Saturday, February 27, 2021

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Debt as a Vice or Virtue

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

I grew up with a piggy bank.  I was taught that saving was a virtue and unnecessary debt a vice.  Today things have changed.  Paul Krugman and his Keynesian disciples assure us that we should not worry about increasing America’s astronomical national debt.  Most Americans seem to agree and support President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID spending bill.

The Federal Reserve has set interest rates near 0% to prop up Wall Street and to encourage consumers to use credit cards to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have.  Few in Congress seem concerned with a national debt approaching $30 Trillion, and most support “going big” on more debt with President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.

Americans are encouraged to spend more and save less to keep the economy going.  With Democratic majorities in the House and Senate promoting the forgiveness of student debt there is little incentive to save for higher education, and institutions of higher learning continue to raise tuition.  Students are learning that saving is not necessary and that debt is OK.  

If, however, personal and national debts are real obligations that one day will have to be paid, even as we now routinely renew and increase them, the future of the American economy looks bleak.  This isn’t just a passing phenomenon; it’s a cultural change in our concept of economic virtues and vices that will have significant future consequences.

Debt as a vice is not a new issue.  The ancient Hebrews proclaimed a Jubilee every 50 years to forgive debts, liberate slaves and restore property ownership; but it didn’t last long and was ignored after 600 BCE.  Even Christians experimented with a form of communism, but it didn’t last long either.  Worldly realities intervened to end those ancient religious ideals.

The attitudes of those born before 1945 emphasized savings over debt and were shaped by memories of the economic deprivations of the Great Depression.  That began to change after World War II when government insured FHA loans enabled Americans to buy homes, and banks provided personal and business loans that brought unprecedented prosperity to America.

Until recently, most Americans limited their debts to what they could repay, but no longer.  Personal bankruptcies have increased.  Edmund Burke once told Americans that “In a democracy you will forge your own shackles;” and we have done just that.  Unless we limit our increasing national debt, it will become an oppressive burden on our grandchildren.

Debt and freedom are related.  People and nations forfeit their freedom when they have debts beyond what they can repay.  Americans tend to ignore the connection between their freedom and the astronomical national debt.  Unless our profligate attitudes change, we may soon be beyond the point of no return, having sacrificed our freedom to the bondage of debt.  


Brad Polumbo has provided a rejoinder to Biden and the Democrats insistence on “going big” with the $1.9 Trillion Stimulus bill, warning Congress that We Can’t Keep Ignoring the National Debt Forever.  “With COVID-19 ravaging the country and government pandemic lockdowns devastating our economy, the national debt has understandably slipped to the back of many Americans’ minds. But the federal government continues to fall deeper into the red at a dramatically accelerating rate. Free-market economists have warned that we can’t continue like this forever without grave consequences.  Even before the potential passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal, the national debt officially exceeded the size of the economy in 2020. This means we will soon owe more than we produce in an entire calendar year. And it’s only going to get worse. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Official now estimates that we will hit a 200 percent debt-to-economy ratio in 30 years, a truly unthinkable and unprecedented level of debt.  And that’s under “a rosy scenario that assumes no new spending programs, no wars, no recessions, all temporary tax cuts expire, and interest rates remain low,” Manhattan Institute economist Brian Riedl tells me. “By that point in 30 years, CBO projects an annual budget deficit of 12.6% of GDP (the equivalent of $2.5 trillion today),” Riedl says. “Half of all taxes will go towards interest on the debt. Again, that is the rosy scenario.”  “Too many people believe interest rates can never rise again, or do not realize that nearly the entire national debt would reset into the higher interest rates,” he said. “Basically, we are gambling America’s economic future on the hope that interest rates stay below 3% or 4% forever.” So, what does this all mean for Biden’s proposal for nearly $2 trillion more in COVID spending and other big-spending policy proposals? Well, we’ve already spent an astounding and unprecedented $4-5 trillion on COVID relief, much of which proved fraud-rife and inefficient. In light of this, “keeping our debt under control is a better priority,” says economist Veronique de Rugy. “The more in debt we are in, the harder it becomes to respond to future emergencies, and the more we risk slowing down growth and burdening future generations.”  See

