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Social Justice

Restorative Justice

By David Wildman

The goal of this program is to introduce the concept of restorative justice to women and expand on Biblical examples of restorative justice relevant to our world today.

Focus Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

Focus Image: Create individual focus images for each woman at the program by joining paper clips together as bracelets. Give one to each woman as she arrives at the program. Before you begin, explain that the clips represent the prison chains that incarcerate us, and the circle of wholeness that restores us and binds us together.

Prayer for Program Planner(s):
Loving God, in communities divided and in lives broken by human wrongs, we yearn for your restoring justice and healing. Bless our time in this program that we may draw wisdom and courage from the Biblical stories of restorative justice. May our time together embolden us to join with our neighbors and our enemies in seeking to restore justice, healing and wholeness with those who are violated, imprisoned or exploited. Amen.


  1. Make sure everyone has a copy of the "Criminal and Restorative Justice" section of The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church (M3067/$2.95), Paragraph 164H, to establish a definition of restorative justice. See page 81 for ordering information.
  2. Bring Bibles and copies of the Biblical scenarios you plan to use during the session.
  3. Write the discussion questions for Activity 2 on newsprint or put them in a Power Point projection and display on a screen or wall.
  4. Hand out copies of "Facts About Prisons and Prisoners" from The Sentencing Project Website, www.sentencingproject.org.
  5. Review sections in the United Methodist Social Principles on: "Criminal and Restorative Justice," Paragraph 164H (see page 42) and "The Death Penalty," Paragraph 164G; "Foreign Workers," Paragraph 163F and "Rights of Immigrants," Paragraph 162H; "Basic Freedoms and Human Rights," Paragraph 164A and "Civil Obedience and Civil Disobedience," Paragraph 164F. Be prepared to answer questions/summarize some of the key terms found in these passages. In the program we use the story of the Good Samaritan and the dangers of the Jericho Road to examine ways people work to restore justice between victims and offenders, and between enemies today. Since restorative justice is not a term familiar to most people, it is important to discuss key terms as a group before discussing some of the biblical stories about restorative justice below.


  • Arrange chairs in program space in a circle.
  • Gather paperclips to create Focus Image and place finished images on chairs in the room.


Leader: What does restorative justice mean? Restorative justice seeks three things: to heal broken communities, to transform unjust systems and to restore relationships broken by violence, poverty, fear and racism.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks of restoring justice through what he calls a "revolution of value." He warns against "those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

"We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on Life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. ... It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs re-structuring." (quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. address given at event sponsored by Clergy & Laymen Concerned about Vietnam on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church, New York City)

Dr. King helps us understand that the personal act of the good Samaritan must be combined with community and systemic work to transform the Jericho Roads of injustice and violence that run through many communities in the world today.

Activity 1: Restorative Justice in the Bible

(Leader, introduce this activity as a retelling of familiar Scriptures and a chance for each of us to examine places in our lives for restorative justice)

(Note to Leader and Readers: Read the following parable with feeling and animation. Bring the parable alive.)

Leader: Hear now "A Modern Samaritan Parable: Youth Restoring Justice in the Midst of Fears, Violence and Racial Profiling"

Reader 1: Read Micah 1: 5-7

Reader 2: Read Luke 9:51-56 and 10:25-37

Leader: Discussion was heated at the community meeting that night! People voiced their fears of how to deal with youth violence in a dangerous, poor neighborhood known as Sam Area. Finally one man, an expert on criminal justice, said, "What is this crime problem we're facing anyway? Is it not Sam Area? The whole place needs to be cleaned out and get some religion! Billboards advertise cigarettes and liquor. The only wages they get come from dealing drugs – they're all higher than heaven. Just read Micah 1:5-7."

Reader 1: No youth from Samaria were invited to the meeting to tell their story. So for years, neighbors remained divided, labeled "us" and "them." And the cycle of fears, violence, profiling and punishment continued.

