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The importance of Juneteenth
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Pastor Devin Strong

Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church

Monday was the federal observance of Juneteenth or Black Independence Day. I was deep into my adulthood before I knew what Juneteenth was.

Shame on me.

What I know now is that June 19,1865 is the day when Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas and announced to all the slaves there that the Civil War was over and that by order of the Emancipation Proclamation, all persons previously held as slaves were completely free and equal to all others under the law. Of course, this was nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was actually signed into law. African Americans celebrate Juneteenth because this is the day that the last of those held against their will finally heard that they were free. We can hardly imagine such a delay of news! On the other hand, it was not until 1980 that Texas recognized this as a state holiday. The first state to do so, and it was not until 2021 that Juneteenth became a federally recognized holiday.

Juneteenth is a watershed day for our black sisters and brothers. We in the church and the world should rejoice with them. We in the white culture should celebrate Juneteenth because this was the day when we finally ended one of our most grievous corporate sins.

Of course, Juneteenth was hardly the end of racism. I just finished the powerful book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, from which I learned that that more than 5,000 African Americans were lynched (that is, hung, beaten, burned, or otherwise murdered by mobs of Caucasian Americans) between 1880 and 1940. After that was the era of the Jim Crow laws, including separate drinking fountains, restrooms, schools, and so much more for blacks and whites.

Even as we work to become a more and more inclusive society, we know that African Americans still lag behind the rest of society in terms health, education, income, home ownership, and other markers of the American dream. At the most basic level, to be black in America means that you will not live as long as if you are white. White women live for an average of 81.3 years; black women live for an average of 78.0 years. White men live for an average of 76.5 years, and black men live to be 71.8 years.

Such conversations make those of us in the dominant culture cringe, I know. Most of us freely admit that there has been historic racism in this country, but we don’t think that we caused it, and we get defensive because we often feel like we are being blamed for hate that happened generations before us.

What our African American siblings in Christ want us to hear is that even if our grandparents never lynched anyone, even if we would never think of using the “N” word ourselves, we still benefit from a society where a disproportionate number of blacks are under-employed and over-incarcerated. The pain may not be your fault, but you can be part of the healing.

Every Sunday in church, we confess our sins “corporately,” even though each person in the room has not recently committed every sin mentioned. We know that as a group, we are broken, and we need Jesus desperately. When it comes to racism, we need to confess the same. And we can certainly celebrate our growing equality with our brothers and sisters. Happy Juneteenth!

God Loves You, and So Do I!

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