Max Boot has observed that Biden keeps looking at the 2009 stimulus debate, but that it’s not the right lesson for the relief package.  “The House is about to pass $1.9 trillion in economic stimulus on top of the $3.7 trillion already approved since March. This comes even though the economy already grew at 4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020 and the IMF projects the United States will grow at 5.1 percent this year — the fastest rate in nearly 40 years. Moreover, long-term bond yields are rising (the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds was 1.37 percent on Monday, up from just 0.51 percent in August), signaling that the days of cost-free borrowing for the government are coming to an end. So why go so big now?

Lawrence H. Summers, former president Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary and Obama’s director of the National Economic Council, argued convincingly if controversially in these pages, that it is not. Summers pointed out that in 2009 the economic stimulus package was roughly half the size of the “output gap” (the difference between potential and projected economic growth), whereas the current package is at least three times larger. He also noted that unemployment is now falling, “rather than skyrocketing as it was in 2009,” and that the economy is about to receive another major boost when “covid-19 comes under control,” and consumers start to spend money they accumulated over the past year. (The household savings rate almost doubled last year to 12.9 percent, which could translate into $1.5 trillion in consumer spending.)  Summers worries that the economic stimulus package could be so large that it overheats the economy, leading to a return of inflation and a rise in interest rates. He is also concerned that it could crowd out the infrastructure spending that the administration wants later in the year — which could total another $3 trillion. Summers is hardly the only liberal economist to air such concerns. Olivier Blanchard, the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, also says $1.9 trillion is “too much.”

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has suggested some sensible fixes that would reduce the cost of the overall package to $1.1 trillion.” See

Taking the opposite view, Paul Krugman has written, Learn to Stop worrying and Love Debt.  See

See also, Biden is the Big Spender America Loves; his plans are overwhelmingly popular, at

On a poll that finds that two-thirds of Americans support Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan, see

On the ancient Hebrew Jubilee that dictated that debts be forgiven every 50 years, see

A national debt is normally paid off with tax revenues, but the U.S. has extended and increased its debt by renewing treasury bills as they come due, some of which have been purchased by the U.S. Federal Reserve.  President Trump once said that if necessary, the U.S. could print new dollars to pay the national debt, but increasing the money supply would be inflationary by reducing the value of all dollars in circulation.  The Federal Reserve has created new dollars through its monetary policies in the past, and recently its chairman, Jerome Powell, defied traditional economic principles when he said that printing money does not lead to inflation.  “In response to a questions posed by Congressman Warren Davidson about whether ‘M2 [money supply] going up by 25% in one year’ is going to ‘diminish the value of the U.S. dollar,’ Powell responded, ‘there was a time when monetary policy aggregates were important determinants of inflation and that has not been the case for a long time.’” See

German hyperinflation in 1923 illustrated how printing money to pay a large national debt can undermine an economy, and it opened the door for Hitler and his Nazi Party to assume power in Germany. See

On the danger of economic disparities and excessive debt in America, see  


Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Moral Corruption of Christianity and Democracy in the Trump Era

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Christianity and Democracy both forfeited their moral legitimacy in the Trump Era.  It was not caused by Trump, but by a moral vacuum that had evolved in America’s Christianity and democracy.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and Trump and his Republican Party merely filled the moral vacuum in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture to gain their political power.

It began with the Enlightenment of the 18th century.  It challenged traditional religious doctrines and politics with change based on reason and advances in knowledge; but institutional churches countered the threat of progressive change with doctrines of religious fundamentalism, asserting the Bible to be the literal, inerrant and infallible source of God’s truth.