Reader 2: Then one day, a group of disciples on a mission trip came to town. "On their way they entered a Samaritan neighborhood, but they felt afraid and did not feel welcomed. When two lead disciples, James and John, who had organized the mission trip, saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to call in the Police SWAT team to come down, do a neighborhood sweep and consume these criminal elements?" (Luke 9:52-54 paraphrased)

Reader 1: Jesus turned and rebuked the disciples who put more faith in punishment than in restoring justice and reconnecting with people. To break through their fears, he told them a story about a young Samaritan who was a peer mediator and organizer in a local youth organization. The youth was the only one to act like a neighbor to a guy beaten and robbed. Several good church folk had passed by on the other side in fear.

After the good young Samaritan left the man at a nearby shelter, he returned to Jericho Road. Soon he too was attacked, beaten and left at the curb. Police came in response to reported gang violence. When they saw him, they immediately noticed his age and skin color and were suspicious. "Freeze! Let's see some ID now!" the officers shouted. Through blood and pain he tried to reach for his missing wallet. Before he could say a word, they stepped on his back, handcuffed him and struck him with nightsticks, fearing someone like him must have a weapon.

Leader: "You've been fighting and have no ID! You're like a foreigner who doesn't know his place!" the officer said. "With people like you on the street no wonder it isn't safe for ordinary good citizens!" And with that the police carted the young Samaritan off to jail. Following the episode, the authorities issued new search and seizure procedures. With heightened public fears, police were instructed to stop, frisk and arrest any young Samaritans they observed and treat them as dangerous suspects.

Reader 2: At the same time, the youth's friends were organizing to address longstanding needs of youth in the community: decent jobs, adequate housing, better schools, and after-school programs. Youth served as tutors with younger kids and created alternatives to violence in the streets.

Leader: Shortly after the "get tough on crime" guidelines went into effect, a young Samaritan woman standing by the side of a local watering hole was arrested on suspicion of waiting for a drug deal and on charges of prostitution. She was questioned about her conversations and possible criminal dealings with an unemployed carpenter named Jesus, [use Spanish pronunciation, Je-sús] who was believed to be a gang leader engaged in drug dealing and other highly suspect, even terrorist, activities. When her boyfriend was arrested in the same area, he received immunity from the district attorney's office in exchange for implicating her in drug deals. She is now serving five to 10 years in prison. The local media all covered her trial and editorialized about the dangers of youth crime. (From John 4)

What didn't make the news were the exciting and empowering ways young people in Sam Area and other poor neighborhoods and schools are organizing – the ways youth are working together as community leaders, as peer mediators and the ways youth practice restoring justice day by day.

Discussion Questions

Leader: (Ask the group the following questions. Allow time for discussion. If the group is large, divide into smaller groups.) How are young people breaking down dividing walls of fear and violence today? How are young people breaking through labels of us and them? Who acts as a neighbor, like a young Samaritan, restoring justice in our broken and divided communities today? Share examples from your own communities and from around the world.

Activity 2: Go and Do Likewise

Leader: Jesus said to [us], "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:37)
(Leader: Share each scenario with a team or small group. Ask them to read the Biblical text aloud and then read the related section from the United Methodist Social Principles. Ask them to discuss the following questions in small groups and/or role play several versions of the story:

  • What needs restorative justice at the interpersonal level?
  • At the community level?
  • At the systemic level?
  • Try and imagine how each person in the story might approach restoring justice. Where would you place yourself in the story?
  • Where do we find each story connecting to our own lives and contexts today?)

    Note: Write the questions on large newsprint for everyone to see.

Scenario 1
Read Exodus 1:8-22 and 2:1-15. Create a conversation between Moses and the family of the taskmaster (mother, wife, child) who Moses killed for beating one of the Hebrew slaves. Create a conversation between the Egyptian taskmaster's family and a Hebrew family of the one beaten by the taskmaster. Try several different versions of the conversation. What steps would each person need to take to restore justice in the midst of their suffering, broken relationships and pain? Create a situation where Moses, the Hebrew slave and the Egyptian taskmaster's family come together and demand that pharaoh stop his unjust policies that divide people against each other for his benefit. [Read the United Methodist Social Principles: "As a church, we are called to support the poor and challenge the rich," (Paragraph 163E) and "The Church regards the institution of slavery, the practice and commission of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression as infamous and atrocious evils. Such evils are destructive of humanity, promote impunity, and therefore must be unconditionally prohibited by all governments and shall never be tolerated by the Church." (Paragraph 164A)]

