In the current climate of American society, once an individual has transgressed against the law they become identified as offenders. Perhaps at some point in the future they may be able to move into another category known as ex-offenders or ex-cons. The problem with this type of thinking is that the label is confining and fails to acknowledge that redemption is a viable possibility for those whose hearts and spirits lead them into a pathway of reconciliation and restoring what has been wrongfully taken to those who have been offended.
Until a bridge can be built between those who have transgressed and those who have been offended, society is unable to move forward in any meaningful attempt to heal wounded communities. As a nation we are confronted with a huge gap in trust which corrodes the foundations of family like, the essential building block of society. The wounds which have been sustained by those victimized are painful reminders that trust is easily lost when it has been abused. But does this mean that we are unable to heal the wounds of our nation using Biblical principles? I think not! We are called to bind up each other’s wounds and help each other move toward a meaningful life by practicing forgiveness in all we do.
This does not mean that we are to be reckless or irresponsible in the ways that we interact with those who have breached the rule of law. But there must be a balance if we are truly committed to living out the law of love in our lives. Where does this process start and how do we begin? It would seem that there is a huge gap in understanding how we are to move forward. One small step forward is to re-define the future role of the offender and provide him or her with an opportunity to become a bridge builder. A bridge builder is an individual who seeks to restore meaningful ties to family and community by addressing the gap they have created and reestablishing a secure bond within the context of manageable interactions.
A bridge builder defines the potential to build new relationships and then proceeds to start to build a secure structure across the gap with or without any parallel commitment from the community. It is an entirely voluntary outreach which does not depend upon the reciprocity of others. It is a selfless commitment to restore what has been lost to the best of our individual abilities and does not rely upon the goodwill gestures of others to achieve our goals. It entails taking actions to correct past wrongs and building positive links which enhance community life. It is an act of service to others without the expectation of receiving anything in kind. Thus, one relationship at a time we attempt to repair the harm that has been done and to make amends in all of our interactions with others.
The process of bridge building starts with the offender and proceeds toward completion of a foundation which spans the gaps that we have created by our past actions. We lay no blame at the door of those who have been so deeply wounded that they are unable to trust in the integrity of a newly awakened life of service. We work with the opportunities that have been provided and turn our results over to the care of God who loves us and directs all of our pathways and endeavors. In the simple act of initiating this bridge building activity we commit ourselves to actively loving God and serving our neighbors in all we do.
So to address the questions raised at the beginning of this essay, what are we to call those who have offended and now seek to be restored to meaningful relationship with others? Those who are willing to bear the burdens of their poor decisions are also motivated to create a new life by reaching and restoring what has been previously lost. In partnership with those who are embracing this new calling, Dismas Project will provide the materials and support in a unique relationship with those who are willing to create new bridges of meaning and purpose. Those men and women have been touched by a spirit of renewal and no longer bear the burden of being called offenders. They have come to a point of realizing that they have a new task before them, a task that calls them to be bridge builders. Henceforth they will be known as “bridgers” a people set apart with a new calling upon their lives.