The best part about reading Letter from Birmingham Jail and The Service of Faith and Promotion of Justice in congruence with one another was the juxtaposition of perspective. Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach comes from a position of esteem, respect, and whether we like to admit it or not, social and, yes, racial hierarchy. King, although verily equal in intellect, wit, and rhetoric to Kolvenbach, is articulating social ideals and arguing for the implementation of just practices, like Kolvenbach, but writes from the perspective of one representing the target group. Thus, we as readers, must understand, that King’s rhetoric and appeal takes on a different meaning than Kolvenbach’s.
Both discuss “home” in some sense no doubt. Kolvenbach largely discusses a “home” or “identity” that is well established. His propositions regarding the promotion of justice in Jesuit higher education aim to strengthen a homeland that already exists (but does not yet wholly exist, in his opinion). In regard to this bolstering of one’s homeland or identity, Kolvenbach says: “…The faith dimension was too often presumed and left implicit, as if our identity as Jesuits were enough. Some rushed headlong towards the promotion of justice without much analysis or reflection and with only occasional reference to the justice of the Gospel. They seemed to consign the service of faith to a dying past. […] The Lord has patiently been teaching us to serve faith that does justice in a more integral way” (28-29). This very idea of “a faith that does justice” is the idea that Kolvenbach uses to attribute meaning to the homeland that is Jesuit higher education. He revises it—he, in a sense, draws up a new blueprint, a new schema, for this home.
King, being, as I mentioned before, of the target group, needs to start at square one. He must, at a very basic level, tell his audience of white clergymen: “Hey, this is my home too.” Before getting on par with Kolvenbach—at a place where he can recognize his homeland and attribute further meaning to it—he must ensure that his homeland really is his. King believes that his home cannot be his if all people do not recognize it. He says: “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” (1). Like Kolvenbach, he makes a call for a stronger implementation of justice in his homeland, but unlike Kolvenbach, he asks for a sort of justice, which, at a very fundamental level, gives him a homeland.
The two men believe that home and/or one’s identity necessitates the incorporation and promotion of justice. It is perspective that separates the two. Having agency (like Kolvenbach) allows an individual to recognize their homeland and call on others to attribute meaning to it. As a target, though, one may wish for the promotion of justice, but it comes from a different place, a place of suppression, in which one must ask for the right to claim their homeland before asking for anything else.