Truth Justice Mercy Peace

[Please read John Paul Lederach's article, "The Meeting Place" before reading.]

Lederach, noted for his pioneering work on conflict transformation, has traveled to Colombia, the Philippines, Nepal, and other conflicted nations to design and conduct peaceful training programs. He has served as a mediator between governments and local rebellions, and as a consultant for churches and peace groups struggling with political and religious violence.

Conflict transformation, an internationally recognized approach in the field of conciliation and mediation, acknowledges that conflict is normal in human relationships and can be used for change.

Lederach earned a B.A. in history and peace studies at Bethel College and a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Colorado. He held several positions at the Mennonite Central Committee, including director of international conciliation service. Lederach began his teaching career at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he founded the Conflict Transformation Program and the Institute for Peacebuilding. He has been a professor at the University of Notre Dame since 2001.

Lederach has written numerous books and articles on ending conflicts, including: "The Little Book of Conflict Transformation", "The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace", and "Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies."

Truth and Mercy have met together
Justice and Peace have kissed

Over the last several months, I have concluded that I am an introvert, one who has spent most of his life over-compensating. According to a Meyers-Briggs-like test, I am an INFJ. The "J" in there is for "judging" and that got me thinking about judging and justice. This brought me back around to Lederach's concept of Truth, Justice, Mercy and Peace. I have a very heavy Justice component in my life. When I see injustice, i want to make it right. I am also strong on Truth - just give me the facts, please. Mercy and Peace? Not only have I had to work on this, but I have been forced to work on it by the circumstances of life, whether due to the family tree or being involved in trauma. Finding Truth, Justice, Mercy and Peace is not just a national and international endeavor, but also a personal one.

International, National and Personal

Lederach wrote "The Meeting Place" based on his experiences in Nicaragua during the revolution in the 1980's. That revolution, much like the war in the past decade, had not only conflict in the nation where it occurred, but also political conflict here in the US (the Iran-Contra affair).

During two separate seminars at EMU, I have taken part or observed an exercise based on the play John Paul describes in his article. Four people sit on chairs in the center of the room. Each represents one of the four. The rest of the class asks them questions about how they relate to the other three. At various times, they move to new positions to demonstrate how they interact with each other. It is eye opening to see how Truth, Justice, Mercy and Peace come to resolution among themselves.

Our culture thrives on Truth and Justice. In fact, in the old black & white TV show, "The Adventures of Superman, part of the weekly introduction was the proclamation that Superman "fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American Way." This has been the course of the United States from the beginning, as stated in the Declaration of Independence - "To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world." The Declaration then lists a number of injustices committed by the King, his ministers and Parliament.

However satisfying to be on the side of Truth and Justice, if one remains only there, he is out of balance. To many in our culture, talk of Mercy and Peace is wimpy and the promoter of such must be incredibly weak and a doormat. When someone does us wrong, the only acceptable answer is to strike back, because we are in the right. For the past several decades the only appropriate response (even among some believers) to national attack is to blow the offenders "to kingdom come". How this relates to believers mandate to bring people to the coming Kingdom, I am not sure.

In peacebuilding, one has to deal with trauma recovery. At EMU, we used the "Enemy/Aggressor & Survivor/Victim Cycles" pictured below:

Victim Agressor

This shows that those who are victims or survivors, unless they break out of the pattern, will end up being enemies or aggressors. We have heard the stories of those who were abused as children themselves turning into abusers later in life. This is another way of saying, "hurting people hurt people".

How do individuals and groups break out of this pattern? At EMU, we used another chart, the "snail diagram":

Snail diagram

By "Choosing to live", one breaks out of the pattern at step #1, "Finding safety, breaking free". As one follows these steps, there is a distinct transition as one reaches steps 7 & 8:

7. Engaging the offender (or society)
8. Choosing to forgive

This takes one's own inner work and shines it to others. This is the beginning of an external demonstration of God's Kingdom coming on earth, as it is in heaven. This can be a difficult transition, but it can be made easier by keeping one's eye on the goal, the last step, the possibility of reconciliation.

"Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" - Paul

This kind of work is not easy and takes strong commitment. Elena Zook Barge, my facilitator at EMU for the STAR training (Seminars on Trauma and Resiliency), said this:

"Can individuals, communities & societies make the choice to transform great suffering into great wisdom? Can trauma be seen as an invitation to spiritual, emotional and societal transformation?
If we say "yes", the resulting journey is spiritual work of the deepest sort.
The journey leads into the depths of ourselves as individuals and groups.
Here we come face-to-face with our own darkness.
In this unlikely place, grace abounds, & transformation & hope begins."

