March 28, 2018 Editor

Compulsory Compassion

A Critique of Restorative Justice, Annalise Acorn, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004, 207 pages

WN: A Christian acquaintance and fellow theological student at Regent College in 1975 told me of this book, delighted about such a critique of Restorative Justice, and wondering what I thought. My response was the review you may click on below.

New Testament theologian Christopher Marshall in possibly direct response to Acorn’s book, entitles his second profound theological/philosophical work on Restorative Justice Compassionate Justice: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue with Two Gospel Parables on Law, Crime, and Restorative Justice (2012). In the final section of the book, entitled “Restorative Compassion,” he interacts tellingly with Acorn’s manuscript, asserting  that it “. . . is neither academically rigorous nor empirically grounded (p. 307).” Indeed. My review of Marshall’s book is here. My review of his earlier profound work, Beyond Retribution: A New Testament Vision for Justice, Crime and Punishment, is here.

My acquaintance was disappointed by my review… He has dominant Western Church theology on his side. My website has a great array on Restorative Justice. By clicking on the previous highlighted, you will be taken to this material. (Scroll down to click on “Previous”, where pages of articles/book reviews are found, if you continue to click on “Previous”. Restorative Justice has been a passion since 1974!) Please also click on Restorative Justice Links as well for a great number and array of links.

an excerpt:


Acorn’s material hardly delivers the fantasized knockout punch to restorative justice.  Her scattered scepticism is like the 17th-century vaunted Vasa in Sweden that sank less than a nautical mile into her maiden voyage.  Its second deck of heavy cannons with the rest was meant to strike terror into the Catholics in the Thirty Years War.  The second deck may have proved instead (one theory) to be (or to contribute to the) unmitigated folly that sank the top-heavy vessel.  Some of Acorn’s points have some merit as caveats for proponents of restorative justice; few are original, and most with any value have been raised to varying degrees by practitioners themselves.  But when packaged as “canons” (double entendre) of diatribe and dismissal, what little merit there is turns to demerit.  Her overkill like that second deck sadly sinks the enterprise.  Perhaps the best critics are they from within.  (The Bible is its own best critic.  It presents for instance religious hypocrisy and authentic atheism in challenging ways rarely matched by other writers.)  Vaunted Swedish kings’ vessels out to strike terror however beautifully decorated and wannabe critics out to destroy however well-spoken tend toward self-ruin.

To change again the metaphor: there is some wheat amongst the much chaff (and chafing!) of this book.  But the sifting is onerous.  I begrudge having wasted some of my summer camping trip reading the book and writing a review.  The author could have done something worthwhile for the restorative justice movement: she could have offered a balanced, informed critique; she is clearly intelligent enough for the task.  She could also have better worked through her knee-jerk loss of faith.  I conclude in concert with Mr. Byfield [mentioned earlier]: Just think, Ms Acorn, a little harder.

Please click on: Compulsory Compassion

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Genre: Restorative Justice, Retributive Justice
Subjects: Restorative Justice, Retributive Justice


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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