Ming Vases and Baseball Gloves

For months, a teenage gang had been breaking into homes all over town, and the community was in an uproar. When the perpetrators were caught, everyone wanted the judge to throw the book at them. But Judge Nelson was no knee-jerk judge. He saw that this was the first arrest for one defendant -- eighteen-year- old Stephen Williams. Instead of throwing Stephen in prison, the judge threw the book at him alright -- the Bible. He applied biblical concepts of justice with remarkable results.   "I'm not going to put you in prison -- but you did break the law and must be punished," Nelson told Stephen. "So my sentence has three parts."   First, Stephen had to spend every Saturday performing community service -- doing things like painting buildings and cleaning parks.   Second, he had to pay restitution to his victims. The judge gave him time to get a job, but he had to pay most of his paycheck to those he'd robbed. Nelson even made Stephen sell his own property to make restitution; he wanted him to know what it was like to lose his most precious possessions -- things like a track trophy and his baseball glove.   The third part of the sentence was the hardest. Stephen had to sit down with each of the people he robbed. Not surprisingly, they were quite angry. One couple had lost a valuable Ming vase, a souvenir of a long-ago vacation.   "Do you understand what you took from us?" they asked. "It was more than a beautiful vase. It was a reminder of our trip."   Stephen was genuinely remorseful and really wanted to make it up to the couple. He went to an antique store and bought a beautiful oriental coffee table. He then gave it to the couple as a symbol of his repentance. The three of them have since become friends.   This unusual sentence is an example of what's known as restorative justice, a concept pioneered by Prison Fellowship. It echoes the biblical model of justice. True justice, you see, goes beyond catching and punishing criminals. It involves making innocent victims whole.   In Old Testament times, when a crime was committed, the law called for restoring the peace -- or shalom - - of the community. For example, when a thief was caught stealing, he didn't sit passively in jail. Instead, he had to work to pay back what he had stolen. He had to restore his victim. And shalom means more than the absence of hostilities. It is God's peace -- the harmony of people living together in God's order.   This kind of justice requires the cooperation of the whole community. That's why in March in Orlando, Florida, BreakPoint, Prison Fellowship, and Justice Fellowship are holding a two-day conference focusing on restorative justice. BreakPoint listeners, along with judges, pastors, prosecutors, victim advocates, defense attorneys, and corrections officials, are invited to attend. I'll be speaking, along with several experts on justice and biblical worldview. And our hope is that those who attend will put these ideas to work in their own communities and churches. For more information about this conference, click onto our website .   Christians, like most responsible citizens, are concerned about peace and order in our communities. Most things that have been tried by governments over the years have been costly failures. But the Bible has the answers. Come to Orlando, and be equipped to be God's agents for restoring justice.   For further reading:   Daniel Van Ness and Karen Heetderks Strong, Restoring Justice, second edition (Anderson, 2002).  


Chuck Colson


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