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Questions and Answers about Amendment Q

As presbyteries consider Amendment Q, some important questions are being raised. As co-authors of the original overture from Genesee Valley Presbytery, we offer the benefit of our thoughts.

1. It sounds like this amendment is just trying to punish the offender.

* Nowhere does the Rules of Discipline allow any form of punishment toward an offender. Discipline is not an exercise of retribution or vengeance. Instead, the high calling is for church discipline to be “the church’s exercise of authority given by Christ, both in the direction of guidance, control, and nurture of its members and in the direction of constructive criticism of offenders” (Preamble, Principles of Church Discipline, D1.0101).

* Restitution is a concrete way that a person may accept responsibility for having caused harm to another. It’s a constructive act, a way to help make right something that was made wrong. A disciplinary offense by definition is one that violates the Scriptures or the Constitution of the church (Judicial Process Defined, D-2.000.) That definition focuses on the violated rule or precept. However, disciplinary cases typically involve relational factors that are unique and personal to the parties involved. Restitution helps us constructively address the relational violation, the fact that one person harmed another.

* The two sections of the Rules of Discipline to be amended address rehabilitation of an offender. The context of this overture is the rehabilitative best interests of an offender. A recommendation of restitution would be at the discretion of the body that convenes the disciplinary trial, either a presbytery’s Permanent Judicial Commission or a session. This overture respects the church’s intent in disciplinary cases to pursue constructive rather than punitive measures. If an offender believes the body’s decision to be unfair, s/he is protected by the right of appeal to a higher governing body.

2. Why not make for the possibility of restitution as a “requirement” ? Why only allow for the possibility of a “recommendation” ?

* Practically, the church lacks means to enforce a mandatory requirement of restitution. It does not make sense to introduce into the Rules of Discipline an item that can not be realistically implemented. An involuntary requirement contradicts the moral and spiritual precept of the enforcement of church discipline in the 8th historic principle of church order (Preliminary Principles, G-1.0308).

* Voluntary restitution allows the offender to assume direct responsibility for the harm inflicted. If the act of restitution is performed voluntarily, then it comes as a choice by the offender. A concrete act that helps right a wrong done to a victim would be a more authentic demonstration of an offender’s remorse and repentance than a simple apology or verbal assertion. Voluntary restitution is more likely to be an outward sign of an inner reality.

3. Are there responsible sources and literature that discuss restitution?

* The Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence identifies seven elements of justice-making for cases of clergy sexual abuse: truth-telling; acknowledging the violation; compassion; protecting the vulnerable; accountability; restitution; vindication. Restitution is described as: “Make symbolic restoration what was lost; give a tangible means to acknowledge the wrongfulness of the abuse and the harm done, and to bring about healing (e.g. payment for therapy).” (From Clergy Misconduct: Sexual Abuse in the Ministerial Relationship. Workshop Manual, page 65; Marie M. Fortune et al.; Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, Seattle WA, 1992.)

* Kenneth S. Kantzer, a senior editor of the journal Christianity Today, wrote a set of guidelines, based on scripture, for how the church should address issues of restoration of leaders who commit moral wrongs. The components include: remorse; true confession; accountability; repentance; restitution; retreat from leadership responsibility and visibility; a genuine call from God. (“The road to restoration: How should the church treat its fallen leaders?”, Christianity Today, vol. 31, #7, Nov. 20, 1987, pages 19-22.)

* Restitution is a vital part of the extensive literature on restorative justice (an alternative to retributive justice). See for example the work of Howard Zehr: “Crime victims also want restitution. In part this means repayment for losses, but more important is the symbolic statement involved. Restitution … states implicitly that someone else — not the victim — is responsible. It is a way of denouncing the wrong, absolving the victim, and saying who is responsible … Restitution helps with the need for validation and vindication, both of which are extremely important to most victims.” (From God and the Victim: Theological Reflections on Evil, Victimization, Justice, and Forgiveness, Chapter 8, ‘Restoring Justice,’ page 145; Lisa Barnes Lampman, editor; Eerdmans, 1999.)

* In the Alcoholics Anonymous program of personal recovery, the Twelve Steps include two that incorporate the concept of restitution: “Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

4. How does the Bible present the act of restitution?

* The covenant given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai includes laws that provide recompense to a victim who suffered injury or property loss (Exodus 21:18-19; 26-27; 33-34). “Restitution” is explicitly named in some passages (Exodus 22:1-4; 5-6; 10-13; 14-15).

* God instructs Moses (Leviticus 5:14-16 and 6:1-7) in the manner of restitution regarding guilt offerings and atonement. Moses is instructed by God (Numbers 5:5-10) to teach the people regarding restitution for sin in specific circumstances not covered by Leviticus 6:1-7 and Exodus 22:7-15.

* In the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus at Jericho (Luke 19:1-10), Zacchaeus at verse 8 vows a voluntary fourfold restoration to anyone whom he has sinfully defrauded as chief tax collector.

5. Isn’t it permissible for a PJC to order this now?

* Our church tends to proceed carefully and prudently when a disciplinary case reaches the stages of trial and pronouncement of censure. The stakes are very high for all involved parties. A wise Permanent Judicial Commission will not exceed its procedural and substantive authority as explicitly conferred by the Rules of Discipline. Simply because restitution is not prohibited by the current Rules of Discipline does not guarantee it would be upheld on appeal. This overture affirmatively and openly sanctions the selective utilization of voluntary restitution in the context of rehabilitation of an offender. It helps prevent inconsistent practices.

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Val Fowler is the stated clerk and James S. Evinger is a member of the committee on ministry of Genesee Valley

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