Recently I was sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for my wife to have her OB/GYN appointment to discover the gender of our 4th child (girl!). While we were waiting in the lobby, I heard something interesting on the TV. The news report made mention of a celebration called Junteenth, of which I had never heard. The reason I was so curious about it afterward is that “Junteenth” sounded an awful lot like “June 19th”, which happens to be my birthday. In the remaining moments before our appointment, I quickly got on my Google smartphone (note: no iPhone and proud of it) to do some investigation.
It turns out that Junteenth does indeed refer to the date June 19th. Maybe you already knew this as I am an oblivious northern transplant to Charlotte (barely / not really the South, I am told), but Junteenth is a celebration of the final release of the remaining slaves, primarily in Texas, which happened on June 19, 1865. Though the Emancipation Proclamation happened in 1862, it wasn’t effectively carried out everywhere (namely in the South) until 1864-65, after the end of the Civil War. The war prolonging slavery wasn’t a surprise to me, but I had never considered the lingering holdouts of slavery after the war.
I find, in general, that I underestimate the magnitude and impacts of slavery. Rarely do I think about slavery. Maybe I should think about it more, especially since I live in a racially diverse part of the city. Really, though, I am left asking the question: how does slavery affect me and my relationships with people who happen to have dark skin? Is slavery still a big deal 150 years after it was abolished?
My desire is for a total collapse of the racial divide. Why should our skin colors or countries of origin separate us, especially when we speak the same language and live in close proximity to one another? I am happy to keep the cultural heritage stuff (though I question this – most Americans these days are “mutts” like me, with no more than 25% of one ethnicity), but can’t we lose the social barriers?
Am I naive? This this an impossibility? Will the racial divide stand forever? Can we ever be truly “colorblind” as a culture?
Will the effects of slavery ever go away? I hope so. It seems that time might continue to heal those wounds. But could there be another source of healing? The prophet Isaiah expected so:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; (Isa 61:1-2)
Isaiah 61 is a prophecy about the Lord Jesus, who makes this claim in Luke 4:18-21. This tells us that it is only Jesus who truly frees us. While the human atrocities of slavery are immense, we need to realize that there is a slavery still going on today that is even worse. The bigger problem in this world is slavery to sin (John 8:34). Every human being that has ever existed has been a slave to sin, save one – Jesus. We are born slaves to sin, and we continue in bondage to sin unless we are freed by the grace of Jesus (Rom 6:6). Spiritual captivity is worse than physical captivity, and only Jesus can free us from the shackles of our slavery to sin.
It is interesting to note that, once we are freed from our shackles of sin, we remain slaves! We remain bound in slavery, though we serve a new, righteous Master (Gal 4:7). We become slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:18). As we look closer at Romans 6, we discover that true “freedom” is only found when we are united to Christ. It is only “in Him” that the cultural divide can be torn down. The gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to collapse any barrier standing in the way, including racial and socio-economic barriers. Only Jesus can truly heal us from the pain that slavery has brought about in the world.
Junteenth is a celebration that happens all too quietly in America these days. And yet, the greater disservice is that the good news of Luke 4:18-21 is an even bigger secret.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21)