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UM Resolutions Regarding Restoritive Justice and Related Topics

231.  Capital Punishment

In spite of a common assumption to the contrary, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" does not give justification for the imposing of the penalty of death.  Jesus explicitly repudiated the lex talionis (Matthew 5:38-39), and the Talmud denies its literal meaning and holds that it refers to financial indemnities.

When a woman was bought before Jesus having committed a crime for which the death penalty was commonly imposed, our Lord so persisted in questioning the moral authority of those who were ready to conduct the execution that they finally dismissed the charges (John 8:31 f.).

The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church condemn the "torture of persons by governments for any purpose" and assert that it violates Christian teachings.  The church, through its Social Principles, further declares, "We oppose capital punishment and urge its elimination from all criminal codes" (164A).

After a moratorium of a full decade, the use of the death penalty in the United States has resumed.  Other western nations have largely abolished it during the twentieth century.  But a rapidly rising rate of crime and an even greater increase in the fear of crime has generated support within the American society for the institution of death as the punishment for certain forms of homicide.  It is now being asserted, as it was often in the past, that capital punishment would deter criminals and would protect law-abiding citizens.

The United States Supreme Court, in Gregg v. Georgia, in permitting use of the death penalty, concealed the lack of evidence that it reduced violent crime, but permitted its use for purpose of sheer retribution.

The United Methodist Church cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life.  It violates our deepest belief in God as the Creator and the Redeemer of humankind.  In this respect, there can be no assertion that human life can be taken humanely by the state.  Indeed, in the long run, the use of the death penalty by the state will increase the acceptance of revenge in our society and will give official sanction to a climate of violence.

The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about the present high rate of crime in the United States and about the value of a life taken in murder or homicide.  When another life is taken through capital punishment, the life of the victim is further devalued.  Moreover, the church is convinced that the use of the death penalty would result in neither a net reduction of crime in general nor a lessening of the particular kinds of crime against which it was directed.  Homicide - the crime for which the death penalty has been used almost exclusively in recent decades - increased far less than other major crimes during the period of the moratorium.  Progressively rigorous scientific studies, conducted over more than forty years, overwhelmingly failed to support the thesis that capital punishment deters homicide more effectively than does imprisonment.  The most careful comparisons of homicide rates in similar states with and without use of the death penalty, and also of homicide rates in the same state in periods with and without it, have found as many or slightly more criminal homicides in states with use of the death penalty.

The death penalty also falls unfairly and unequally upon an outcast minority.  Recent methods for selecting the few persons sentenced to die from among the larger number who are convicted of comparable offenses have not cured the arbitrariness and discrimination that have historically marked the administration of capital punishment in this country.

The United Methodist Church is convinced that the nation=s leaders should give attention to the improvement of the total criminal justice system and to the elimination of social conditions that breed crime and cause disorder, rather than foster a false confidence in the effectiveness of the death penalty.

The United Methodist Church declares its opposition to the retention and use of capital punishment in any form or carried out by any means; the church urges the abolition of capital punishment.

The international portions of The United Methodist Church are deeply grieved by the use of the death penalty in the United States.  United Methodists in central conferences and people in the autonomous Methodist churches deplore this fact and are embarrassed by this immoral practice in many states in the United States.  The international conscience is mobilizing to condemn this cruel practice and targets the United States as "an enemy of civilized people" in their protests.

The United Methodist Church recommends the following specific actions:

(1)           Congregations, districts, conferences, and ecumenical coalitions in sovereign nations and lesser political entities where the death penalty is currently practiced are called to take overt action to change the laws and social conditions which produce this violent act.

(2)           Persons and groups who take this moral issue into the public arena (such as addressing elected officials, vigils, letter-writing campaigns, paid advertising, and other responsible direct action) will be supported by the church.

(3)           The General Boards of Global Ministries and Church and Society and their affiliates throughout the denomination and ecumenical partnerships are called to develop strategies of education and political action to overcome the evil of capital punishment.

(4)           The global scope of the protest summons the people of the church to seriously oppose this abhorrent practice, and for United Methodist persons to incorporate this protest into their personal social conscience.

(5)           The United Methodist Church commends the people who have provided moral judgment, prophetic insight, pastoral care for those who suffer from this practice, and have borne the pain of hostility and indifference to this advocacy.



See Social Principles, 164A.

232.  Continue the Restorative Justice Ministries

As The United Methodist Church moves into the 2001-2004 quadrennium, we reaffirm the 1996 General Conference mandate which led to a program of restorative justice ministries and recommend that the church continue to support and strengthen this new ministry.  We recommend the following:

(6)           that the Restorative Justice Ministries Global Coordinating Committee continue to give guidance and oversight to the operation of the Restorative Justice Ministries Office with each board/agency providing the funds for directors and staff to participate in meetings;

(7)           that the General Conference provide the financial resources to support a Restorative Justice Ministries Office of The United Methodist Church in the amount of $200,000/year;

(8)           that the General Board of Global Ministries provide resources to annual and central conferences to enable them to develop restorative justice ministries with victims, offenders, prisoners, their families, and communities;

(9)           that the General Board of Global Ministries provide funding to enable the assignment of missionaries, including youth and young adults, to serve in restorative justice ministries with victims, offenders, prisoners, and communities;

(10)       that the General Board of Global Ministries provide funding to support gatherings of United Methodists working in the fields of criminal justice, community corrections, and restorative justice.  The events will be focused on the relationship between faith and work and will be planned and carried out by the Restorative Justice Ministries Office;

(11)       that the General Board of Global Ministries provide funding to enable the Restorative Justice Ministries Office to organize four global consultations on restorative justice to be held in central conferences, bringing together United Methodist leaders from across the globe who are using restorative justice ministry strategies and techniques to transform and resolve social, political, religious, economic, racial, and ethnic conflicts and end violence within their churches and communities;

(12)       that the Restorative Justice Ministries Office work with annual and central conferences and their ecumenical, interfaith, and community partners to develop victim offender reconciliation programs and neighborhood conflict resolution programs based on restorative justice ministries models to serve the church and community;

(13)       that the Restorative Justice Ministries Office, in consultation with annual and central conferences, continue to organize training events in restorative justice ministries;

(14)       that the Restorative Justice Ministries Office continue to work to evaluate and identify model programs of restorative justice ministries and develop the network for these ministries;

(15)       that the Restorative Justice Ministries Office work with the boards and agencies to develop written resources to assist the church in their work in these ministries;

(16)       that the Restorative Justice Ministries Office work with the Women=s Division, as requested, in their 2002 Schools of Christian Mission Study on Restorative Justice;

(17)       that the General Board of Discipleship work with the Restorative Justice Ministries Office  to develop print and training resources for local churches, including Sunday School resources, to use as they embrace restorative justice ministries.  This directive includes: the development of resources and training for reconciling parents and youth offenders; the development of small group resources that support victim and offender reconciliation; and the provision of material for small groups that wish to explore restorative justice issues within the local church;

(18)       that the General Board of Discipleship work with the Restorative Justice Ministries Office to explore the development of a training and certification process for laity and local church pastors carrying out restorative justice ministries;

(19)       that the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry continue to provide certification for chaplains and explore the development of certification for others interested in professional ministry with restorative justice ministries;

(20)       that the Restorative Justice Ministries Office work with United Methodist seminaries, through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the General Board of Global Ministries, to promote curriculum and practicum offerings in United Methodist seminaries in areas of violence, crime, and criminal justice from a restorative justice perspective;

(21)       the United Methodist Men work to develop ministries with prisoners, offenders, and victims through DISCIPLE Bible Study and other programs of The United Methodist Church;

(22)       that the Restorative Justice Ministries Office develop a group of United Methodist trained mediators who can respond to conflicts in the community and who can assist in training other United Methodists to serve as mediators in their communities; and

(23)       that the Restorative Justice Ministries Office develop a quarterly newsletter to provide information and updates on new developments in restorative justice ministries around the world to serve The United Methodist Church.

