Martin Luther King Jr. was right: We must not 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 completing a mental health counseling internship. Today, I work in a secular private practice and see clients of all faiths, races and backgrounds.

One of the most joyful moments with a client is when we have that initial moment of authenticity, when we explore how we are experiencing our differences in the here and now. This often includes 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 a woman and my client is a man, or that I am much younger or much older than my client.

We have to realize that connections that are the fruit of a lack of integrity, authenticity and sincere justice were never really connections at all.

In my last reflection in these pages, I mentioned a struggle I faced at that time. Being able to connect with others felt like a form of success to me, but I had become aware that it was disturbingly easy to sacrifice integrity and authenticity to achieve these connections. Today, as relationships are threatened by the veil being pulled back on the realities of racism, classism, white supremacy and discriminatory practices in our country and in our church, we have to realize that connections that are the fruit of a lack of integrity, authenticity and sincere justice were never really connections at all.

Here’s the thing. Diversity is required for unity. Let me say that another way: Unity is impossible without diversity. The final realization of the human race, that they may be one (Jn 17:21), will not be achieved without a justice that reigns in the midst of honored differences. Remember, we understand God to be three distinct persons who are united and fully realized in the midst of their distinction. Being made in the image and likeness of God includes a capacity and call to achieve communion with one who is not me.

One of the best ways to celebrate Black History Month is to cease to covet order and negative peace that is the fruit of tolerated injustice.

So it goes for our daily lives. Without a sincere honoring of our differences, without justice in the face of differences, we have departed from the vision and hopes of God for humanity and for our neighbor. There is a quote by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that has been troubling my conscience lately:

I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward 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 such injustice is contrary to the heart of Jesus, my troubled conscience calls me back to God. That path back may include, for a time, a lost sense of connection or a lost sense of order, but this is because we are not accustomed to the vulnerability that can come with sincerely facing individual and communal brokenness. We do not fully know yet the peace of Christ that reigns in truth.

One of the best ways to celebrate Black History Month this February, in my opinion, is to cease to covet order and negative peace that is the fruit of tolerated injustice. Allow the tensions and struggles that have been covered by the moderate disposition described by Dr. King to 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]