Unlike the church, America’s Founding Fathers welcomed the political sovereignty of man over that of God in democracy.  While the church continued to emphasize worshiping Jesus as the alter ego of God over following his moral teachings, Thomas Jefferson asserted that the teachings of Jesus were “the most sublime moral code ever devised by man.”

In the 20th century Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell popularized a form of evangelicalism that ignored the altruistic teachings of Jesus and promoted distorted “family values” and a prosperity gospel similar to the self-centered and materialistic objectivism of Ayn Rand.  Franklin  Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr., followed their fathers and built an unholy alliance with the GOP.

Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to win the presidency with the white “Christian” vote.  Falwell’s moral majority backed Republicans after 1976, and in 2016 most White Christians elected Donald Trump as their president despite his egregious immorality that was antithetical to the teachings of Jesus; and few pulpits in White churches questioned their vote.

The moral corruption of Christianity and democracy culminated with Trump’s election.  It was the moral depravity of American voters, not Trump, that caused that political catastrophe.  While seven GOP senators voted to impeach Trump after he was charged with instigating the Capitol riot on January 6, polls indicate that 75% of Republicans continue to support Trump.

The Republican Party is in disarray and the church is in decline.  The church was once the most powerful social institution in America and the primary source of the moral standards of political legitimacy; but after sacrificing Jesus on the altar of Republican politics the church lost its moral compass.  Like the European church, it’s slowly becoming a cultural anachronism. 

Popularity is the measure of success for both Christianity and democracy in America.  The church has continued to emphasize worshiping Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God and the only means of salvation over following the altruistic teachings of Jesus, allowing materialistic and hedonistic values to shape American culture.  It would take a moral reformation to save American Christianity and democracy from their demise, and that’s not likely to happen.  


Michael Gerson has opined that Trump’s rot has reached the GOP’s roots.  “If Trumpism were merely a set of proposals, there could be an antithesis. But the movement fully revealed by the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol is united by a belief that the White, Christian America of its imagination is on the verge of destruction, and that it must be preserved by any means necessary. This is less a political philosophy than a warped religious belief. There can be no compromise in a culture war. There can be no splitting of differences at Armageddon.  What has emerged within the Republican Party is a debate on the value of democracy itself. From one perspective, it is absurd that so many Americans have invested their hopes for the preservation of civilization in a fool. But Trump has been effective in promoting the tribalism of White grievance, as well as desperation about the fate of America. And, unlike any other president, he was happy to step into an authoritarian role, attempting to maintain power through intimidation and violence. Can the GOP really have a productive debate between people who believe in democracy and those who have lost patience for it? Between those who view politics as a method to secure rough justice in a fallen world, and those who view it as a holy crusade against scheming infidels? Between those who try to serve conservative political ideals and those who engage (in Sasse’s immortal words) in “the weird worship of one dude”? The greatest need in our politics is a conservatism that opposes authoritarianism. The greatest question: Can such a movement emerge within the framework of the Republican Party? There are scattered outposts of Republican sanity in Congress, and more in state governments. But in most of the GOP, the rot has reached the roots. Activists feel the anger that Trump has fed rather than the contempt for Trump that he has earned. They feel cheated rather than defeated.

At the same time--though I admire the normality and professionalism of President Biden’s administration--it is hard to imagine a future for market-oriented, pro-life conservatives in the Democratic Party. A strong ideological current heads in the other direction. And it is equally difficult to believe that a third-party challenge to the political duopoly would be anything other than quixotic. But even an exiled conservatism offers this comfort: Nothing human is permanent. And no good cause is finally lost.” See

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) is a Trump clone who has vowed to keep Trump at the heart of the Republican Party.  He has criticized both Senator McConnell and Nikki Haley for criticizing Trump, saying that “McConnell may have “got a load off his chest” with his floor speech, but he had also made himself a target for pro-Trump Republicans in 2022.  “Donald Trump is the most vibrant member of the Republican Party. The Trump movement is alive and well,  All I can say is that the most potent force in the Republican Party is President Trump. We need Trump.”