When we are faithful in discipleship, we are transformed and we become agents of healing and systemic change.  Restorative Justice Ministries of The United Methodist Church has provided our church with a tremendous opportunity to become those agents of healing and change.  Restorative justice enables us to become more deeply engaged in ministries with victims, offenders, and grassroots communities.  Restorative justice renews ours Wesleyan spirit as we seek to carry out the gospel of remembering, truth telling, repenting, and forgiving so that we might become a community of faith and faithfulness, healed and transformed.


See Social Principles, 164F.

233.        Equal Justice

It must be remembered that the advice "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities" (Romans 13:1 NRSV) is preceded by ALive in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.  Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all" (Romans 12:16-17 NRSV).  The admonition is directed to the authorities who govern as well as those who may be subject.

The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state (164B and F): AThe church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust .... In the love of Christ, who came to save those who are lost and vulnerable, we urge the creation of a genuinely new system for the care and restoration of victims, offenders, criminal justice officials, and the community as a whole."

The Police

In a democratic society, the police fill a position of extraordinary trust and power.  Usually the decision of whether a citizen is to be taken into custody rests solely with the police.  For these reasons, law enforcement officers must be persons who possess good judgment, sound discretion, proper temperament, and are physically and mentally alert.

Unusual care must be exercised in the selection of those persons to serve as police officers.  We recommend psychological testing prior to employment of police officers and periodically thereafter.  During the period of training and continually thereafter, police must be instilled with the knowledge that the rights of many will never be secured if the government, through it police powers, is permitted to prefer some of its citizens over others.  The practice of citizen preference in the enforcement of our criminal laws must not be tolerated.  Our laws must be fairly enforced and impartially administered.  No one is immune from the requirements of the law because of power, position, or economic station in life.  Further, the power of the police must never be used to harass and provoke the young, the poor, the unpopular, and the members of racial and cultural minorities.

Where there is heavy pressure upon police officers by police departments to regularly make a large number of arrests as a demonstration of their initiative and professional performance, we urge that such practice be discontinued.

In a democratic society, however, a large majority of police work encompasses peacekeeping and social services rather than crime control functions.  Police routinely use more than 85 percent of their duty time in giving assistance to citizens and making referrals to other governmental agencies.  It is important for police to be recognized and promoted for their effectiveness in such roles as diverting youths from disorderly activities, peacefully intervening in domestic quarrels, anticipating disturbances through the channeling of grievances, and the building of good community relationships.

The United Methodist Church recommends that police departments publicly establish standards of police conduct and policies for promotion.  To this end, congregations should encourage the police to conduct public hearings among all classes of citizens, giving adequate weight to peacekeeping, life-protecting, and other service roles, as well as the bringing of criminal offenders to justice.  The standards must include strict limits on the police use of guns.

We further recommend that police officers live within the jurisdiction in which they are employed.

We make these recommendations not only in concern about the frequent abuses of people by the police, but also because we are concerned for more effective control of crime.  We observe that only about one half the victims of serious crime, and a far smaller proportion of witnesses, report to the police.  If offenders are to be apprehended and convicted, police and law-abiding citizens must work closely together.  Such cooperation can occur only when the police are fair and humane and when they are publicly known to be sensitive and considerate.

The United Methodist Church urges that communities establish adequate salary scales for police officers and develop high standards for recruiting both men and women, and members of all ethnic groups.  Recruitment must be followed by adequate training in social relations and dispute settlement as well as in law and the skills of crime detection investigation and the apprehension of offenders.  As police officers continue to meet those improved qualifications, we will recognize law enforcement as a profession with status and respect.

Criminal Laws and the Courts

Restorative justice practices should be utilized within the community as a first response to  any criminal behavior.  Justice can only prevail when there is healing of the victim, repentance of the offender, and when forgiveness and reconciliation are shared throughout the community.  Victim-offender mediation, family group conferencing, and various other restorative justice techniques are urged to be considered as an alternative to the criminal courts.

Overwhelmingly, criminal convictions are by guilty pleas, a large proportion of those by plea bargaining.  Where the law recognizes and permits plea-bargaining, and in those instances where the ends of justice dictate that a renegotiated plea be considered, we recommend it should be permitted and approved only after full disclosure in open court of the terms and conditions of such plea-bargaining agreement.  Equal justice requires that all trials and the sentencing of those convicted under our criminal laws must be conducted in the public courtroom.

However, that work should be correspondingly eased by changes in the law, such as the moving of most traffic offenses out of criminal court to administrative procedures, and by relieving the court of great numbers of civil cases through the adoption of genuine no-fault motor-vehicle insurance laws.  The courts must also organize their work efficiently, employing modern management procedures.  Many improvements could be made by the use of administrative volunteers, including retirees who can furnish professional services to the court at minimal costs.

Other changes needed to obtain equal justice in the courts include:

(1)           the repeal of some criminal laws against certain personal conditions or individual misconduct.  Examples are criminal prohibitions of vagrancy, personal gambling, public drunkenness, drug use, and prostitution.  Together, these changes alone account for more than half of all arrests in some jurisdictions.  They result in little social good, but great evil in class discrimination, alienation, and waste of resources needed for other purposes.  Some related laws such as those against drunken driving and those limiting and controlling the operation of gambling establishments need to be tightened;

(2)       the adoption of systematic new panel codes prescribing penalties proportionate to the predictable damage done by the various kinds of crime, without regard to the race or class of the offender.  For example, in the United States, there are discriminatory high penalties for the use of crack cocaine (most often used by blacks) as opposed to powder cocaine (most often used by whites);

(3)           the training of judges of juvenile and criminal courts in the use of non-incarcerating community sanctions wherever the offense does not involve persistent violence;

(4)           the adoption of systematic new penal codes prescribing a range of penalties without regard to the race or class of the offender, but utilizing non-incarceration community sanctions wherever consistent with community protection;

(5)           the provision of court-fixed sentences, rather than mandatory ones, in order to draw upon the skill and the training of qualified judges;

(6)           a statement by the sentencing judge of the reason or reasons why he or she is selecting from the range permitted by the law the particular sentence being pronounced;

(7)           the development of appropriate jury selection procedures that would ensure the most inclusive representation, including representatives of the socioeconomic class and ethnic group of the defendants and of the crime victims, as well as balance between male and female jurors;

(8)           the adoption by all courts of: (a) speedy trial provisions, which the Constitution guarantees; and (b) that degree of personal recognizance and supervision which each defendant=s situation warrants, regardless of race and class identity, in place of the present, inherently discriminatory bail-bond, pretrial release process that exists in some courts;

(9)           when fines are assessed, they should be scaled to the magnitude of the crime and the ability of the offender to pay.  In suitable cases, fines should be made payable in installments; and

(10)       governmentally regulated programs of compensation for reimbursement of financial loss incurred by innocent victims of crime should be encouraged, with preference being given for programs in which specific offenders provide restitution to their specific victims as an alternative to incarceration; and

(11)       changes in state self-defense laws to allow for cases in which persistently battered persons, especially women and children, are driven to violence against their batterers, when they believe with good reason, that another attack is forthcoming.