Scenario 2
Read Acts 6:8-15; 7:51-8:3. Imagine you are members of Stephen's family and of his house church. From a distance you were in the crowd that day when they stoned Stephen to death. You saw Saul's face and his nod of approval at the execution of Stephen. Since then, you have witnessed Saul's actions persecuting, arresting and torturing many of your family and friends in the church. Several years later, Saul (now Paul) comes to preach at your church on the ministry of reconciliation (read 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 and Ephesians 2:14-22).

As a group have a sermon talk-back session with Paul where some congregation members want no part of Paul, no forgiveness, other voices call for the congregation to forgive Paul (have someone in the group play one of Stephen's relatives), still others lash out angrily at Stephen's relatives for daring to criticize such an important church leader as Paul. Discuss what situations exist today that might be similar to this. For instance, in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has presided over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission through which people confront and talk with those who killed their loved ones. What might we in the church today learn from this discussion on reconciliation?

Scenario 3
Mary and Joseph return with the child Jesus and stay at Rachel's home after Herod's slaughter of children. They are asked to do a potluck dinner discussion on life in Egypt. Joseph shares how God provides and warned him in a dream to flee just in time. Rachel softly states, "I had no dreams that night and now my child is dead – killed by Herod's soldiers."

Everyone in the room had a child or relative killed by Herod. (Name children today who have had their lives stolen by government authorities similar to Herod's slaughter.) "Not one of us here

was warned to flee like you, Joseph," Rachel declared. "Yet you were staying in a barn right next door. Couldn't you have warned at least some of us before you fled? Then we could have at least tried to resist or organize to protect our children from the soldiers!

"Where was God's grace for my child that night?" exclaimed Rachel, "And where was God's grace for her child? And hers? And hers?" Have a discussion between Mary, Joseph, Rachel and other town parents (include mothers from today's wars: "I'm a mother from Afghanistan, from Iraq, from Colombia, from Palestine, from the Congo and no one warned me of the violence."

How might the government provide sanctuary for refugees and asylum seekers today? How will our churches act as sanctuary for strangers fleeing war, poverty and violence? What steps are needed to restore justice so refugees may return home?

Advocate Now! Human Rights and Restorative Justice Actions for All
Leaders: John 14:16-17 says, God will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world [the powerful] cannot receive.

The Gospel of John refers to the Holy Spirit as an advocate or helper. In systems of law, attorneys are also described as advocates: for the state, for the people, for the wealthy (or those who can afford legal fees), for one's self, and public defenders for the accused. Who does God call each of us to advocate with in seeking restorative justice in our day?

Here are several ways of doing restorative justice. They guide and ready us toward restoring right relation with one another and with God.

(Leader: Ask volunteers to read these. If time allows, discuss them in relation to examples lifted up by the group)

1. Nehemiah calls for community-wide restorative justice: Laws are just when they disrupt the powerful rather than serve to empower the corrupt. The fifth chapter of Nehemiah offers one dramatic example of a holistic approach to restorative justice on interpersonal, community and systemic levels. Therefore, when confronted with injustice follow these key steps toward restoring justice:

A. Listen to people's complaints and get angry about injustice. (Nehemiah 5:6).

B. Analyze people's complaints ("after thinking it over") and bring charges against unjust corporate leaders and government officials (nobles and officials, Nehemiah 5:7).

C. Insist on equality of powerless and the powerful as one people whom those in power have tried to divide and conquer ("You are all taking interest from your own people," Nehemiah 5:7).

D. Never confront principalities and the powerful alone; organize mass support in demanding justice be restored for all (And I called a great assembly to deal with them, Nehemiah 5:7).

E. Appeal to historical evidence of past just practices and expose double standards (Nehemiah 5:8 9; see also Jeremiah 22:15-17 where two kings [i.e., administrations] are compared on the justness of their public policies).

