This Sunday, our nation commemorates Juneteenth, in honor of the redemptive day in 1865 when enslaved people across the state of Texas were finally liberated–two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Even after the Confederate defeat in America’s bloody Civil War, slaveholders resisted the clarion call to free their fellow human beings from bondage.
This important day offers an occasion to celebrate the long-fought demise of chattel slavery–that violent, merciless enterprise that caused profound, untold human suffering and aguish. To understand the significance of Juneteenth, we must be courageous in facing the truth about slavery in America, the anti-Black racism that it spawned and perpetuated, and the resulting racial and economic injustice that persist over 150 years later.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,… and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with this inspired proclamation of freedom, dignity, and equality. The United States has long espoused these democratic principles–and yet our struggle to live more fully into them remains as urgent and serious as ever.
As my colleague Derick Dailey has explained before, “Juneteenth teaches us that in the struggle for justice and liberation, there will be resistance.” We see that resistance today, in the struggle to secure needed voting rights legislation, or to convene a commission to study the idea of reparations. We see that resistance in the horrific racial violence on display in Buffalo last month, and the racially weighted mass incarceration, police force, and lethal punishment meted out by a system still in dire need of reform.
As people of faith who worship a Creator who lovingly crafted humankind in the divine image, as people who hear the prophetic call to champion justice, as followers of the Apostle Paul, who told us that in Christ there can be no distinction between slave and free (Gal. 6:28), we have a moral duty to recommit to the liberation of our neighbors and the restoration of human dignity denigrated by the evil of slavery.
As Christians dedicated to welcoming the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst, we are called to mark this holiday by promoting the sacredness of justice and freedom. If we are to walk beside our Savior – who died for each of us in all our unique and beautiful diversity – we must take up His cross as we struggle for racial justice.
On this day of celebration and remembrance, I hope you’ll join me in leaning into the difficult truth of our history, lamenting the sin of racism, celebrating liberation, and recommitting in prayer toward a more just and equal future for this nation.
Recommended Prayer on Juneteenth:
Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image. Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression. Help us, like those of generations before us, resist the evil of slavery and human bondage in any form and any manner of oppression. Help us to use our freedoms to bring justice among people and nations everywhere, to the glory of your Holy name through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(From Episcopal Formation in the Bay Area)
Recommended Reflections for Juneteenth:
Both reflections compiled in the The Anti-Racism Prayer Book by Trinity Church Boston
MEDITATION IN BLACK by Dr. Kathryn E. Nelson
“…I find there are those who are so sure I’m inferior
goods, they don’t read my resume or listen to my ideas.
They say no before they even hear my questions.
Seems anyone can come from anywhere in the world
And get welcomed, but my people, working all these
Years, paying taxes, building this country,
are denied opportunities, told they’re not ready.
Lord knows, I’ve tried to live out my creed
I’ve tried to be a lover, a learner, your servant.
I’ve tried to be worthy of trust. I’ve tried
To make the world a better place in which to live and grow.”
Read the full poem here.
A PRAYER ON PRIVILEGE by Rainey G. Dankel
“Merciful God, I claim Your promise
to be with us when two or three are gathered.
You know that each of us has a unique heart and history
and so I can only speak from what I have seen and known
and become as one who enjoys the privilege
of being born white in the United States.
As I try to understand the ways
in which I benefit from that history,
or deprive others of life and happiness
and all the things I take for granted,
I pray that You will open my heart, my mind, my imagination,
and my eyes to see this country as it is
and not as I want it to be or think that it is.”
Read the full poem here.