We recommend that local churches consider setting up court monitoring panels to observe court operations and proceedings.  Such panels may well adopt a role of friends of the court or of advocacy on behalf of accused persons and/or on behalf of crime victims.  They may adopt other appropriate procedures in the interest of restorative justice, including close scrutiny of plea-bargaining and/or evidence of unequal imposition of sentences.



See Social Principals, 164F.

234.  Grand Jury Abuse

Jesus= words, ADo not judge, so that you may not be judged" (Matthew 7:1 NRSV), surely imply that all judgments are made in the light of God=s truth.  The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state boldly that "governments, no less than individuals, are subject to the judgment of God" (164E).  Such a social principle causes us, appropriately, to view with concern the government=s use of the grand jury to control dissent and to harass those who act under the constraint of conscience.

The grand jury is envisioned in American law as a protector of citizens from unwarranted prosecutions.  It is for this reason that its proceedings are secret and it has the power to subpoena witnesses.

Evidence indicates that in recent years, the extraordinary powers of the grand jury often have been used not for the protection of citizens, but in subjecting them to harassment and intimidation.  Historically, political dissidents, antiwar activists, and leaders of minority groups and religious organizations have been particularly vulnerable to these abuses.

A government prosecutor can control the grand jury, thus distorting the grand jury=s power to monitor and moderate the actions of the prosecution.  The prosecutor can use the subpoena powers of the grand jury to conduct investigations that are the responsibility of law enforcement agencies.  As an example, the United States Congress has never given the Federal Bureau of Investigation subpoena powers, yet agents routinely threaten uncooperative persons with subpoenas from a grand jury.  In fact, subpoenas are often served at the request of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The use of the powers of the grand jury to harass and pursue political dissidents is a departure form its proper constitutional function, and it is a threat to public order, lawful government, and true domestic security.

Witnesses called before a grand jury may be given little or no warning of their subpoenas, may be forced to travel to court at distances from their homes, may not know whether they are targets of prosecution, may have little understanding of their rights, and cannot have legal counsel in the chambers.

Comprehensive grand jury reform legislation is needed to restore the constitutional guarantees of protection for citizens.  The United States Constitution=s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and false accusation must be reestablished and reinforced.

The United Methodist Church, therefore, supports legislation designed to enhance the rights  to due process of law, freedom of association, effective legal counsel, the presumption of innocence, and the privilege against self-incrimination of persons subpoenaed to testify before grand juries.



See Social Principles, 164E and F.

235.  Gun Violence

Violence and, more particularly, violence to children and youth is a primary concern for United Methodists.  We recognize and deplore violence which kills and injures children and youth.  In the name of Christ, who came so that persons might know abundant life, we call upon the church to affirm its faith through vigorous efforts to curb and eliminate gun violence.

Gun violence is killing America=s children.  Based on statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, there are an estimated 223 million firearms in the United States.  Approximately one out of every four households owns a handgun.  The risk of handgun violence to children and youth is more prevalent in the United States today than in any previous generation.  Our communities and schools are so exposed to large numbers of privately owned guns that no mere attempts at providing slightly better security can match the awful threat of guns finding their way through our well-intentioned safety systems.

A significant total reduction in the numbers of guns in our communities is our goal in ministry.  We serve and our society=s children go to school amidst passionately violent segments of current youth culture.  No appeals to individual autonomy are sufficient to justify our church=s ignorance of this threat.  The need to prevent the incidence of firearm-related injury and death is an issue of increasing concern and a priority U.S. public health issue.  The United Methodist Church is among those religious communions calling for social policies and personal lifestyles that bring an end to senseless gun violence.

Gun violence in America=s schools has emerged as a growing and disturbing trend.  The United Methodist Church supports ministries that address the issue of violence and crime prevention for children/youth in urban areas through the Communities of Shalom.  Violence is no longer confined to the streets of urban areas but has occurred at an increasing rate in suburban communities.  Over the past several years, high-profile cases of school shootings involving suburban youth killing and injuring teachers and peers alike have once again brought the issue of guns and youth to the forefront of national attention.

These acts of senseless violence should not be an acceptable occurrence in any community:  suburban, urban, or rural.  The church must continue to address these issues of violence and develop programs to enrich the lives of all children/youth.

In light of the increase of gun violence affecting the lives of children and youth, we call upon The United Methodist Church to: 

(1)           convene workshops of clergy and other mental health care professionals from communities (urban, rural, and suburban) in which gun violence has had a significant impact in order to discuss ways by which The United Methodist Church should respond to this growing tragedy, and to determine what role the church should take in facilitating dialogue to address the issue of gun violence in our schools and among our children;

(2)           educate the United Methodist community (parents, children, and youth) on gun safety, violence prevention, adult responsibility around gun violence prevention, and the public health impact of gun violence;

(3)           identify community-based, state, and national organizations working on the issue of gun violence and seek their assistance to design education and prevention workshops around the issue of gun violence and its effect on children and youth;

(4)           develop accuracy groups within local congregations to advocate for the eventual reduction of the availability of guns in society with a particular emphasis upon handguns, handgun ammunition, assault weapons, automatic weapons, automatic weapon conversion kits, and guns that cannot be detected by traditionally used metal detection devices.  These groups can be linked to community-based, state, and national organizations working on gun and violence issues;

(5)           support federal legislation to regulate the importation, manufacturing, sale, and possession of guns and ammunition by the general public.  Such legislation should include provisions for the registration and licensing of gun purchasers and owners, appropriate background investigation and waiting periods prior to gun purchase, and regulation of subsequent sale;

(6)           call upon all governments of the world in which there is a United Methodist presence to establish national bans on ownership by the general public of handguns, assault weapons, automatic weapon conversion kits; and weapons that cannot be detected by traditionally used metal-detection devices;

(7)           call upon the print, broadcasting, and electronic media, as well as the entertainment industry, to refrain from promoting gun usage to children;

(8)           discourage the graphic depiction and glorification of violence by the entertainment industry, which greatly influences our society, and recommend that these issues be addressed through education and consciousness raising;

(9)           call upon the federal and state governments to provide significant assistance to victims of gun violence and their families; and

(10)       recommend that annual conferences make visible public witness to the sin of gun violence and to the hope of community healing.


See Social Principals, 164F.

236.  Human Rights

God created human beings,

in the image of God they were created;

male and female were created.

(Genesis 1:26-27, adapted)

We affirm that all persons are of equal worth in the sight of God, because all are created in the image of God.  Biblical tradition demands that we live in interdependent relationship with God and our neighbor.  We must respond to human need at every community level.

As covenant people of God, we are called to responsibility rather than privilege.

God=s vision for humanity as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ demands the total fulfillment of human rights in an interdependent global community.  It is a vision of life where needs of the community have priority over individual fears and where redemption and reconciliation are available at all.  Human rights are holistic in nature and therefore indivisible in their economic, social, cultural, civil, and political aspects.  The omission of any of these aspects denies our God-given human dignity.

As Christians, we receive and carry a mandate to seek justice and liberation.  Isaiah calls us to:

loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke

(Isaiah 58:6).

The United Methodist Church continues its commitment to human rights as grounded in God=s covenant by critically assessing and safe-guarding the following principles as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

(1) All persons are of equal worth and dignity.

(2) All persons have the right to self-determination, cultural identity, and minority distinction.

(3)All persons have the right to self-determination, cultural identity, and minority distinction.

