On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, word came to Texas that slavery had officially ended. At the time it was estimated that 250,000 people were living as slaves in Texas.
A brief review of the history of the civil rights movement teaches us that the Emancipation Proclamation and the glorious announcement of Juneteenth were only the beginning of a movement to honor and recognize the God-given humanity of black people in America. Step after step, a little bit at a time, laws were changed to make it illegal to discriminate based on the color of people’s skin. And yet that movement has been met with resistance and violence over and over.
Today we are experiencing the ongoing trauma baked in to a culture that was built on the backs of slaves. How things begin informs what things will become, so it is no surprise that efforts by the dominant white culture to create ongoing systems of exclusion and oppression have continued since that time. It is certainly no surprise that resentment and distrust over this injustice seethes just under the surface of our common life. The insidious part of this is that there is no one person or thing to blame. The whole thing is broken, so seeking accountability is complex, to say the least. Yet, it is our call as people of faith and Americans to continue to change things until injustice stops.
What, then, do we do? What will I do?
I WILL LEARN. I will educate myself on the issues around racial injustice, police brutality, systemic racism, and privilege. I will read things that scare me, that challenge my way of thinking, that make me confront my own biases. I will read history written by not-white historians. The St. David’s racial justice page is a good starting place.
I WILL PRACTICE SELF-EXAMINATION. Where is my sin around these issues? What are my sins of commission and omission? What are our collective sins that have led to the ongoing oppression of people of color?
I WILL TALK ABOUT RACE. I will find a group to join that wants to learn together. (Watch for our upcoming Beloved Community groups as a starting place). As a white person, I will listen to black people share their experiences. And, when they are ready, I hope black people will be interested in listening to my personal experiences as well.
I WILL RISK GETTING IT WRONG. Clearly, as a culture, we are quite bad at all of this. It’s natural for our fear to kick in and shut us down. Often, we don’t say anything because we don’t want to say the wrong thing. I will get it wrong, and allow myself to be corrected. That will go a long way toward getting it right.
I WILL BE KIND. I will look for the humanity in everyone. I will allow others who are trying to get it right to be wrong sometimes as well. I will respect the dignity of every human being.
I WILL ACT. I will do something. Change my behavior. Cross boundaries. Strive for systemic change wherever I have influence.
I WILL PRAY. Pray often. Pray some more.
We live in frightening times. The things listed above are scary and risky. But as people of faith, we have a long tradition of repentance, confession, absolution, and forgiveness. We have a long history of this as individuals and as a body. We have a long history of serving a just and compassionate God. We can do this because we trust God, and we trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Happy Juneteenth, friends.