F. Restorative justice emerges from a public process of confrontation, documentation, repentance and reparation (The thing you are doing is not good. ... Restore to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their orchards and their houses ... that you have been exacting from them. Nehemiah 5:9, 11).

Nehemiah makes an important connection between poverty, greed and injustice. Discuss examples of restorative justice efforts today that follow one or more of Nehemiah's steps.

2. Restorative Justice demands Prophetic Public Policy. The Biblical phrase repeatedly used by Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, "Thus says the Lord" usually introduces a policy statement – addressed to the current administration – on how our community should be organized justly. Prophetic policy places the well being and active participation of the poor, widows, orphans, immigrants and others who are marginalized as the measure for justice and fulfilling our covenant with God and with our neighbors. The prophets then invite us to take God's justice message to the halls of power and challenge leaders to change their wrongful ways.

3. Ruth and Naomi model restorative justice advocacy as accompaniment and cross cultural, cross-border solidarity (Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people. Ruth 1:16) Ruth did not tell Naomi how to solve her problems but instead insisted that she would stand with her no matter what. In what ways have you stood with others, listened to their needs for restorative justice rather than tell someone what's best for them?

4. Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-53) portrays restorative justice as leveling and equalizing unjust power relations: Ponder experiences – of brokenness, of violence and of justice – in your heart and find your voice to sing a song of liberation, restoration and hope for all. Name and discuss what unjust power relations and unjust distribution of resources exist today, which need leveling. What are some steps needed for that leveling to occur?

5. Dancing restores justice more mightily than the sword (David danced before the Lord with all his might. ... And offered offerings of well being, he blessed the people and distributed food among all the people, both men and women. Then all the people went back to their homes (2 Samuel 6:14 19 selected). Human Rights and restorative justice involve dancing, celebrating, and sharing with abandon. Share examples of someone who embodies justice, who shares power and resources passionately, who uses the arts (dance, music, poetry, painting) in pursuit of justice, who risks public and private criticism – even from loved ones – for being outspoken and rocking the boat in the name of restoring justice.

6. Restorative Justice requires persistence, insistence and inclusiveness: The story of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:1-13) seeking healing for her daughter teaches us to stick to our principles and not give up: insist on one's dignity (especially the dignity of women and women's human rights) even when someone in authority appears to dismiss us. Discuss how we can restore justice in situations where women's experiences, wisdom and participation are systematically dismissed or blocked. Discuss how we can insure restorative justice for all immigrants and foreigners. Discuss how immigrants and foreigners, like the Syrophoenician woman, model restorative justice for those of us who are citizens.

7. Restorative Justice involves creative resistance. The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:8-22), demonstrate creative resistance to oppressive government policies by placing the protection of children's rights and well being first despite risks to their own safety and career advancement. Sometimes restorative justice involves a first survival step of keeping injustice and violence from worsening. Discuss what happens when people are ordered to implement violent, unjust laws and harmful policies. Share examples and ideas about how people in different positions (such as police officers, prison guards, welfare case workers, chaplains, arms manufacturers, military personnel) either have followed questionable or unjust orders or have found creative ways to resist.

8. Restorative Justice involves determination to be in it for the long haul! Human rights and restorative justice advocates today follow the example of the widow repeatedly confronting the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8. When faced with unjust authorities who have no respect for people or their rights, do not try to convert or persuade them. Rather, like the widow, through public persistence wear unjust authorities down day by day, demanding and living justice into reality. Human Rights work puts our prayers into action and takes plenty of heart. Share examples of people who model the faith of the widow today.

9. Restorative Justice challenges impunity of government officials who violate human rights. Paul and Silas, when tortured and imprisoned, continue to insist on due process, public accountability of law enforcement officials, and confession for all human rights violations (They have beaten us in public, uncondemned ... and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come, apologize and take us out themselves. Acts 16:37 39). Discuss what steps are needed today to restore justice to all who have been violated by government officials and to end the cycle of impunity. Compare this and other stories of human rights violations in Acts with the experiences of recent Truth Commissions.

