When is Justice Unjust?

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Equal Justice Statue

I’ve been slowly making my way through Pastoral Care and Counseling with Latino/as. I just finished a chapter on “Ethics from a Latino Perspective”. The authors, Montilla and Medina, wrote about how when you view ethics from the periphery, outside the places of power, you reinterpret traditional understandings of them and reorder them in importance. Two of the ethics that were expressed and valued differently in Latino culture were justice and equality.


The authors described the traditional view of justice as “giving everybody his or her due”, which they called distributive justice. This perspective on justice often operates in isolation from other values. For Latinos, though, the definition of justice was more relational and included standing with and defending the rights of the poor and marginalized. Hispanics take into account other factors (equality, liberty, solidarity, compassion) in how they express justice. The authors stated that social justice is really a redundant phrase in Latino culture because justice can’t be understood separate from one’s relationship to others.

I’ve definitely seen this lived out in Destino. There is a deep-seated desire in many of our students to stand with and fight for those around them that aren’t being treated fairly or are in need of help that we are able to offer. Whether we’re volunteering to mentor younger Latino kids in high school or we are standing with our undocumented students on campus, we are often fighting against the status quo. We aren’t okay with Latinos failing out of high school at a higher rate than their white peers, and we aren’t okay with undocumented students being picked on by others on campus. There is a sense of justice in these things that move us to want to act on behalf of our community.


When the authors went on to talk about the ethic of equality, they wrote that sometimes equal treatment of all people can actually be unjust, which I had never thought about before. I always thought of equality as treating all people the same not matter what. The authors did a good job of explaining that, in reality, equality doesn’t mean treating people identically but treating all people justly. This paragraph summed it up well and gave some good examples:

We purposely separate equality from justice to emphasize that some equal treatment could be unjust. For instance, to apply the same psychological testing to Hispanics and whites could be unjust, as most of these tests have not been created or standardized with the Latino/a population in mind. In this sense, equality could be applicable only within the cultural context. Another example is that most entry exams for college and graduate school are applied equally to all people. Many Latino/as attend school where the technology, educational personnel, and financial resources are very limited. Therefore, to require and equal entry exam is unjust…Human beings are equal and deserve to be treated with respect, concern, dignity, and contextual justice.

I loved that phrase “contextual justice”. In Destino, we have the opportunity to treat students justly in ways that they aren’t by society at large. What if instead of indiscriminately applying the same principles and methods of ministry that worked for majority culture students, we actually did the hard work of evaluating our unique context and creating something that was distinctly suited for Latino students? Could this be a way for us to display justice to a Latino in a way that they would understand it?

I remember our first semester of working with Destino, we communicated often that we weren’t doing anything different than we had done in majority culture movements. I remember saying, ” Win, Build, Send works everywhere.” I still agree that it does, but I now know that all three of those look different in every place and every culture. We’ve realized over time that not every training, every process, or every structure actually works in different contexts, and we have to learn and create as we get to know our Destino students better. This, I believe, is what it means to truly act justly towards our students.

Maybe to really display God’s kingdom to the world around us, we need to treat people equally by taking into consideration the different cultures and how God has uniquely wired each. Maybe we need to begin to expand our view of justice to include the perspective of those from the margins and the periphery.

I do pray that as we continue to minister to Latinos that we would reflect God’s character through the values and ethics of the culture. May he give us grace to see where we need to change and grow.

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Posted on September 7, 2011

About destinokristy

A Latina, DestinoKristy served with Destino from 2008-2013.

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