Because as a culture we have such a strong sense of Justice, many may be recoiling at the thought of perps "getting off easy". The kind of Justice I am talking about is not retributive justice - "lock him up and throw away the key", but restorative Justice.

What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations, in order to heal and put things right as possible. The Little Book of Restorative Justice, Howard Zehr, 2002, p. 37.

Restorative justice is basically common sense – the kind of lessons our parents and foreparents taught. This has led some to call it a way of life. When a wrong has been done, it needs to be named and acknowledged. Those who have been harmed need to be able to grieve their losses, to be able to tell their stories, to have their questions answered – that is, to have the harms and needs caused by the offense answered. They – and we – need to have those who have done wrong accept their responsibility and take steps to repair the harm to the extent it is possible.
Howard Zehr, professor of restorative justice at EMU

Translated into a set of principles, restorative justice calls one to:

  • focus on the harms and consequent needs of the victims, as well as the communities' and the offenders';
  • address the obligations that result from those harms (the obligations of offenders as well as the communities' and society's');
  • use inclusive, collaborative processes to the extent possible;
  • involve those with a legitimate stake in the situation, including victims, offenders, community members and society;
  • seek to put right the wrongs.

That is the essence of the kingdom of God - setting things to rights, as N.T. Wright says.

(Certainly not all perpetrators are interested in restoration. There is still a thing called "evil" in this world. We are not addressing that here in this article. For more on that, see "Evil and the Justice of God", N.T. Wright)

Dorothy Vaandering says what is needed in restorative justice is a concerned effort to remind us all of the following:

  • Justice is a call to recognize that all humans are worthy and to be honored.
  • Injustice occurs when people are objectified.
  • The term restorative justice becomes meaningful when it refers to restoring people to being honored as human.
    (quoted from Howard Zehr's blog )

Restorative justice is fragile. It hinges on people taking determined steps to relentlessly pursue their healing despite the pain it may bring. It challenges us to growth, to imagine beyond the current status quo and to take the creative risk of feeling and acting in a different, yet deeply courageous way.
Carl Stauffer, EMU restorative justice professor

Restorative justice incorporates Truth, Justice and Mercy. When this occurs, there is room for Peace. And the possibility of reaching reconciliation. I long for the day when restorative Justice becomes the norm. In the mean time, we can practice it with whatever opportunities we are provided.

Personal Story

On December 9, 2007 as my family was loading into our minivan after church at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, a trouble young man named Matthew Murray opened fire on us from near point-blank range with an AR15 semi-automatic assault rifle killing two of our daughters and wounding me. I spent 9 days in the hospital being treated for my wounds and another six weeks at home recovering.

On the 2nd day in the hospital while in the ICU, I saw a short newscast that shared the name of the killer, Matthew Murray, a total stranger. As I turned off the TV (in that condition, I could only watch a few moments of TV before it became overwhelming), anger welled up inside of me. "Listen, buddy. If you have a beef with someone, take it out on them, not my family. Be a man and call them out in the street like the old Wild West if you have to, but leave us out of it!" As I lay on the bed in the ICU, I felt the anger inside growing. Now, I was in trouble as I felt myself spirally into uncontrolled anger.

I had been an angry person in the past. Life and (if I were really honest) God had not delivered to me the life I had wanted. Internally, I had been mad at my parents, my circumstances, my job. This frustration came from my sense of Truth and Justice. I was right and all those other people and circumstances were simply wrong. But, I felt powerless to change them, so anger became the option I chose to deal with it. The problem was the ones being hurt were those around me - my family, my friends and my co-workers - as they took the brunt of my frustration and anger. I was also hurting myself. I had become an extremely bitter person. It took time, but by the grace of God, I found my way out of that dark place.

As I scrambled in my hospital bed to avoid that dangerous path again, I wracked my brain for anything to grab on to to help me prevent the slide back into bitterness. Suddenly, a picture flashed in my mind. It was the "Victim/Aggressor Cycle" diagram we had used at EMU in our seminar. My memory awoke and I realized I was starting down a very bad path. Then, the "Snail diagram" flashed in my mind. I immediately could visualize a way out, an "exit ramp" from this high speed highway. Even though Matthew Murray was a stranger to me, I had to make the choice to forgive him and walk in forgiveness from then on. I also committed to myself and to God to do the best I could to teach this path to the rest of my family. The grace of God had found me at that moment and I felt obligated to share it.