(4)All persons have the right to religious expression and practice.  The United Nations has      spoken strongly against racism as a human rights violation in the United Nations                 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:

Discrimination between human beings on the ground of race, color or ethnic origin is an offense to human dignity and shall be condemned as a denial of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among nations and as a fact capable of disturbing peace and security among peoples.

In addition, the United Nations has also defined sexism as a violation of human rights in the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women:

Discrimination against women, denying or limiting as it does their equality of rights with men, is fundamentally unjust and constitutes an offense against human dignity.

Furthermore, Amnesty International has proposed to "end abuses based on sexual orientation" and to Adefend the rights of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals to live lives free from stigmatization and violence."

We call upon citizens within the church and society to analyze critically trends and developments that adversely effect human rights.  These include:

(1)           the increase of capital-intensive technology that destroys opportunities for productive and meaningful employment;

(2)           the intentional use of data banks to undermine rather than enhance abundant living;

(3)           the growing phenomenon of an "underclass" of persons domestically and internationally excluded from full participation in society due to educational, cultural, economic, and political conditions;

(4)           the possible economic and political scape-goating of such an underclass for technological and social displacement;

(5)           increasing extrajudicial executions; torture; and disappearances of dissenters, their families, and communities;

(6)           the growth of militarism and the imposition of military-like control over civilians;

(7)           the increase of terrorism and the growth of white supremacist and racial hate groups, neo-Nazi groups, paramilitary units, and extreme ultra-nationalistic groups;

(8)           in many countries, the decreasing civilian control of domestic and international policing and intelligence units as well as increasing surveillance of their own citizenry, imposed under the guise of a potential threat to national security; and

(9)           the conflict between meeting the basic needs of developing countries and the disproportionate sharing of global resources.

We are increasingly aware that militarism and greed can overwhelm and undermine movements to secure human rights.  The church is called to be an advocate for the human rights of all persons in the political, social, and economic quest for justice and peace.

As people of faith and hope, we commend those trends that contribute positively to the human rights movement.  Among them:

$               the growing acceptance of universal standards for human rights;

$               the establishment of organizations such as Amnesty International, which documents, verifies, and publicizes political imprisonment, torture, killings, and crimes against humanity;

$               the increasing consensus against war as a viable solution to international conflicts;

$               movement toward the inclusion of Abasic human needs" criteria in international aid packages and financial aid programming;

$               the growing importance of human rights offices in governments around the world; and

$               the growing emphasis on technology appropriate to the cultural setting.

We uphold the requirements advocated by the National Council of Churches to preserve and protect human rights:

(1) Human rights require world peace.

(2) Human rights require a secure and sustainable environment.

(3) Human rights require sustainable human development.

(4) Human rights require the preservation of communities.

(5) Human rights require the preservation of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

We call upon all governments to accept their obligation to uphold human rights by refraining from repression, torture, and violence against any person.  We further call upon all governments to ratify and implement international conventions, covenants, and protocols addressing human rights in the context of justice and peace.

We call the church to be a place of refuge for those who experience the violation of their human rights.  It is the duty of Christians Ato help create a worldwide community in which governments and people treat each other compassionately as members of one human family."



See Social Principals, 164A.

237.  Juvenile Delinquency and Prevention

Let the little children come to me and not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  (Mark 10:14 NRSV).

Our Lord particularly identified with children and illustrated the loving care which they need to grow and mature.

The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church calls for special attention to the rights of children and youth.  From these perspectives we are concerned that in many states, children are arrested and incarcerated for truancy, incorrigibility, stubborn altercations with parents, and other conduct which would not be criminal if performed by an adult.  Such state offenses should not be considered as grounds for involving a juvenile in processes of criminal or delinquency procedures.  Rather, a child in trouble should be helped by caring communities, such as churches, mentoring programs, and boys/girls clubs.

There is considerable evidence that the methods of dealing with children play a major part in developing criminal tendencies.  Most adults who repeat violent crimes began their conflict with law and order as children ten to fourteen years old.  If treatment by the state or local agencies leads the child to think of him or herself as a tough young criminal, he or she is likely to act out that role.

The United Methodist Church urges that all status offenses be eliminated from the juvenile codes and from the processes for determining juvenile delinquency.  We urge further that all offenses by children and youth be handled with extreme reluctance to incarcerate the offender.  We especially oppose solitary confinement of children and youths in official detention.  Institutions where juveniles classified as delinquent often are segregated from the general population often becomes schools of crime.  As an alternative, we encourage greater use of supportive and restorative services for parents and children in their home settings; foster child care; neighborhood group homes, Parents Anonymous, and other alternatives.

There are communities within the states in which children are routinely locked up in jails because of a lack of temporary shelter, care or an unwillingness to use home detention.  We urge the prohibition of placing dependent and neglected children in jails or facilities for juvenile delinquents.

For many children, the quality of life continually declines due to poverty, gangs, school violence, emotional sexual and physical abuse, and other social ills that have yet to be recognized.  The United Methodist Church must take a stand against juvenile delinquency and work to prevent it.

The church can witness to children in a restorative and prophetic way.  The church must continue to address the social issues that children and adolescents face and become a safe haven where the children can come.  By addressing the issues that children face, we help bring God=s children back to their Creator.

Therefore, be it resolved, that General Conference of The United Methodist Church takes a stand against juvenile delinquency and works to strengthen prevention programs.

Be it further resolved, that The United Methodist Church, through the appropriate churches, annual conferences, agencies, or coalitions work to prevent juvenile delinquency and treat offenders by:

$               updating the Urban and Rural Life Youth Mentoring Guide;

$               continuing the develop and distribute peer mentoring guides to local churches;

$               continuing to develop and distribute up-to-date information on juvenile delinquency and strategies on how local churches can help prevent juvenile delinquency;

$               encouraging local churches to create ministry partnerships with local juvenile justice officials and juvenile justice agencies;

$               forming alliances with other international, national, state, and local civic and religious groups that work on juvenile justice issues; and

$               encouraging conference council on youth ministries or other similar boards to create ministry teams and/or programs for their peers.


See Social Principles, 164F.

238.  In Opposition to Capital Punishment

The United Methodist Church declares its opposition to the retention and use of capital punishment and urges its abolition.  In spite of a common assumption to the contrary, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," does not give justification for the imposing of the penalty of death.  Jesus explicitly repudiated retaliation (Matthew 5:38-39), and the Talmud denies its literal meaning and holds that it refers to financial indemnities.

Christ came among us and suffered death.  Christ also rose to new life for the sake of all.  His suffering, death, and resurrection brought a new dimension to human life, the possibility of reconciliation with God through repentance.  This gift is offered to all without exception, and human life was given new dignity and sacredness through it.  The death penalty, however, denies Christ=s power to transform and restore all human beings.  In the New Testament, when a woman having committed a crime was brought before Jesus, He persisted in questioning her accusers, so that they walked away (John 8:1-11).

The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church condemn "...torture of persons by governments for any purpose," (164A) and assert that it violates Christian teachings.  The church, through its Social Principles, further declares, "we oppose capital punishment and urge its elimination from all criminal codes." (164A)

During the 1970s and 1980s a rapidly rising rate of violent crime and an even greater increase in the fear of crime generated support in some countries and within the American society, for the institution of death as the punishment for certain forms of homicide.  It continues to be wrongly asserted, that capital punishment uniquely deters criminals and protects law-abiding citizens from violent crime.

