Conversion as Restorative Justice?

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November 24, 2010

As part of the annual Augsburger Lecture Series at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Ched Myers and Elaine Enns spoke on "The Personal and Political Dimensions of Conversion: Restorative Justice."

After studying at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, I was familiar with the aspects of restorative justice and holistic peacebuilding as described by Enns, but Myers' presentation about "conversion" from a restorative justice perspective struck me.

He described Saul's conversion in the book of Acts emphasizing just how radical a change this was in Saul's context. He compared Saul to the police official, "Bull" Conner, from the Civil Rights movement in Alabama. Just as Conner's violent repression of civil rights activists built him up as a "symbol of bigotry," Saul, also an official of the state, was renown for his persecution of the people of the Way. For Saul to turn around and become a follower of Jesus, Myers' pointed out, would be like Conner suddenly switching sides and, instead of spraying protesters with fire hoses, standing at the front of the demonstration line facing the hoses himself.

Myers connected this dramatic transformation, then, to the relationship of offender and victim. Jesus' confrontation on the road to Damascus was the first time Saul really heard the voice of his victim, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Just as in the restorative justice process, both the offender and victim are humanized when they meet face to face.

As a former offender, Saul/Paul would struggle his whole life to prove that he had really changed. Myers' highlighting of this point helped me to think differently about what sometimes seems like Paul's arrogance. Yes, it could seem like arrogance, or a confidence in his life in Christ, but could it also be that he was simply drawing on his conversion, his complete transformation of his way of life, and his reconciliation with his enemies?

Myers says that this is the reality of "conversion" in Christ. This is not just an internal, spiritual shift. This is radical change in becoming reconciled with enemies and restoring wrongs that have been done. This is  the offender standing in solidarity with the victim, and thus becoming a victim.

This new way of thinking about conversion bothers me. It shakes me. I need to think a little more. This could have some serious consequences.

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