When asked about former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent decision to distance herself from Trump, after supporting him unequivocally and not speaking out against his baseless claims of election fraud, Graham said the fellow South Carolinian was “wrong.”

He also said that Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, should run to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who cast a surprise vote to convict Trump on Saturday. “The biggest winner I think of this whole impeachment trial is Lara Trump,” Graham said. “If she runs, I will certainly be behind her because I think she represents the future of the Republican Party.”

Trump himself has shown no intention of fading away, issuing a statement shortly after the Senate vote that slammed the entire impeachment trial as “a witch hunt” and lamented that no other president had been subjected to such indignities.  “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump stated. He added that “in the months ahead I have much to share with you.”

Evan McMullin, executive director of the nonprofit political organization Stand Up Republic, spoke of his recent call with more than 120 Republican officials about starting a new party or faction within the GOP. “Well I think what’s clear . . . is that something new is required,” McMullin said on MSNBC on Saturday. “Forty percent feel there is no hope for the GOP to reform and to rejoin the healthy political process in America.” McMullin said the hypothetical party could put up primary challengers against “Republicans who have most abandoned our Democracy,” citing Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul A. Gosar as examples. McMullin, who ran as an independent in the 2016 presidential election in large part to counter what he saw as the alarming pull Trump had on the GOP, said Trump’s impeachment and subsequent acquittal have only “intensified” the discussions about a third party. “We are committed to either taking a new route to fight for the direction of the GOP or to compete with it directly,” McMullin said. See

In an interview with David Illing of Vox, David French said that the Trump presidency was a catastrophe for American Christianity.  French cited Ryan Burge, a scholar of religion who has shown how different American religious strands, whether it’s Black Christians, Mormons, atheists, Catholics, all maintain some distance in their ideology from the party they most affiliate with. But this isn’t true for white evangelicals. It is an exact overlap. The identification between white evangelicals and the GOP is almost perfect. That’s a problem because it means your faith is now tied to an entire array of both personalities and political positions that do not naturally flow from biblical ethics. ...White evangelicals are Republicans, and Republicans are white evangelicals, which has been the case for a long, long time now, and Trump was just the Republican nominee, and so he had to work incredibly hard to lose their support. 

...Most Republican Christians are not getting their information from the pulpit. They are getting catechized in politics through conservative media, through Fox News, through talk radio.  ...A lot of these people genuinely believe that the country is in some kind of emergency that justifies the extremism of Trump. They believe they need someone who’s willing to be very aggressive in taking on the left, their so-called enemies. Trump was also very shrewd about granting access to evangelical supporters and to outright grifters and opportunists. That’s a big part of what happened as well.

...In many strands of evangelical Christianity, there’s a real struggle to articulate and live out a biblical [moral] masculinity that is not too influenced by a secular culture that either wrongly denigrates toughness or wrongly elevates toughness. That’s led to an awful lot of confusion.  This is a man who evaded military service, who has serially cheated on wives, who is terribly out of shape, is so cowardly in a lot of his personal interactions, that he delegates to others the task of firing people. ...If you were going to map out who is the archetype of the masculine leader prior to Trump, he would be the opposite of that. 

...[On conspiracy theories] the religious right has already been conditioned by decades of conservative media telling them that the godless left wants to destroy their way of life and kill the church. So it’s not hard to see why [people] believe the Democrats stole an election or that perverted pedophiles are trafficking children. The hardcore Trump evangelical base now threatens our constitutional rule of law. People have told me for a long time that I’m exaggerating the threat, but now we’ve seen a direct violent attack on the US Capitol, on the very seat of American democracy, and it was designed to prevent a peaceful transition of power that was taking place at the exact same time as the attack.

