King kingdom

Martin Luther King Jr. Was Right: We Shouldn’t Choose Order Over Justice

So much has happened, not just for me but for our country and our church, since I last wrote for America. In 2018, I shared my experience of religious discrimination, not being allowed to wear my religious habit while doing a mental health counseling internship. Today, I work in a secular private practice and receive clients of all faiths, races and backgrounds.

One of the happiest moments with a client is when we have that first moment of authenticity, when we explore how we experience our differences here and now. This often involves acknowledging the fact that I am a nun and my client is not – or that my client is white and I am black, that I am female and my client is male, or that I am much younger or much older than my client.

We need to realize that relationships that are born out of a lack of integrity, authenticity, and sincere justice were never really relationships.

In my last reflection in these pages, I mentioned a struggle I faced at that time. Being able to connect with others seemed like a form of success to me, but I realized that it was unnervingly easy to sacrifice integrity and authenticity to make those connections. Today, as relationships are threatened by the lifting of the veil on the realities of racism, classism, white supremacy and discriminatory practices in our country and in our church, we must realize that relationships that are the fruit of a lack of integrity, authenticity and sincere justice have never really been ties.

Here’s the thing. Diversity is necessary for unity. Let me say this another way: unity is impossible without diversity. The final realization of the human race, so that it may be one (Jn 17, 21), will not happen without a justice that reigns in the midst of honored differences. Remember, we understand that God is three separate persons who are united and fully realized in the midst of their distinction. To be made in the image and likeness of God includes an ability and a call to come into fellowship with someone who is not me.

One of the best ways to celebrate Black History Month is to stop coveting the order and negative peace that comes from condoning injustice.

So it is with our daily life. Without sincere respect for our differences, without justice in the face of differences, we have strayed from God’s vision and hopes for humanity and for our neighbour. There is a quote from Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that has troubled my conscience lately:

I must confess that over the past few years I have been seriously disappointed with white moderates. I have almost come to the unfortunate conclusion that the great stumbling block of the negro in his march to freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice….

I am grateful for my troubled conscience. When I let my mind reflect on all the injustice that was the fruit of a coveted sense of order – or, in my case, a coveted sense of connection – and when I realize how contrary such injustice is in the heart of Jesus, my troubled conscience reminds me of God. This path back may include, for a time, a lost sense of connection or a lost sense of order, but it is because we are not used to the vulnerability that can come with a sincere confrontation with the individual and community breakdown. We do not yet fully know the peace of Christ who reigns in truth.

One of the best ways to celebrate Black History Month in February, in my opinion, is to stop coveting the order and negative peace that comes from condoning injustice. Let the tensions and struggles that have been covered up by the moderate disposition described by Dr. King come to the surface. Be close to Jesus in prayer and the sacraments as you do this, and we will surely continue to move the kingdom forward.

[Related: How facing religious discrimination challenged one sister to move past bias]