Rev. Richard Vander Vaart, pastor of Wallaceburg (Ont.) Christian Reformed Church, wants to see churches become neutral places for community healing through restorative justice.
Restorative justice helps the perpetrators of a crime face their victims and hear how their actions have affected others’ lives. For example, in Muskegon, Mich., five teens who vandalized their Christian high school last fall apologized to the school’s student body during a chapel service as part of their restorative justice sentence.
The Ontario government offers restorative justice training, promoting it as a viable part of school discipline and the criminal justice system. So Vander Vaart offered his church as a training ground for educators and social workers to learn more about restorative justice.
“A lot of the people who were part of the training said they were disillusioned with how punishment is meted out. They are looking for something better,” said Vander Vaart. “Restorative justice resonates with a lot of people. It makes sense . . . it is not just punitive, but it focuses on the healing of the community in a very healthy way.”
Vander Vaart added that while restorative justice is not faith-based in Ontario, churches have a vital role to play. “Wouldn’t it be neat if the church would say ‘we’ll open our doors to people for restorative justice,’ especially since the CRC actively supported it at synod?” he asked.
Vander Vaart, who is also a police chaplain, has offered to be a co-facilitator when schools use restorative justice conferences in his community.