Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th each year, is a national holiday set aside to celebrate the end of chattel slavery in the United States of America. This is a notable and important thing to celebrate! And it’s important to me.
More than a year ago now, during the pandemic of 2020-21, I began a series of ongoing weekly ZOOM meetings for nearly a year with 20 members of our staff and church, discussing racial issues. More than half of those in attendance each week were our African American brothers and sisters. My compelling question to begin the conversation was, “How can I, as a pastor, lead and shepherd an increasingly diverse congregation?”
I did more listening than talking during those meetings, and it was a refreshing time of learning and realizing things I’d never been taught and perspectives I’d never been fully aware of. Juneteenth was one of those perspectives.
That’s the background to this question today: Why is Juneteenth important to us all?
Chattel slavery is among the most evil of all movements on the planet. The term literally means that people were classified as “personal property” owned by an enslaver, who could purchase and sell them like livestock. Under the worst possible conditions, African slaves in America were treated as less than human - and entire generations lived and died as slaves, losing their families and their heritage for the personal profit of the slave-owner.
The abolitionist movement in America required many years to actually abolish slavery. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but the enactment of this proclamation took more than 2 years to communicate and enforce. Finally, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished chattel slavery nationwide on December 6, 1865.
On Juneteenth, we celebrate that victory on behalf of all who were enslaved. We also celebrate because from that day forward the stain and evil of slavery would not be allowed in our nation ever again.
Try to imagine with me what that freedom must have felt like to those who’d previously been enslaved! Try to realize the literal unshackling of chains and the possibilities of the future. At the same time, think about the challenges the newly freed men and women would face in finding a way of life, making families and building a new heritage.
When you look around you at your brothers and sisters of African American heritage, celebrate with them the great significance of June 19th! Acknowledging an event that they have celebrated their entire lives is a step in the right direction. It’s a worthwhile conversation and the bridging of cultures that we in the body of Christ should be known for.
Thoughts from John Meador and insights from God's Word.