10. Restorative Justice entrusts each of us with the tasks of truth telling, forgiveness and reconciliation (Read Romans 12:1-2, 9-21; 2 Corinthians 5:17 20 and Ephesians 2:11-22 and 4:25-32). Paul speaks passionately and extensively on the importance of forgiveness in place of vengeance, but not a forgiveness that forgets or denies the violence of the past. He expresses his gratitude to Christ Jesus in the First Letter to Timothy even as he acknowledges, "Even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence ..." (1 Timothy 1:13). Share experiences and reflections on the pains and promises of reconciliation on interpersonal, community and systemic levels. When does peace come at the expense of justice for those violated? Can lasting reconciliation take place if unjust power relations and unjust economic distributions remain in place? Consider the examples of Chile, Guatemala, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Palestine and Israel, and other conflicts today.

11. Restorative Justice means offering sanctuary and hospitality. (Read Hebrews 13:1-3 and Acts 16:11-15, 40) Lydia offers hospitality and sanctuary to Paul and Silas after they are released from prison. In the 1980s many U.S. churches opened their doors providing sanctuary to Central American refugees fleeing both U.S.-supported military repression in their own countries and Immigration and Naturalization Service officials in the United States. Providing sanctuary, like the Underground Railroad in the 1800s, became a crucial step in restoring some semblance of safety and justice in the lives of many refugees. Shelters for battered women also offer sanctuary from domestic violence. What would it mean for your church to offer sanctuary – a safe space – today? Who is in need of sanctuary in our world now?

12. Restorative Justice invites us to take on the role of advocate. The Holy Spirit calls each of us to advocate restorative justice in solidarity with any and all of God's children, our sisters and brothers, suffering oppression and persecution. (But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name, will teach you everything. ... Rise, let us be on our way. John 14: 26, 31) Share moments when you have acted as an advocate for restorative justice. Who are role models acting as human rights advocates today?

Leader: (Close the program in prayer.)

Action Ideas:

  • Find out more about what's happening in your state related to abolishing the death penalty. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is a United Methodist partner and resource for this: www.ncadp.org. Learn more and join in their efforts in your community.l
  • What's happening to people crossing our borders? Detention Watch Network addresses the immigration detention crisis head on. They are working to reform the U.S. detention and deportation system for everyone to receive fair and humane treatment. Learn ways to take action at www.detentionwatchnetwork.org.

Take Action:
Become involved in local prison ministries, including re-entry programs and ministries for children with incarcerated parents. Contact your United Methodist Annual Conference office for suggestions.

Criminal and Restorative Justice:
To protect all persons from encroachment upon their personal and property rights, governments have established mechanisms of law enforcement and courts. A wide array of sentencing options serves to express community outrage, incapacitate dangerous offenders, deter crime and offer opportunities for rehabilitation. We support governmental measures designed to reduce and eliminate crime that are consistent with respect for the basic freedom of persons.

We reject all misuse of these mechanisms, including their use for the purpose of revenge or for persecuting or intimidating those whose race, appearance, lifestyle, economic condition or beliefs differ from those in authority. We reject all careless, callous or discriminatory enforcement of law that withholds justice from persons with disabilities and all those who do not speak the language of the country in which they are in contact with the law enforcement. We further support measures designed to remove the social conditions that lead to crime, and we encourage continued positive interaction between law enforcement officials and members of the community at large.

In the love of Christ, who came to save those who are lost and vulnerable, we urge the creation of a genuinely new system for the care and restoration of victims, offenders, criminal justice officials and the community as a whole. Restorative justice grows out of biblical authority, which emphasizes a right relationship with God, self and community. When such relationships are violated or broken through crime, opportunities are created to make things right.

Most criminal justice systems around the world are retributive. These retributive justice systems profess to hold the offender accountable to the state and use punishment as the equalizing tool for accountability. In contrast, restorative justice seeds to hold the offender accountable to the victimized person and to the disrupted community. Through God's transforming power, restorative justice seeks to repair the damage, right the wrong and bring healing to all involved, including the victim, the offender, the families and the community. The Church is transformed when it responds to the claims of discipleship by becoming an agent of healing and systemic change.

Paragraph 164H, "Criminal and Restorative Justice," from The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008. Copyright 2008 by the United Methodist Publishing House.

Last Updated: 04/17/2014

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