Biblical justice means restoring what has been broken, not just punishing people who break laws, author and Christian activist Shane Claiborne believes.
“Restorative justice goes deeper than just crime and punishment. It is healing the wounds of violence, sin and crime,” he said.
Claiborne will speak on “Jesus and Justice” at the No Need Among You Conference, Oct. 3-5 at First Baptist Church in Waco, sponsored by the Texas Christian Community Development Network.
Since he’s addressing an audience in Texas—where more than one-third of all executions have occurred since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976—he plans to talk about capital punishment, among other things.
‘Killing the poorest of the poor’
Claiborne—author of Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us—sees evidence the United States is moving toward abolition of the death penalty.
“We’ve just got to get Christians to act more like Jesus,” he said, noting 85 percent of the executions in the last four decades have occurred in the Bible Belt.
Claiborne sees a definite “racial dynamic” at work, pointing out, “The states that held onto slavery the longest have held out on the death penalty the longest.”
People of color are disproportionately represented on Death Row, as are those from the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder, he noted.
“We are not killing the worst of the worst. We are killing the poorest of the poor,” Claiborne said.
However, he points to positive signs, notably the recent proclamation by Pope Francis declaring the death penalty unacceptable in all cases and raising opposition to capital punishment to the level of official Roman Catholic doctrine. He also noted about 80 percent of Christian Millennials oppose the death penalty.
“I am encouraged. I think it’s on its way out,” he said.
Redeeming neighborhoods and communities
However, Claiborne views restorative justice as larger than the single issue of capital punishment.
“At the heart of everything, it’s the idea that no one is beyond redemption. As the Bible says, ‘Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more,’” he said.
While most evangelical Christians accept that idea at the individual level, it has a larger dimension, Claiborne insisted.
“It’s also about redeeming our neighborhoods and our cities,” he said.
Community transformation and neighborhood redemption means some Christians need to relocate to areas where they can live among and learn from the poor, Claiborne asserted.
“We need a theology of place. It’s hard to love a neighborhood if you don’t live there,” he said.
A “radical reorientation” toward the values of God’s kingdom—characteristics such as love, service and selflessness—lived out in community will capture attention, because it’s “the antithesis of what we see in the world,” he noted.
“We need to talk about bringing the kingdom down where we live,” he said. “We can tell the world that there’s life after death, but the world seems to be wondering if there is life before death.”
No Need Among You
In addition to Claiborne, other keynote speakers at the No Need Among You Conference include Mark DeYmaz, cofounder and president of the Mosaix Global Network; Philip Jenkins and Stephanie Boddie from Baylor University; and Lorena Garza Gonzalez, vice president of Urban Strategies.
Early registration cost is $139 for individuals, $129 for members of a group and $119 for students. Discounts are available for members of the Texas Christian Community Development Network. The deadline for early registration is Sept. 1. Costs increase after that date. Single-day registration is available. To register, click here.