And what can be done to bring healing to the community at large since crime and wrong-doing impacts even those who were not the direct targets? Restorative justice is simply more contextual than retributive justice. It is more personal and real, especially for the victims.

And though liberals like me talk often (as we should) about the need for greater resources to be focused on restoring the offender, we must always remember that first and foremost, restorative justice is victim-centered. Restorative justice is about bringing healing to those who have been directly impacted by crime and wrong-doing. That is why the questions always begin with, "Who was hurt and how can they receive healing?"

Now, restorative justice is not an alternative that the people involved – the victim(s) and offender(s) – can be forced to comply with. Restorative justice is only effective if all sides agree to the process of bringing lasting healing to the victim(s) and surrounding community, and ultimate restoration – whatever that looks like – for the offender(s).

I am not one who has been directly impacted by trump’s offenses - his sexual assaults, his repeated racist statements and behavior, his anti-immigrant executive orders, and on and on. And regardless of whether a restorative justice process is ever utilized with him and the many, many people who have been directly hurt by his deeds, I think those of who care for people directly impacted by injustice must fight like hell to stop the harm that he incessantly creates. Believing in restorative justice does not mean that we abdicate our God-given responsibility to advocate for righteousness.

But I can’t take any delight in calling for him or Flynn, or Trump Jr, or Kushner, or anyone else, to be “locked up.” That end result might give some of us momentary elation (or even just relief), but it isn't healing or restorative. It's retributive.

I am praying trump and his fellow offenders are given the invitation to truly listen to the way their crimes and wrong-doings have hurt people and created so much harm. I pray trump and his fellow offenders utilize their very considerable resources to bring about healing for those they have hurt and for the surrounding community (which is all of us) for we have all been impacted in some way. And yes, I do pray for restoration for them, but only after healing has been attained for those directly impacted by trump's many, many injustices. trump does not need, nor should we pray for a restoration that is void of transformation. 

Restorative justice is far more difficult than enduring the detached judgments handed down from systems based on retributive justice, especially when you are white and rich because the criminal justice system is set up to given them tremendous advantages. I am praying for restorative justice for trump and his fellow offenders because it is restorative justice that best reflects the compassion, grace, love, forgiveness, and yes, accountability that is part of the Kingdom of God.

This is the justice we must seek.

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