Troubling the water

Troubling the water

It’s been an interesting week here in the south, where I’ve managed to shake things up, stir the pot, and do some rabble-rousing. I’ve encountered people who sharply disagree with the message of restorative justice and who believe that the most urgent priority should be saving souls by witnessing for Christ within the prisons and converting those who are not Christians to Christianity.

A few sample exchanges:

(A = Audience member remarks/questions; M = My remarks/response)

• A: Is restorative justice based on the Bible?
• M: Restorative justice has spiritual roots in many of the world’s religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others.
• A: There is only one true path to being saved and his name isn’t Allah or Muhammed or Buddha or anything else – it’s Jesus Christ. (this got a sprinkling of applause from like-minded audience members)

• M: Prison ministries of many types and in many faith traditions are an important part of what’s needed in prisons. In addition to faith-based programs, we need more education, treatment and rehabilitation programs in our prisons.
• A: We don’t need to concern ourselves with where these people are in the here-and-now, we only need to concern ourselves with where they’re going to be in the Hereafter.

• M: Another urgent need is mentoring and support for the 650,000 people who are released from prisons every year.
• A: I’ve been asked numerous times to work with people being released from prison, but that’s not my concern. I bring them to Christ while they’re in prison. You can have them after they get out – and good luck!

At one event, after the discussion got quite heated, the host of the event mentioned that it was time for choir practice and suggested taking a brief break so that choir members could depart to get down the hall to the choir room. At that point, some other people put their coats on and left.

But, the way I see it, maybe it’s a good sign that they were so troubled by what they heard that they had to get up and leave. Made me think of the old spiritual that goes, “Wade in the water, children, God’s gonna trouble the water.” There have definitely been some “troubled waters” down here this week. Guess we just need to build more bridges over them . . . or get more people to wade in.

Fortunately, I’ve also met a lot of people who believe in the power and promise of restorative justice and who are addressing many of the other pressing issues, including education programs for incarcerated men and women, support for offenders’ families, mentoring programs for people coming out of prisons, and important work to battle wrongful convictions, address racial disparities in the system and to abolish the death penalty. More on that next time. Until then, I intend to keep on keepin’ on.


Have you ever “shaken things up”? Raised issues that made others uncomfortable? What was that like for you? What happened?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison restorative justice criminal justice book tour

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