...Unless you’re in the middle of Trump country and interacting with grassroots activist Republicans, I don’t believe you can possibly understand how deep the conspiracy thinking has wormed its way into the GOP. I don’t think you understand the ferocity of Trumpism. One of the reasons more legislators have not stood up more dramatically to Trump is that they fear for their lives and the lives of their families. Some stories on this have leaked, but I really do think it’s worse than most people suspect.”  

When asked how we pull back from the brink, and whether he sees a path forward, French said, “I don’t know. To say that there’s no hope is completely wrong. I think there is hope [and] I think the attack on the Capitol was a wake-up call for some people.

My personal hope is that as we move forward without Trump tweeting and inflaming tensions so people can have a chance to breathe.  Our only hope is that the overall atmosphere of the country starts to feel less like an existential crisis and more like normal life, whatever that is, because I don’t think things would have escalated to this point without the stress and anxiety of the pandemic weighing down on all of us. There’s been so much death and fear and restlessness, and it’s amplified our societal dysfunctions.

I have to believe that as the pandemic recedes, and some of the pressures it placed on us fade with it, that things will get better. That’s my best shot at optimism. See

Monday, February 15, 2021

Counterpoint: The Danger of Racial Reparations as a Means of Restorative Justice

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

A politics of reconciliation is needed for America’s racially polarized partisan politics, and Kevin Govern has suggested restorative justice as a means to promote political reconciliation.  Many Democrats advocate reparations to Blacks to compensate them for the evils of slavery as a means of restorative justice, but racial reparations would only exacerbate racism in America.

Civil rights laws that prohibit racial and religious discrimination and the Constitutional right to equal protectiion of the law are essential to restorative justice, but ending the racism that polarizes American partisan politics will require more than enforcing the law.  It will require changing the hearts and minds of White and Black Americans.

Justice is based on standards of legitimacy based on law, morality and values that originate in religion.  The prophet Micah summed up the moral imperatives of ancient Judaism: “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

The greatest commandment is more specific on the altruistic moral imperative of justice.  It calls us to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions. (see Luke 10:25-37)  It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus, and has been accepted by Muslims as a common word of faith and politics. 

The altruistic moral imperative to provide for the common good goes beyond the law. Belief in the supremacy of one race or one religion over others is not unlawful, but it’s immoral.  In a nation of increasing racial and religious diversity, policies that favor one race or religion over others undermine the common good and threaten the fabric of democracy.


White supremacy in politics has long been at the root of America’s racism, but racial demographics are changing in America.  Whites will soon cease to be a majority and become a plurality, while Hispanics and Asians will challenge Blacks as the dominant minority.  Those demographic changes will transform racism and the dynamics of American politics.

Restorative justice requires a politics of reconciliation that minimizes America’s racially polarized partisan politics.  Reparations based on race would exacerbate racism and prevent a politics of reconciliation.  Restorative justice and providing for the common good to end systemic racism depend as much or more on race relations as on enforcing civil rights laws.

Race relations, restorative justice and a politics of reconciliation are inextricably bound together, and they all depend on both the legal and moral standards of political legitimacy.  Economic entitlements based on race do not serve the needs of restorative justice, and they oppose the common good and racial reconciliation needed to sustain American democracy.


This Counterpoint relates to the commentary of Kevin Govern posted on February 13 on the topic Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in the Wake of the Second Trump Impeachment.


Democrats in Congress have cited slavery in America as an uncomfortable truth in making a renewed push for a national commission to examine the impact of slavery and reparations for Blacks as a remedy for systemic racism.  “Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) announced the reintroduction of H.R. 40 to create a reparations commission last month that would study the history of slavery, the role federal and state governments played in supporting slavery, and racial discrimination against the descendants of enslaved Africans.  “Economic issues are the root cause for many critical issues impacting the African American community today,” Lee said.  “Truth and reconciliation about the ‘original sin of American slavery’ is necessary to light the way to the beloved community we all seek. The uncomfortable truth is that the United States owes its position as the most powerful nation in the world to its slave-owning past.” 

