Case Study

Working Toward Reconciliation with a Spiritual Community in Crisis

Icon: Context

An international spiritual/faith community was shaken to its core by revelations of historical sexualized harms experienced by women in relationship to the community’s deceased founder. Initial testimonials of harm catalyzed an outpouring of stories by other current and former members, who reported experiences of a range of adversities through their community involvement. As these individual experiences surfaced, the community encountered collective shock, including anger, disbelief, and grief. As members from across cultures, identities, and lived experiences worked to make sense – sometimes in contradictory ways – of the emerging information, polarization erupted and widened. A coalition of community leaders responded by embarking on a path of restorative justice, in attempts to address the harms and their root causes, and begin to repair fractured relationships. Just Outcomes was asked to lend our expertise, guidance, and facilitation to the crisis.

Icon: Approach

Like any large-scale intervention process, the project involved continual adaptation to evolving circumstances. The nature of the work required consistent orientation to guiding principles and priorities, which served as anchors for decision-making. In partnership with community leaders, Just Outcomes offered three guiding principles which served as a reference for project decision-making:

  1. Inclusion: Inclusion involves adopting a participatory and collaborative approach that seeks to include, to the degree possible, all impacted parties who wish to participate.
  2. Repair: Repair involves building and/or restoring human dignity, trust, and wholeness; healing trauma; acknowledging harm, taking responsibility, and making amends.
  3. Transformation: Transformation involves addressing the root causes of harm and building community resilience based on shared values.

In keeping with these principles, a central feature of our work was to convene, support, and facilitate a diverse commission representing a wide array of impacted and interested parties, who were to occupy a central leadership and strategic role in the work. Because of the scale and impact of the work, the Commission was selected and supported by a series of advisory teams spanning a range of locations, roles, and interests across the global community.

Beyond our accompaniment of the Commission, our team also served the community by:

  • conducting a robust Needs Assessment which documented an array of community and institutional strengths, challenges, and needs related to healing and reconciliation;
  • advising institutional leadership bodies on restorative approaches to addressing harm, including matters of institutional responsibility and repair;
  • facilitating dialogue between individuals and groups for building understanding, mutual support, and collaborative problem-solving; and,
  • training community members and/or organizational leaders on skills and capacities required for reconciliation-related work.
Icon: Outcomes

The 3-year project resulted in the creation of an array of innovative prototypes – including new forms of relationship; group processes and structures; and, skills and institutional actions – which are rooted in a restorative and transformative approach while also synergistic with deeply held community values and ideals. Specific gains included:

  1. Institutional Action: With our support, community-affiliated institutions chose less adversarial, more collaborative processes of addressing harms; offered public statements acknowledging the impact of harms on community members; and created a financial reparations program for community members impacted by harms.
  2. Information and Relationships: The project built new relationships across lines of identity, role, and lived experience within the community – and brought important information into view which can serve as a source of continued learning.
  3. Collaborative Leadership: Through the course of the project, several influential leadership bodies received training, facilitation, and consultation related to collaborative governance and consensus decision-making. Many within the community observed that more collaborative governance should work to reduce the likelihood of misuses of power by increasing transparency and accountability in leadership. As one leader commented of our work, “This was a process I have rarely seen in our community and gives me a glimmer of hope for a new community culture. I felt the deep love we all share for each other, in spite of our different ways of looking at the current situation.”
  4. Training and Skill Development: through the project, community members and leaders had access to high-quality, experiential training in subjects including:
    • Restorative Justice 101
    • Circle Processes
    • Group Facilitation Training
    • Restorative Conferencing
    • Interest-Based Dialogue and Deliberation
    • Consensus Decision-Making

    As one training participant commented, “Never have I felt so honored within a training process. I feel grounded in my capacity as a facilitator, and strengthened in my awareness of restorative justice principles and to apply them to my daily life, and in small and larger conflicts that are bound to arise. Thank you.”

  5. Regional Pilot Projects: Within localized chapters of the global faith community, we worked with local leaders in applying restorative principles to tangible and time-sensitive issues related to the meaning and impact of revelations of harm.