Studies conducted over more than sixty years have overwhelmingly failed to support the thesis that capital punishment deters homicide more effectively than does imprisonment.  Careful comparisons of homicide rates in similar states with and without use of the death penalty have revealed that homicide rates remained the same or slightly greater regardless of the use of the death penalty in those states.  Governments that have enacted the death penalty continue to have higher civilian murder rates than those that do not.  The five countries with the highest homicide rates that do not impose the death penalty average 21.6 murders per every 100,000 people, whereas the five countries with the highest homicide rate that do not impose the death penalty average 41.6 murders every 100,000 people.  The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned with the rate of crime throughout the world, and the value of a life taken by murder or homicide.  When another life is taken through capital punishment, the life of the victim is further devalued.  Moreover, the church is convinced that the use of the death penalty would result in neither a net reduction of crime nor a lessening of the particular kinds of crime against which it was directed.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the use of the death penalty in the United States reached almost unprecedented proportions.  The rate of homicide, the crime for which the death penalty has been used almost exclusively, increased very little during the 1980s and declined during the 1990s.  As United Methodist Christians, part of our mission is to give attention to the improvement of the total criminal justice system and to the elimination of social conditions which breed crime and cause disorder, rather than foster a false confidence in the effectiveness of the death penalty.

Sixty-seven percent of law enforcement officials do not think capital punishment decreases the rate of homicide.  A poll of police chiefs found that they ranked the death penalty least effective in reducing violent crime.

In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court rule that executing an innocent person was not Acruel and unusual" if all the proper and legal procedures were followed.  The court thus does not have to reopen a case if new evidence, exonerating the defendant, comes to light after a legally established deadline for new information.  Between 1972 and 1999 more than seventy people have been released from death row as a result of being wrongly convicted.  On average, for every seven people executed, one person under a death sentence is found innocent.

The United States is the world leader in sentencing children to death.  Since 1990 only Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and the U.S. are known to have executed persons for crimes they committed as children.  Of these, the U.S. has executed more juvenile offenders than any other nation.  This practice has been condemned in nearly every major human rights treaty.  Canada, Italy, and South Africa are among the many countries that abolished the death penalty in the 20th Century.

The death penalty falls unfairly and unequally upon marginalized persons including the poor, the uneducated, ethnic and religious minorities, and persons with mental and emotional illnesses.  In the United States, persons who receive the death penalty are usually convicted of killing middle or upper class white persons, are almost always poor and unable to afford a lawyer, and often suffer from brain damage associated with previous head injuries, often in childhood.  In the U.S. methods for selecting the few persons sentenced to die from among the large number who are sentenced for comparable offenses are entirely arbitrary.  What warrants the death penalty and what sentencing options are available vary among the few countries that impose capital punishment and even among the states in the United States.

The United States Supreme Court, in Gregg v. Georgia (1976), in permitting use of the death penalty, conceded the lack of evidence that it reduced violent crime, but permitted its use for purpose of sheer retribution.

The United Methodist Church cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life.  It violates our deepest belief in God as the Creator and the Redeemer of humankind.  In this respect, there can be no assertion that human life can be taken humanely by the state.  Indeed, in the long run, the use of the death penalty by the state will increase the acceptance of revenge in our society and will give official sanction to a climate of violence.

Therefore, we call upon United Methodists individually, at the district and conference level and through general boards and agencies to:

$               work in collaboration with other ecumenical and abolitionist groups for the abolition of the death penalty in those states which currently have capital punishment statutes, and against efforts to reinstate such statues in those which do not;

$               speak out against the death penalty to state governors, state and federal representatives;

$               develop education materials on capital punishment; and

$               oppose all executions through prayer and vigils.


See Social Principles, 164A.

239.  Prisons and Criminal Justice

Today the United States has 1.8 million people behind bars-more people than any other country in the world-perhaps half a million more than China.  One out of every 100 adult males in the USA is behind bars.  The inmate population is growing by 50,000 to 80,000 per year.  Prison construction is booming and a new "prison industrial complex" now costs taxpayers $35 billion a year.  All this despite the fact that since 1991 the rate of violent crime in the U.S. has fallen by about 20 percent, while the number of people in prison or jail has risen by 50 percent.

Viewed through a racial lens, the statistics are even more disturbing.  About half the inmates in the U.S. are African-American; one out of every 14 black men is now in prison or jail.  One out of every four is likely to be imprisoned at some point during his lifetime.  While women still comprise a distinct minority of those in prison, the number of women sentenced to 1 year or more of prison has grown twelve-fold since 1970.  Seventy percent of women now in prison are nonviolent offenders.  Prisons have ceased to be places of rehabilitation and have become rather human warehouses.  AAll across this country new cellblocks rise.  And every one of them, every brand new prison, becomes another lasting monument, concrete and ringed with deadly razor wire, to the fear and greed and political cowardice that now pervade American society."  (Eric Schlosser in the December 1998 issue of the Atlantic Monthly the source for much of the above information).

The prison system in the U.S.A. is oppressive, racist and a major contributing cause of crime and poverty.  Recent trends toward privatizing prisons have raised the specter of prisons operated not for rehabilitation but only to maximize profit for shareholders, with all the possibilities of overcrowding, harsh conditions, and denial of basic necessities that such a motivation encourages.  In addition, many prisons are now contracting convict labor to public agencies and private corporations at substandard wages and working conditions, often resulting in a loss of jobs in the general economy.

The prison industrial complex includes some of the nation=s largest architecture and construction firms, Wall Street investment banks, and companies that sell everything from security cameras to padded cells. 

The increasing use of the death penalty compounds the racism already inherent in a criminal justice system in which adequate representation is often dependent on the wealth of the accused.  The abolition in many states of college programs and work release eviscerates efforts at rehabilitation and increasingly restrictive parole policies deny parole to those inmates who have been rehabilitated.  The whole emphasis in the prison system has moved away from rehabilitation to custody and punishment.

The prison system of his time was one of Mr. Wesley=s primary concerns and has remained a concern of the people called Methodist into this century.  The prison system in the U.S. today cries out for a major church-wide emphasis.  The General Board of Global Ministries is already planning a major program in this area.

The Humanity of the Imprisoned

We call for a renewed emphasis on 164F of the Social Principles: "In the love of Christ, who came to save those who are lost and vulnerable, we urge the creation of genuinely new systems for the care and support of the victims of crime and for rehabilitation that will restore, preserve, and nurture the humanity of the imprisoned.  For the same reason, we oppose capital punishment and urge its elimination from all criminal codes."


We call for:

$               A renewed church-wide focus on removing the death penalty.

$               Opposition to privatization of prisons.

$               Incarceration within reasonable proximity of the place of conviction to promote visitation.

$               Support for programs of rehabilitation: parole, college programs, drug programs, work release, conjugal and family visits, and offense related counseling programs.

$               Improved prison conditions to eliminate overcrowding and provide recreational opportunities.

$               Restoration of voting rights to ex-offenders.


For John Wesley, visiting those who were sick and in prison was an essential element of the Christian life.  The prison population in the U.S. today is the most isolated, alienated and forgotten segment of our population, and it is growing even as crime rates decrease.  There is no greater mission field in the United States than the prison system.  We call on the General Conference to establish a comprehensive initiative to encourage and assist local congregations to reach out to those in prison.  Goals of such an emphasis should include:

1)             Ten percent of the churches in each annual conference with programs of prison visitation on a regular basis.  These programs should focus first on establishing relationships with inmates without regard to their religious affiliation and only then on programs of bible study and worship for those who wish them.  Wesley visited the imprisoned both for his own spiritual well being of those in prison.

2)             Encouraging churches with primarily white congregations to link up with ethnic minority churches to do prison ministry together, especially in areas where the prison population is predominantly ethnic minority.

