Dr. Carl S. Stauffer speaks June 24 on a HuffPostLive panel about high-profile acts of forgiveness. He is co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice and assistant professor of development and justice studies with the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.

Zehr Institute restorative justice experts tapped by media in the aftermath of Charleston church shooting

With the complex concepts of forgiveness and healing at the forefront in recent media coverage of the Charleston church shooting, Eastern Mennonite University professors Howard Zehr, PhD, and Carl S. Stauffer, PhD, co-directors of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, have appeared in national media outlets.

Zehr was interviewed for a ThinkProgress article [published June 23, 2015] by senior religion reporter Jack Jenkins, “Forgiveness, ‘Cheap Grace,’ and the Struggle for Justice in Charleston.”

Stauffer joined a HuffPostLive panel [aired June 24, 2015] hosted by Marc Lamont Hill to talk about the social impacts of high-profile acts of forgiveness. David Anderson Hooker, PhD, a Center for Justice and Peacebuilding instructor, was also on the panel in his role as consultant to the United Methodist Church’s Center for Conflict Transformation.

“It is encouraging to see the national media recognizing the Zehr Institute as a source for restorative justice commentary in response to tragic events like the shooting in Charleston,” said J. Daryl Byler, executive director of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, which houses the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice. “Howard Zehr, Carl Stauffer and David Anderson Hooker bring on-the-ground experience that inform how communities can begin the process toward healing.”

Zehr: Forgiveness is ‘hard work’

The ThinkProgress article examines both the media response to the shooting and the later televised, tearful moments when family members offered forgiveness, via satellite, to alleged gunman Dylann Roof.

A media focus on faith-based healing can be problematic, Zehr said. “It’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, [forgiveness] does call out the best in us. But it also can obscure the justice component, and it can feel like an easy fix for people.”

Zehr also pointed out that media “can sometimes magnify this pressure [to forgive] by focusing intensely on acts of forgiveness instead of the hard work of reconciliation that follows that forgiveness.”

Panel touches on restorative practices

Stauffer and Hooker joined HuffPost Live panelists The Rev. Alyn E. Waller, senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and The Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary.

Stauffer was asked to address the question of what it means to engage in practices of forgiveness that are restorative.

“We can uphold the humanity of all people involved, but we can also hold each other accountable,” said Stauffer, referencing transitional justice processes he’s been involved with in South Africa and Sierra Leone. Stauffer also pointed out the “social significance of these expressions of forgiveness” towards breaking cycles of violence “for the sake of the community moving forward.”

Acknowledgment of structural violence is a necessary precursor to meaningful conversation, he said.

Discussing the personal and political reasons behind forgiveness, Hooker reiterated that truthtelling must take place about the educational, social, and religious systems that produce and implicitly condone such acts. “What it is that we forgive?” he asked. “If we forgive the individual, that’s fine. We should not forgive the act nor the systems that make that act possible, reasonable and even, not surprising.”