Introduction

Credit: Kevin Harber/Flickr

The U.S. is at a threshold. After decades of “tough on crime” policies, the nation is rethinking how crime and justice should be approached.

What can Christians contribute to the movement on criminal justice reform?

As Christians, we believe that the image of God is in everyone (Genesis 1:27). When encountering any person, we have the potential of meeting Jesus himself (Matthew 25:36).

This principle has extensive implications on the way we ought to treat people involved in harm and crime. In the Old Testament, the law mandating an “eye for an eye” was not a mandate for retaliation, but intended to prevent vengeance and disproportionate punishment (Leviticus 24:20).

Jesus provided a deeper understanding of this framework. Instead of seeking vengeance, Jesus taught, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

In the aftermath of harm and crime, the biblical vision of shalom envisions victims being healed and restituted, offenders taking responsibility for their actions and making amends, and community members contributing to the process of healing and forgiveness. Justice–in the context of mercy and love, not vengeance–is sought, and relationships are reconciled.

Followers of Christ are called to be agents of reconciliation, part of God’s work to bring all people and creation to God. What are we doing at this threshold moment?

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