3)             Assisting men and women coming out of prison to find housing and employment and in making the adjustment to society on the outside.  This might include receiving inmates on release into local congregations.

4)             Formation of a Prison Missional Task Force in each Annual Conference with the mission of studying the prison system in their state.  These Task Forces shall make prison visits and meet with correctional administrators and former inmates and prepare recommendations for the amelioration of prison conditions where indicated.  They shall address such issues as resources for parenting of children of incarcerated persons, transportation needs of families of prisoners.

5)             Identifying former inmates with special skills to act as consultants to the Prison Missional Task Force and where appropriate, to local church prison ministries.

6)             Linking Death Row inmates with UM congregations for visitation and prayer.

7)             Support the Karios and Epiphany movements within Emmaus communities as they minister to youth and adults placed in prisons or detention centers.  The Racial Justice Interagency Task Force shall assist in the development of the prison emphasis.


See Social Principles, 164F.

240.  Prison Industrial Complex

There are a number of penal systems in the United States which take upon themselves the job of confinement or supervision of persons charged with, or convicted of crimes.  For the most part, these systems are capable neither of rehabilitating criminals nor of protecting society, much less restoring crime victims.  They are, in fact, institutions where persons are further conditioned in criminal conduct and where advanced skills in crime are taught.  More often than not, penal institutions have created more crime rather than deterred criminals.  They represent an indescribable failure and have been subjected to gross neglect by the rest of society and by the church.  They do not deserve the designation of correctional institutions, for they correct nothing for the crime victim, the offender, or the community.

Despite their massive failure, prisons and jails and the numbers of persons confined within them are growing rapidly in the United States, leading some to speak of a APrison Industrial Complex."  This concept refers to the extent to which corporate interests and the profit motive-no concerns of public safety, equal justice, offender rehabilitation, or victim restoration-are increasingly driving and determining criminal justice policy in the United States.

Private Prisons

International attention has been given to the long and rapid rise in the United States prison population over the last 25 years.  The United States imprisons a higher proportion of its people than all but one other country in the world, Russia.  Incarceration has become a very expensive growth industry in the United States.

This industry of warehousing people has presented a temptation to those who would profit from the punishment of human beings, leading to perhaps the most ominous illustration of prison industrial complex at work: the privatization of prison operation and/or ownership.  Sometimes governments contract with corporations to operate prisons.  A recent trend is for private corporations to design, build, and own prisons to be privately operated and to house prisoners from anywhere in the United States or its territories.  Often this takes the form of companies= building prisons on spec, or as speculation, assuming that prisoners will be found, somewhere, to fill their beds.

There is a long history in the United States especially in the South, of exploitation of prison labor through the convict lease system and other arrangements whereby private industry has been allowed to have control over prisoners= lives.  The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution allows for legal exploitation of prisoners.  Today, private prison entrepreneurs seek areas which have a surplus of prisoners and areas of high unemployment which often welcome prisons as a new form of economic development.  Typically, this means that it tends to be the poor and ethnic minorities who find their labor, their spirits, and their lives exploited, whether as the keepers or as the kept.

Private prison companies typically are paid on a per-capita and per-diem basis.  Therefore they have little incentive to rehabilitate prisoners or to prevent recidivism.  Indeed, it is in their economic interest to have more crime, more incarceration, and more recidivism, all of which lead to more profits.  The logic of the profit motive is to cut costs.  In privately operated prisons, this is usually achieved by cutting staff, payroll, benefits, supplies, security, and rehabilitation programming for prisoners.  Such cuts lead to a decreased sense of professionalism and a higher rate of turnover among employees, greater hopelessness and bitterness among prisoners, and greater threats to the safety of staff, prisoners, and the general public, especially in the local community.

Many states where private prisons are now operating have no laws regulating their operations (including health, safety, security, legal access for prisoners, and disciplinary policies).  Many private prisons are under no obligation to ensure access to information about prisoners held in them or how they are classified, and often regard this as proprietary information.  Private prisons hurt local and state economies.  Contracting our operations exports taxpayer monies from local communities to corporations often headquartered out of state.  For existing prisons, communities lose public sector jobs with family-supporting wages and benefits, and civil service job security.  Local communities  which provide supplies, services, or equipment to government agencies lose out when a large contractor, usually based out of state, wins a contract to operate a former government facility.  Finally, when private prisons contract out bed space to prisoners from distant states, it makes it more difficult for families, friends, ministers, attorneys, and advocates to visit them for support, or counsel.  This also increases their chances of recidivism when they are released.

Our Lord began his ministry by declaring "release to the captives..." (Luke 4:18 NRSV), and he distinguished those who would receive a blessing at the last judgment by saying, "I was in prison and you visited me."  (Matthew 25:36b NRSV) Jesus also declared that one cannot serve two masters and condemned the idolatry of mammon, or wealth.  (Luke 16:13).

Christians, therefore, must have a special concern for those who are captive in any way, especially for those who are imprisoned, and for the human conditions under which persons are incarcerated.  Individual Christians and churches must also oppose those policies and practices which reflect greater allegiance to the profit motive than to public safety and to restorative justice for offenders, crime victims, and local communities.

Therefore, The United Methodist Church declares its opposition to the privatization of prisons and jails and to profit making from the punishment of human beings.


See Social Principles, 164F.

241.  Restorative Justice

1.             Biblical Theological Grouding

The words of Micah ring out clearly, setting the tone for justice ministries in the church: AHe has told you, O Mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

(Micah 6:8)

Justice is the basic principle upon which God=s creation has been established.  It is an integral and uncompromising part in God=s redemptive process, which assures wholeness.  Compassion is characterized by sensitivity to God=s justice and, therefore, sensitivity to God=s people.

The gospel, through the example of Jesus Christ, conveys the message for Christians to be healers, peacemakers, and reconcilers when faced with brokenness, violence, and vengeance.  Through love, caring and forgiveness, Jesus Christ is able to transform lives and restore dignity and purpose in those who were willing to abide by his principle.

Jesus was concerned about victims of crime.  In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus explored the responsibility we have for those who have been victimized: "Which of these three, do you think, was neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?  He said, The one who showed him mercy.= Jesus said to him, >Go and do likewise=" (Luke 10:36-37).

Jesus was concerned about offenders, those who victimize others.  He rejected vengeance and retribution as the model of justice to being used for relating to offenders: "You have heard that it was said, >An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.=  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;..." (Matthew 5:38ff.)  Jesus also indicated the responsibility Christians have for offenders: "I was sick and you took care of me.  I was in prison and you visited me...Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of did it to me."  (Matthew 25:36, 40).

The Apostle Paul believed that this biblical concept of justice which was reflected in the life of Christ was a primary molder of Christian community and responsibility: AAll this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trepasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us" (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

While acknowledging that the biblical concept of justice focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in the hope of restoring all to a sense of God=s wholeness, it is also important to understand that our Methodist heritage is rich with examples of ministries carried out in jails and prisons.  John Wesley (and others in his inner circle, including a brother, Charles) had a passion for those in prison.  As early as 1778, the Methodist Conference adopted action making it the duty of every Methodist preacher to minister to those who were incarcerated.  United Methodists have reaffirmed and expanded the mandate for prison ministry and reform in many different chapters of our denominational history.  This is a part of our identity and call.