In an earlier House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on H.R. 40 in 2019 that marked the 400th anniversary of slavery, then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) opposed racial reparations saying, “I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” McConnell told reporters. “We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president. I think we are always a work in progress in this country. But no one currently alive was responsible for that, and I don’t think we should be trying to figure how to compensate for that.”

Differences among Democrats on racial reparations were cited in the Notes to an earlier commentary at Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC) has expressed concern over the effect of racial reparations on race relations, while Chales M. Blow has little concern for race relations.  Clyburn understands the importance of race relations to racism in America:  “I always say the root word for reparations is repair, repair, repair. We need to repair what's going on in this country. These fault lines that have been opened up need to be repaired. ...When you start talking about reparations in terms of monetary issues, then you lose me because nobody can put a value on the loss of education. Nobody can put a value on the loss of a life. Let's repair what's wrong with America and not allow ourselves to spend the next 150 years studying what a monetary value needs to be assigned to the loss of these freedoms and liberties.”  See  Clyburn also said that “he fears reparations would lead to contested debates about who would be eligible due to the sprawling family trees that have evolved in the generations since slavery was abolished. ...Clyburn said he liked a recent comment by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who said in a CNN town hall last week that he would push to increase the usage of Clyburn’s “10-20-30” policy. That formula, which has already been inserted in some federal policies, calls for directing 10 percent of government funds to counties where 20 percent or more of the population has lived below the poverty line for the past 30 years.  ‘To me, that’s a much better way to deal with what reparations is supposed to be about,’ Clyburn said.” See

By way of contrast with Clyburn, “Charles M. Blow supports reparations, which he describes as ‘reasonable and right.’  For a vast majority of black people’s time in this country, they have been suffering under an oppression operating on all levels of government — local, state and federal.  It is absolutely a good idea for America to think about how to make that right, to think about how to repair the damage it did, to think about how to do what is morally just.  And the idea that too much time has passed makes a mockery of morality. ...Furthermore, this is not about individual guilt or shame but rather about collective responsibility and redemption. America needs to set its soul right. The paying of reparations isn’t at all an outlandish idea. To the contrary, it’s an exceedingly reasonable proposition. Most of all, it’s right.”  See  Blow showed contempt for race relations when he wrote: “I have never fully understood what [race relations] meant. It suggests a relationship that swings from harmony to disharmony. But that is not the way race is structured or animated in this country. From the beginning, the racial dynamics in America have been about power, equality and access, or the lack thereof.  ...So what are the relations here? It is a linguistic sidestep that avoids the true issue: anti-Black and anti-other white supremacy.  It also seems that the way people interpret that question is in direct proportion to the intensity of revolt that’s taking place at a particular time. ...After the rise of Black Lives Matter, satisfaction with race relations suffered a sustained drop.” See


The uncomfortable truth is that America’s racially polarized partisan politics are based on deeply embedded negative attitudes on race across the racial and political spectrum.  Restorative justice requires changes in hearts and minds along with the enforcement of civil rights laws.  Reparations for Blacks as a remedy for the evils of slavery and systemic racism would only exacerbate racism in America.  In his commentary on February 13 Kevin Govern cited the theologian Stephen J. Pope in America: “Restorative justice is strikingly different from criminal justice in giving priority to repairing the harm caused by wrongdoing—including first and foremost the harm done to victims but also to the wider community and even the perpetrators.”

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in the Wake of The Second Trump Impeachment

      By Kevin Govern 

The Senate voted Tuesday that the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is constitutional after House impeachment managers made an emotionally compelling case showing a 14 minute, 56 second video of how rioters violently breached the US Capitol and attacked police officers last month, invoking Trump's name as they tried to disrupt the certification of the November election.

