Picture this: Michigan governor Rick Snyder, asleep at the switch (at best) when Flint's water pipes were leaching lead under the oversight of a State-appointed manager, offers (another) apology. Only this time he adds the move of true repentance: he asks those affected by the poisoned water what he can do to make it better.
They might say, "Resign, please." Or they might get a little creative. They might say, "You live in Ann Arbor and commute to Lansing. Move to Flint. Live without access to safe tap water like we do every day. Get to know your neighbors. Talk to community leaders on their own turf (no photographers allowed). Listen to them. And get to work fixing the problem knowing that you don't get safe water through your tap until every last citizen of Flint does."
Calls for the Governor to resign over the Flint water crisis abound. But that's old-fashioned punitive justice. It gives victims little voice and less satisfaction than restorative justice. Under the leadership of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, South Africa opted for restorative over punitive justice. They set up a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission." The victims of apartheid gave statements at public hearings. Perpetrators gave testimony as well and could request amnesty from prosecution. Often it was granted, if the perpetrators offered full disclosure, sincere apology and willingness to make amends. The work of the Commission is widely regarded as beginning a long (and still ongoing) process of healing in South Africa on its way to democracy.
Governor Snyder says he wants to fix the problem. But he continues to live in the same bubble that allowed him to ignore the problem. What are the chances he can fix the problem with the urgency that the people of Flint feel every day from the same bubble--commuting from his comfortable home in Ann Arbor to his office in Lansing, surrounded by the same people and worse, imbedded in the same culture, that made it possible to poison the water in Flint?
Don't resign just yet, Governor. Move to Flint. Maybe the people there could help you fix it faster than you can from Ann Arbor.
Ken Wilson is co-pastor of Blue Ocean Faith, Ann Arbor and author of A Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor's Path to Embracing Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender People into the Company of Jesus (ReadTheSpirit 2014).