Criminal justice in our world rarely focuses on the biblical initiatives of restoration, mercy, wholeness, and shalom.  Out of a desire to punish rather than restore, governments around the world have made retribution the heart of their criminal justice systems, believing that this will deter crime and violence.  The statistics indicate the colossal failure of retributive justice.  Therefore, we call on the church to embrace the biblical concept of restorative justice as a hopeful alternative to our present criminal justice codes.  Restorative justice focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in the desire to bring healing and wholeness to all.

II.  Our Current Criminal Justice System: A Retributive Justice System

A.  Victims:

When crime is defined as the breaking of a law, the state (rather than the victim) is posited as the primary victim.  Criminal justice, as we know it, focuses little or no attention on the needs of the victim.  Legal proceedings inadvertently cause crime victims, including loved ones, to experience shock and a sense of helplessness which is further exacerbated by financial loss, spiritual or emotional trauma, and often a lack of support and direction.  Many victims feel frustrated because, in most cases, there seems to be little or no provision for them to be heard or to be notified of court proceedings.  Victims, moreover, are seldom given the opportunity to meet with their offenders, face to face, in order to personally resolve their conflicts and to move toward healing, authentic reconciliation, and closure.

B.  Offenders:

Our criminal justice systems around the world would have become increasingly based on retribution.  Although it is often cloaked or justified in the language of accountability, this focus on punishment has resulted in massive increases in the number of incarcerated persons across the globe.  In the United States, for example, the prison population doubled between 1990 and 2000, even as the crime rate decrease during this period.  Because prisons are often places where dehumanizing conditions reinforce negative behavior, present criminal justice systems actually perpetuate a cycle of violence, crime, and incarceration, especially among those whose race, appearance, lifestyle, economic conditions, or beliefs differ from those in authority.

Incarceration is costly.  In the United States, the cost of incarcerating someone for a year ranges between $15,000 and $30,000.  Citizens are therefore paying billions of dollars for the support of systems that consistently engender a grossly dehumanizing experience characterized by the loss of freedom, the loss of contact with family and friends, the loss of self-determination, the loss of education, the loss of adequate medical care, and the loss of religious freedom and opportunities for spiritual growth.

C.  Community:

Criminal justice, as we know it, is retributive justice.  It is consumed with blame and pain.  It is a system of retribution that pays little or no consideration to the root causes of criminal behavior.  It does not aim at solutions that will benefit the whole community by helping the community to repair the breach and often fails to come to terms with the social conditions that breed crime.  Retributive justice permanently stigmatizes the offender for past actions, thereby creating such a sense of alienation from the community that social reintegration is virtually impossible.  An offender who is held in exile away from the community cannot be held accountable to the community for his or her wrongdoing.  An ex-offender who is ostracized and kept in exile after paying his or her debt to society is further violated.  He or she is stripped of the opportunity to fully understand the consequences of the crime committed, to make restitution to the victim, to be reconciled with the community, or to heal and become a viable member of the community.

III.  Our Vision of Restorative Justice

The gospel, through the example of Jesus Christ, conveys the message for Christians to be healers, peacemakers, and reconcilers when faced with brokenness, violence, and vengeance.  The concept of restorative justice shows us specific ways by which to transform lives and effect healing.

Restorative justice asks: Who has been hurt?  What are their needs?  Whose obligations are they?

We label the person who has been hurt "the victim."  But the victim is essentially a survivor  who need not remain a victim for his or her entire life.  The victim needs healing and emotional support.  Victims (survivors) want people to recognize the trauma they have endured and how this trauma has affected their lives and the lives of their loved ones.  Often survivors/victims need counseling, assistance, compensation, information, and services.  Victims/survivors need to participate in their own healing.  They may need reparations from the offender, or the victim may want to meet the offender and have input during the trial, sentencing, and rehabilitation process.

During the healing process, the victim often asks: Why me?  What kind of person could do such a thing?  Therefore, they may want to meet their offender to receive answers to such questions.  Victims deserve to have these questions answered and to hear that the offender is truly sorry.

Victims suffer real pain; however, encouraging vengeance does not heal pain.  The community needs to aid in the recovery of the victim.  The community can help the victim by not ostracizing him or her, by learning how to accept him or her as a person and not just a victim.

Offenders are harmed as well.  An offender is harmed by being labeled for life as an offender.  One or more bad decisions or actions sometimes measure the total of an offender=s life.  Offenders are further harmed when they are denied the opportunity to make amends, to have respectful interaction with others, and to develop healthy social skills before, during, or after incarceration.  Often young offenders do not have constructive guidance or a good role model in the community.  Sometimes they need treatment for a disorder, life skills development, or mentoring with clear and achievable expectations of heightened self-awareness and accountability.

The victim and the community need to identify ways the offender can remedy hurt and harm caused.  The offender needs to understand how his or her behavior affected others, and acknowledge that the behavior was indeed harmful.  The offender needs to be transformed into a contributing citizen of the community with a system of limits and support.

Crime hurts the community.  When crime occurs, the neighborhood is disrupted; people become more isolated, fearful, distrusting, and uninterested in the community.  Restorative justice helps to release the community members from their fear of crime; it empowers them with the knowledge that circumstances are not out of their control.  The community needs to express pain and anger to the one or ones who caused the harm.  However, we need to take on step further by helping in the healing process.  We need to understand and address the causes of crime to prevent future occurrences.  The victim, community, and offender (when possible) need to help others who face similar struggles.

Restorative justice opens the opportunities for personal and community transformation.  This transformation cannot be mapped, planned, or put into a program or structure.  Nevertheless, it can be encouraged and nurtured.

United Methodists have the will, the vision, the opportunity and the responsibility to be advocates for systemic change.  We are called to minister with all parties affected by crime: the victim, the offender, and the community.

Expectations are high for the faith community to lead the way in practicing restorative justice.  We need to own and advocate a vision or restorative justice.  We need to be supportive to members of the congregation who are victims, offenders, and their families, and especially to those who work toward restoration in the criminal justice system.

The church must initiate models of restorative justice with service providers, policy makers, and law enforcement.  We need to work in partnership with the criminal justice system to make it more open, accessible, humane, effective, and rehabilitative, and less costly.  We need to see our own capacity in community breakdowns and in the racism and classism present in the enactment and enforcement of criminal law.  We must also advocate for social and economic justice to see the restoration and strengthening of our communities.

IV.  A Call To Action

As United Methodists we are called to:

$               repent of the sin we have committed that has fostered retributive justice;

$               speak prophetically and consistently against dehumanization in the criminal justice system;

$               establish restorative justice as the theological ground for ministries in The United Methodist Church and to build bridges of collaboration and cooperation to advance the practice of restorative justice with boards and agencies within The United Methodist Church, with United Methodist and other Methodist communions around the globe, with other faith communities in the United States and worldwide; and with nonprofit organizations, and/or governmental organizations;

$               intensify our redemptive ministries with those who in criminal justice, victims of crime and their families, those who are incarcerated in jails and prisons and their families, and communities traumatized by crime.

At the General Church Level:

(1)           Restorative Justice Ministries Inter-Agency Task Force:

Continue and expand the work of The United Methodist Church=s Restorative Justice Ministries through the Inter-Agency Task Force, which serves as the global coordinating committee for criminal justice and mercy ministries mandated by the 1996 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, by the following:

Maintain and broaden the involvement of general agencies in this task force, including: the  General Board of Global Ministries (as "lead" or "administrative agency"), the General Board of Discipleship, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the General Board of Church and Society, the General Council on Ministries, the Council of Bishops, and other relevant agencies and initiatives.