The historic impeachment trial has a number of firsts: the same president being tried twice in the Senate court of impeachment, and the first time a former president faces disbarment from future federal office if convicted.  This trial comes as a new Gallup poll finds a slim majority of Americans (52%) saying they would like their senators to vote to convict him, yet 48 percent do not want that outcome. 

Meanwhile, Trump faces two New York state inquiries into whether he misled tax authorities, banks or business partners, two lawsuits from women alleging he sexually assaulted them, and the possible revival of a federal campaign finance investigation.

Still unresolved in large part throughout America, Thomas Sugrue observed last Summer that the racial conflicts of 2020 “[weren’t] just a repeat of past troubles; they’re a new development in the American fight for racial equality.”  Presciently, his vision then was as current events are now:  “it remains to be seen if the uprisings of 2020 will resolve the long-standing issues of racial injustice fought again and again on America’s streets, but when many races march together rather than face off, the arc of history may be bending toward justice again.”

After a divisive presidential election campaign and impeachment and civil and criminal litigation to come, and unresolved racial tensions nationwide, what might bring the country together divided on holding Trump accountable for his past actions?

This week’s America Today, a Catholic publication under The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture, exhorts its readership to consider that “[w]e can hold Trump accountable and still have national unity.  Just ask St. Augustine and Pope Francis.”  Author Kathleen Bonnette goes on to elaborate that restorative justice, of which St. Augustine was an early proponent, is a concept rooted in the biblical vision of shalom (peace).  Restorative justice could very well be an adjuvant, if not a cure, to many of our nation’s ongoing ills. 

Shalom can mean peace with others and peace between parties. It means the end of hostilities and war (Deuteronomy 20:12; Judges 21:13).  Shalom also means peace within. Those who trust in the Lord have inner security; therefore, they can sleep well (Psalm 4:8). God gives “perfect peace” (or shalom-shalom) — i.e., profound psychological and emotional peace – to those who steadfastly set their minds on him (Isaiah 26:3).The result of righteousness before God is “peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17).

How is this brought about?  In a somewhat different context, I have previously written how restorative justice, forums for listening and sharing, through stories and prayer, may well offer the most opportunity for fostering healing and reconciliation within the bounds of the law yet not directly involving courts or legal processes. 

The Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue (IRJRD) defines restorative justice as an approach to problem solving that is based around three basic concepts: 

When crime (or wrongdoing) occurs, the focus is on the harm that has been done to people and relationships; When harm has been done, obligations and liabilities have been created; and All involved parties, wrongdoers, victims and the community, should be included in the resolution process.

The practice of restorative justice emerged in the late 1970’s and 1980’s in various countries as a way of dealing constructively with wrongdoing and violations of social trust.  In particular, restorative justice has been a part of so-called “restorative peacebuilding,” and explores its implications for the work of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (Commission) and post-conflict societies. 

The Australian criminologist John Braithwaite defines restorative justice as:


A process where all stakeholders affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the injustice and to decide what should be done to repair the harm. With crime, restorative justice is about the idea that because crime hurts, justice should heal. It follows that conversations with those who have been hurt and with those who have inflicted the harm must be central to the process.

Combining faith with reason, restorative justice strongly shines the light of the Gospel on this scourge, where agents of such justice are mindful of the words of the Apostle Paul, in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians that “[a]ll this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”  In her recent article cited above, Bonnette quotes Pope Francis’ wisdom regarding how injustices and hostility can be overcome only “by cultivating those virtues which foster reconciliation, solidarity and peace.”

In an attempt to build bridges, figuratively, within the divided society he would serve as President, President Biden in his inaugural address quoted St. Augustine, that “a people [is] a multitude defined by the common objects of their love,” and urged us to find those common objects.  

Remediative and restorative measures outside the courts – and outside the Senate chamber – can and should augment legal remedies for multifaceted, effective, people-centered means to address the past and ongoing criminal and civil law and public health crises, and to help prevent future abuses from taking place.

Kevin Govern is a professor of law at Ave Maria Law School in Naples Florida.