Juneteenth: Staying the Course of Freedom and Flourishing for All
Today, Juneteenth is a federally recognized holiday, and many African Americans (and allies) commemorate Juneteenth through family gatherings, community cookouts and picnics, cultural and educational events, worship and prayer, and collective action.
The symbolic meaning of the delayed emancipation for Black Americans is pertinent to the Christian church and the fuller society today. Like the story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:1-44, Luke 21:1-4, wherein Jesus praises a widow for giving her two cents aka mites at Temple, saying she has given more than the rich, as she has given her whole livelihood), we serve a God who bids us leave no one behind. Our call is to take the Good News of Christ’s salvation, liberation, and release for all people into the world. Yet, systemic racism in church and society continues to impact our ability to be faithful followers of Christ and the repairers of the breach.
As we still, in this moment, grapple with anti-Blackness and other forms of racism, Juneteenth reminds us that the quest for liberty, flourishing, and justice for all remains elusive. The events of the past few years painfully illustrate this point: from the murders of Black and Brown people, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers, to the dramatic rise in hate crimes aimed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and to attempts to repress Latinx immigrants. All demonstrate that systemic and individual racism still costs souls and lives.
As writer Jess McIntosh writes, “We are still in the process of ending slavery, and nowhere near ending its effects.”
Let Juneteenth be a time when people of Christian faith—especially white Christians—recommit to, evoke, stand on, and live out the promises of God to deliver all people everywhere from bondage and oppression. Just as God walked the Israelites to freedom and flourishing, God stands on the side of oppressed people in this moment. And God’s people are called to roll down justice (Amos 5:24) and to model and champion righteousness like an endless stream.
6 Ways White People Can Observe Juneteenth
Respectfully attend or volunteer at events. Ask your local sponsor of Juneteenth events and your Black friends, colleagues, and church friends how you can help. Volunteer for the clean-up/set-up crews. Help staff information booths, if appropriate. If you attend as a guest, be respectful. Do not wear African daishikis or kente cloth without first asking permission. While you may intend it as appreciation, others may view it as cultural appropriation.
Preach and teach about the current face of racism. Many white people have been socialized to see racism as a challenge of the distant past. However, full voting rights and equal education for African Americans were not granted until the 1950s and 1960s. In The United Methodist Church, some annual conferences had legalized racism until the 1970s. The U.S. Church is still largely segregated in worship and work. White Christians must grapple with their role in perpetrating racism and work to heed God’s call to “let justice roll down.” Use sermons, worship, and church media to educate and inspire your congregation.
Support Black churches, charities, and businesses. Make a regular tithe or donation to a local African American church, a United Methodist campus ministry at a historically Black college or university, or community ministry or scholarship-fund supporting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Make deliberate efforts to support Black-owned businesses and services.
Listen and read. Juneteenth offers an opportunity for white friends and family to learn more about the realities African-Americans face and the contributions they make to the church, community, and world. Listen to this podcast with Jasmine Bradshaw, which further explains Juneteenth history and ways your family can celebrate the holiday.
Confront the history in your community. Learn about the history of enslaved Black people in your local area and state. Explore the history of your church and its leaders and develop ways that your congregations can make tangible amends and reparations.
Church school and small groups: Discuss Juneteenth’s history and current implications for African Americans. Invite a local Black history teacher or museum curator to speak, or watch the Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary, 13th: From Slave to Criminal with one Amendment, which explores the U.S. journey from the enslavement of Black people to the school-to-prison pipeline. A study guide for the film from Influence Film Club is available.