Fulfill these specific functions:

$               provide a biblical-theological basis for a restorative justice approach to criminal justice;

$               be a center for resourcing, teaching, learning, and networking;

$               work collegially with other groups and organizations whether they are inside or outside the denomination, religious or secular, by finding common ground to bring about systemic change in the spirit of mediation (even when there is disagreement about theological rationale);

$               coordinate the training, networking, and advocacy for Restorative Justice Ministries of The United Methodist Church by working with jurisdictions, annual conferences, central conferences, districts, local United Methodist churches and their communities.

$               Serve as the primary advocate and interpreter of Restorative Justice Ministries;

$               Identify and expand critical models and facilitate the development of Restorative Justice Ministries, on a global basis, at all levels of The United Methodist Church.

$               Manage the Restorative Justice Ministries budget and assist in procuring additional funding for these ministries in strategic locations across the church.

(2)           Specific General Church Agencies:

A.             Identify and implement disciplinary functions that can strengthen The United Methodist Church=s effectiveness in the area of restorative justice.

B.             Continue to implement and expand the special mandates from the 1996 General Conference.

$               that United Methodist Women consider the integration of Restorative Justice Ministries within the Schools of Christian Ministry as they develop study curricula;

$               that the General Board of Global Ministries consider naming missionaries in the fields of prison ministry and victim=s advocacy ministry;

$               that central conferences and annual conferences in the United States be linked through electronic mail, when available, so that frequent communication can enhance the planning process for this new initiative;

$               that the General Board of Discipleship be responsible for the training of local church and annual conference leaders to utilize study processes such as DISCIPLE Bible Study and/or Covenant Discipleship, and to provide mentoring;

$               that United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women give consideration to starting units within jails and prisons and create study guides and tools to promote Christian disciple-making;

$               that existing programs and resources be evaluated to assess their applicability and effectiveness in ministries with victims, families, and those incarcerated;

$               that the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the General Board of Discipleship consider the development of a certification process for those providing ministries with prisoners, crime victims, and their families;

$               that the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries intensify their advocacy for social and economic justice in order to restore and strengthen communities;

$               that the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries continue to advocate for a criminal justice system that is not racist, less costly, and more humane, effective, rehabilitative, and accessible to family members of victims and offenders.

At Jurisdictional/Central Conference and Annual Conference Levels:

1.             Support jurisdictional/central conference and annual conference networking as modeled by the Southeastern Jurisdiction=s Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries network, or bring together clusters of contiguous conferences or expedite processes of training and resource sharing.

2.             Encourage conferences to establish inter-agency restorative justice task forces to coordinate Restorative Justice Ministries within their bounds, with special emphasis on partnership with the Restorative Justice Ministries Inter-agency Task Force and the facilitation and resourcing of local church ministries.

At the Local Level:

1.             Encourage local congregations to provide adult and youth education programs on restorative justice: theory, practice, issues, models, resources (utilizing curriculum resources, printed and audiovisual, provided through the above mentioned connectional sources).

2.             Encourage congregations to provide safe space to enable people to share real experiences of victimization, incarceration, or other direct encounters with the criminal justice system and/or restorative justice processes.

3.             Encourage congregations to schedule a ARestorative Justice Ministries Sunday" to generate deeper awareness by the entire congregation regarding the contrasting paradigms of retributive justice and restorative justice-and their different outcomes.

4.             Encourage congregations to organize or form direct service and/or advocacy efforts to support the work of restorative justice.

5.             Work with local ecumenical and/or interfaith agencies and other community agencies to:

$               Convene consultations of representatives of the restorative justice community to define policy/legislative needs and strategies.

$               Encourage/resource congregations to work on restorative justice-working through regional judicatories and media.

$               Encourage/initiate dialogue with correctional/criminal justice system officials.

$               Identify and nurture criminal justice system leaders (e.g. judges, attorneys, wardens, police, etc.) regarding restorative justice.

$               Involve local congregations in ministries with juvenile detention centers and domestic violence centers.

$               Build covenant discipleship groups at the local level for restoration justice advocates, as well as for other persons involved in the criminal justice system.

$               Provide victim-offender mediation and other restorative justice processes.

$               Identify and develop coalitional partnerships with victim assistance groups, advocacy groups, jail and prison ministry groups, ex-offender assistance groups, etc.

$               Plan and implement strategies for advocacy that encourage legislative support for restorative justice programs.


See Social Principles, 164F.

242.  Seek Moratorium on Capital Punishment

WHEREAS, United Methodists value the sanctity of human life, and desire that no human being be executed by capital punishment; and

WHEREAS, 75 innocent persons have been released from death row due to wrongful conviction and imprisonment since 1976, according to the National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and The Death Penalty at Northwestern University Law School; and

WHEREAS, the American Bar Association has called for a moratorium on the death penalty until flaws in the criminal justice system related to capital cases are corrected, so that innocent people are not put to death; and

WHEREAS, thorough investigations and competent experienced capital case lawyers are often not appointed to defend poor defendants in capital cases; and

WHEREAS, highly publicized capital cases seem often to be decided in an emotionally charged atmosphere; and

WHEREAS, DNA evidence was not available when most current death row prisoners were convicted; and

WHEREAS, by October 1, 1998, the work of privately paid lawyers (by those who could afford them), DNA evidence, and legal corrections had exonerated 75 of the over 3,500 people currently on death row in the United States,

Therefore, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church calls upon the government to enact an immediate moratorium on carrying out of the death penalty sentence.

Be it further resolved, that the secretary of the General Conference, the Council of Bishops, and the general secretary of the Board of Church and Society invite the governors and senators from the 50 U.S.A. states and the president, vice president, and major candidates for president of the U.S.A. to take a strong stand for this moratorium.

Be it further resolved, such a request or invitation to government officials should be made within 40 days of the end of the 2000 General Conference and should be publicized in the major newspapers around the world.


See Social Principles, 164A.

243.  Victims of Crime

In answering the question, "Who is my neighbor?" by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 NRSV), Jesus formulated a new question, to whom are we a neighbor?  In this parable the neighbor was the victim of crime.

Many people become victims of crime.  Victims and their families suffer shock and a sense of helplessness.  In addition to financial loss, there is a spiritual and emotional trauma and often a lack of support and direction.  Many victims feel frustrated because there often seem to be no provision for them to be heard.  Their injuries are not redressed, and they are not always notified of the court procedures.  This is an area where the church has an opportunity to be a neighbor and to minister with the victims.  We often assume victims and offenders are often victims as well.  A focus on prevention will break the cycle.

Therefore, we call upon the members of The United Methodist Church to minister with the victims and to be advocates for them.  We also call upon the General Conference:

(1)           to direct the General Board of Church and Society to work for the recognition of the needs and rights of victims and survivors of crime;

(2)           to support laws at both the federal and state levels whereby offenders make restitution to their crime victims, to work for restorative justice and for the adoption of laws where there are no such provisions;

(3)           to recognize that the constitutional rights of the victim must be provided.  Victims of crime or their lawful representatives, including the next of kin of homicide victims, are entitled to be kept informed during criminal proceedings, to be present at the trial, and to be heard at the sentencing hearing as well as to be given an opportunity to make an impact statement at the time of the parole consideration;

(4)           to encourage seminaries to develop continuing education programs on this subject;

(5)           to direct the General Board of Discipleship to develop guidelines, programs, and study materials for pastors and others in providing spiritual support and understanding for victims and families; and

(6)           to urge all members of The United Methodist Church to initiate prayers, presence, and support for victims and survivors as well as strategies to bring about necessary changes in the criminal justice system and to assure and advocate for the fair treatment of victims and survivors.



See Social Principles, 164F.