Today is “Juneteenth,” a commemoration of the day in 1865 when Union army general Gordon Granger announced federal orders in Galveston, Texas, proclaiming that all people held as slaves in Texas were free. Granger announced freedom that day, but he also came to perform and enact it. The day, with varying degrees of recognition, has come to mean so much more.
One of the great ironies of Juneteenth is that slaves were given their emancipation by proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln effective as of January 1, 1863 (though announced on September 22, 1862). It took nearly two-and-a-half years for the slaves in the furthest reaches of the westernmost Confederate state (Texas) to learn of and exercise their freedom. The reasons for this are debated, but they are all shameful.
It’s a fairly easy juke for me (a privileged white Christian male) to see a spiritual lesson this tragic history, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The Gospel – which is an announcement, not advice for worthy behavior – tells us that what Jesus Christ has done for humanity has, somehow, bought us forgiveness, and glorious freedom from sin and death and the devil – if only we would receive it! Mind-boggling but true!
Christians can speak eloquently about this freedom, but there is a credulity gap when we see how un-free so many of us actually are. (Can you join me as I raise my hand here?) This freedom in Christ (so much more to say about this, so please don’t pigeonhole me!) is only actual when it is heard, believed, and lived. Juneteenth is a reminder of how sad it is when we don’t know the good news of our freedom.
But if freedom is a spiritual reality then it must also be a social reality. (Most A-list heresies make the mistake of divorcing soul and body.) I will be surprised if there isn’t some destructive hooliganism on display today, giving a good day a bad name. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an important day to remember and celebrate; as well as an important call to humbly reflect and repent of wrongs still present in our lives, families, churches, laws, and society – no matter who that involves.
Where is “Galveston” today?
To believe the Gospel means to live in freedom, rightly and broadly understood. It means to announce it, perform it, and enact it for the sake of others.