As it turned out, we learned that Matthew had been a victim of bitterness and unforgiveness. He had not been allowed to go on a mission trip as part of his YWAM (Youth With A Mission) training some 5 years earlier. His bitterness was hidden to all, including his family. Instead of dealing with bitterness in an appropriate fashion, he chose to act out on those feelings by seeking a form of revenge. Truly, one who had felt abused turned into a killer. I know that is an extreme example, but it is real to my family. Not everyone who yields to bitterness and unforgiveness becomes a mass murderer. Or do they?

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit." - Proverbs 18:21

I know from experience that my words can cause great harm, especially when those words come from bitterness and unforgiveness. I can even be holding onto Truth and Justice. But, unless I allow Mercy and Peace to enter my heart, to allow God to show me that I am no better than those who I feel have wronged me, then I remain in that dark place. In that place, I was so "right", but so very wrong. I was not going back there. Bitterness and unforgiveness is its own hell.

About a month after the shooting, our Sr. Pastor Brady Boyd, arranged a meeting in his office with Matthew's parents, Ron & Loretta Murray. We knew this would eventually happen as they had already met with the victims families of an earlier shooting the previous night in Arvada, Colorado. We had heard that there family was much like our family - Christian believers, homeschooled, and involved in missions work. Even though I had an understanding of the Victim/Aggressor Cycle and the Snail Diagram and had walked it for myself, when one actually walks through it with others, one never knows exactly what to expect.

As the Murray's walked in, their heads were down and their shoulders were slumped. They spoke words of sorrow and apology. Ron reached out his hand to me, but I refused to take it, saying, "No. We are not going to do it that way." Instead, I moved toward him and took him in a strong embrace. For what was likely 15-20 minutes, the Works and the Murray families embraced, sharing words of sorrow, comfort and, most importantly, forgiveness. At one point I told them, "Mercy overshadows judgment", a flimsy quote of James 2:13, but that is the way I felt to express it. We all knew that Truth and Justice had a demand. But Mercy, overshadows both, and in that office, there was Peace. It was truly a "Meeting Place".

How has Justice been met? Matthew's crime was not just against us, but against our church community and the in some ways against the Colorado Springs community. Together, these entities joined together to "put things to right" in tangible ways for our family. The Murray's owed/owe us nothing.

Has it made a difference? Our family continues well on the road to recovery. New Life Church should be empty and a used car lot, but we are growing and making a new impact in our community. It has not ended there. Once or twice a year, we get together to check up on each other. My wife, Marie, and Loretta exchange emails keeping up on the news. In short, we are friends.The Murray's prefer to remain in the background which we fully respect, but I can say that they are doing very well.


Let me end by quoting the conclusion of Lederach's article because, frankly, he says it much better than I can:

"I learned a number of important insights about reconciliation from the Nicaraguan experience and from the years of reflection and experimentation with Psalm 85. As suggested in the story of Jacob and Esau, Psalm 85 reiterates the understanding that reconciliation is both a place we are trying to reach and a journey that must be taken up. However, the Psalmist provides new and deeper insight into the idea that reconciliation is a locus, a meeting place. In earlier stories we explored reconciliation as a place where we encounter ourselves, others and God. Psalm 85 suggests reconciliation is a social space where different but very interdependent energies are brought together and given a voice. If this is in fact the case, then the primary practical and operative task of those working for reconciliation is to help create the social space and the mechanisms by which Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace can meet together.

Too often in the midst of conflict we envision these social energies as contradictory forces, voiced by different persons within the conflict. They are seen as pitted against each other. Those who cry out for Truth and Justice are seen, and often see themselves, as adversaries of those who plead for Mercy and Peace. The vision of the Psalmist is quite different. Reconciliation is seen as possible only to the degree that each sees the place and need for the other. This approach suggests that each voice and the social energy it produces is incomplete without the other.

What does this mean at a practical level? It tells us that we must pay attention and give space to the different energies represented in the voices of Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace. When these four voices are seen as contradictory forces, we find ourselves mired and paralyzed by the conflict produced. We argue endlessly over which is more important, justified or legitimate. When we see them as contradictory, we are forced into a false dichotomy of choosing between one or the other, as if they were in a boxing match of winners and losers. Such a dichotomy does not exist. It is as if we were asked to choose between rain or sunshine. Each is different but needed for sustaining life and growth. Such is the case with Truth and Mercy, Justice and Peace.

Psalm 85 suggests that conflict has revelatory and reconciling potential when the four different energies are embraced. If we legitimate their concerns, provide them with voice, respond to their fears and needs, placing them in a dialogical rather than an adversarial framework, they are less likely to be driven underground or to extremes. If we create the social space that brings Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace together within a conflicted group or setting, an energy is crystallized that creates deeper understanding and unexpected new paths leading toward restoration and reconciliation."