Happy Juneteenth, Fam!
Here are some thoughts about what today means to me and my people and the country and how far we still must go:
As a Black man in the United States of America, I am proud of our country today, because Juneteenth is now officially a federal holiday. Today is a day that commemorates that we effectively ended slavery in the U.S. As a Black man who is a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, I rejoice that “We the People” have begun to use this moment to move us closer to becoming “One Nation Under God.” Today, I would like to encourage all people, but especially believers, to celebrate the freedom of African Americans in this country.
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation by freeing all those still enslaved. Granger rolled into Galveston with his troops two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered in Virginia and over two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Though these slaves had been legally freed, it was on this day, June 19th, they finally tasted freedom for the first time.
The goal of Juneteenth is to cherish, educate and assist the public in acknowledging and learning about the terrible things my people went through. As a Black pastor, I believe it is also my duty to educate my fellow believers about the misinterpretation of Scripture as it relates to slavery. Americans have long struggled with and even fought over slavery. Those who claim the name of Christ have not been immune to this struggle and it didn’t end on Juneteenth. Today, one of the most common criticisms against Christianity is that the Bible supports the institution of slavery.
This could not be further from the truth. It is important to know from beginning to end, Scripture clearly condemns the kind of slavery that took place in America. In Exodus 21:16, right after the giving of the 10 Commandments, the Lord condemns “man-stealing” – which is kidnapping someone and forcing them into your service. The punishment for “man-stealing” according to the law was death. In the New Testament, Paul condemns “enslavers” as being contrary to the Law of God and facing the condemnation of God (1 Tim 1:10). Much more could be said about this point, but it is obvious both Old and New Testaments denounce as wicked the practice that was the transatlantic slave trade and those who participated in it.
A major part of the importance in recognizing Juneteenth is that many parts of the reality and history of slavery are still not taught in schools in many states. Education, equality and representation and a myriad of basic equalities post-slavery have been fights that we still see and work towards to this very day.
Much like the stain of sin, and how it lingers in our life long after we have broken its hold over our lives, so too the stain of slavery has left lasting collateral consequences that have generational impacts. So, while we have come a long way today in our country, we still have a ways to go before we can reverse the effects of slavery.
To get a sense of how we still have far to go towards true equality and freedom, I think about the disproportionate homeless, poverty and incarceration rates African American people still suffer from in the U.S. after over a century since slavery ended.
Reversing the effects of systemic racism, poverty, and unacceptable treatment of Black people is something I know we are on a path toward today. I am hopeful, because of our donors and volunteers of every tongue and kindred that come through year after year to support our work at Los Angeles Mission.
We know that by confronting the reality of the effects of slavery with truth and love that we can make a difference. We are seeing that unfolding of the history of a tragic and dark past play out right now. We are witnessing the next steps and witnessing the beautiful path to a true freedom we never realized on Juneteenth. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
We are closer to knowing that truth than ever today, with much more to go, and that’s where I stand for our people on a day like today. Today is an important day for me. For what we all can overcome. For what all people who experience any discrimination know in their hearts about the fight they had to endure just to be treated somewhat equally.
I have witnessed the systemic inequities and poverty rates African Americans face daily. I have dedicated my life to helping people break the chains of bondage (addiction, homelessness, poverty, etc.) in their life. I’m extraordinarily proud of everyone across the country for how we spoke up this year, for the way we are working together more than ever to show the world what we can do, and our willingness to do it together. No matter what our race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic background is we are all committed to working to make this world a better place.
I manage organizations that provide supportive services and transitional case management to individuals experiencing homelessness and post-incarceration reentry. We provide these services to all people – but tragically the ones who need our services are disproportionally Black individuals. They have now been enslaved by a system of institutional racism and slavery that only the power of love can break.
Paul argues, in probably his first epistle, that if Christians who are slaves can get out of slavery, they should. Since Christians are now slaves of Christ, we should no longer be slaves to anyone, or anything, else (1 Corinthians 7:21-23). Therefore, early Christians were known to use part of their church offering to purchase the freedom of their fellow Christians. Jesus came to “set the captive free” (Luke 4:18), so Jesus’ people should also help liberate people in bondage and celebrate anytime someone is set free.
I’ll end with the same point I started with. Slavery wasn’t in the world in the first two chapters in the Bible (Genesis 1-2) and it’s not there in the last two chapters either (Revelation 21-22). Therefore, Christians should do all we can now to live considering God’s original design and Jesus’ coming Kingdom. The church is to be a preview of what is to come by opposing the institution of slavery and rejoicing in its abolition. Juneteenth is a foretaste of the day when every captive will be set free, so that’s worthy of firing up the grill and celebrating today.
Los Angeles Mission stands committed to supporting equality for all people. We will always be here for you if you need a hand to raise you up through any challenge and any time of need. You are loved. You are cherished. You are worthy of an equal place in society. We believe in you. Never forget this.
Happy Juneteenth, Fam.