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FIRST-PERSON: Juneteenth: How can they hear unless someone is sent?

Juneteenth Celebration in Emancipation Park in Houston's Fourth Ward 1880. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

MUFREESBORO, Tenn. (BP) – On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, officially granting freedom to slaves in all southern states who had proclaimed secession from the Union. The problem, however, was that no one informed those in bondage of their legal freedoms. Many continued in their roles of servitude for the next two years, just waiting for someone to give them the news of their newfound liberty.

Ending the Civil War was not enough. Though the Confederate Army surrendered on April 9, 1865, slaves in the most remote regions of the South, especially southern Texas, remained in their status as slaves for several more weeks. It was only on June 19, 1865, that U.S. Army General Gordon Granger issued Order No. 3, authorizing soldiers to enter Galveston, Texas, and directly inform all slaves of their freedom. The following year, black churches in Galveston began commemorating June 19(Juneteenth) as the day they truly began to experience their emancipation from bondage.

The similarities of this story and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are obvious.  Christ’s death and resurrection provided an opportunity for freedom from sin, yet here we stand 2000 years later and billions of souls remain slaves to sin, waiting for someone, anyone, to proclaim liberty throughout the earth (Leviticus 25:10). As the Apostle Paul states, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” (Galatians 5:1) but not only is the Church lagging in its call to preach the message of reconciliation of human beings to God, it also has yet to demonstrate that the entire dividing wall of racism was abolished at the cross. God has commended His church (not the school systems, the government, the press or Hollywood) to take the lead in this divine effort. Is it any wonder that the we allow the evil one to keep our focus on that which divides instead of remaining unified in our call to support the thousands of missionaries we have on the field? Why do we let the world turn us against each other instead of unifying around the freedom we all have in Christ?

Jesus’ last prayer for His followers was this: I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:23). Per Jesus, one of the greatest evangelical efforts we can make is to demonstrate to the world that Christ unites even when Satan attempts to divide us through the human construct of race.

In order to demonstrate this, our church, like many others, is becoming more and more intentional about reaching across so-called racial lines by hiring staff and developing leaders from different backgrounds. Our worship leader grew up in what many would call a “black church,” but he is incredible at finding ways to blend the music of his childhood culture into our largely white congregation. The results have been obvious, as nearly half of our most recent new members’ class were from minority backgrounds.

Michael says:

“Too often whites and blacks have been intentionally divided, especially within the church, but I think it’s time for us to come together as the body of Christ. The body of Christ does not consist of just one culture, but it must consist of EVERYbody in order for it to truly be THE body. I think the reality is that we need each other and we always have. Why? Because we cannot expect unity in the world if we are unwilling to model it in the church. As the saying goes, ‘You cannot conquer what you’re unwilling to confront.’

Additionally, African Americans don’t just want to be seat-fillers in our congregations just so it can be said that we are a “diverse” church. We don’t want to be the “token black person” in the pews. We don’t just want our presence to be welcomed, we want everything that comes with us to be embraced—our voice, our expression, our music, etc. This holds true for all other minorities as well. Perhaps we begin by watching our language and stop identifying different congregations by race, for example, calling them “black” or “white” churches. God wants us to be the capital “C” Church–not seeing our differences as problems to overcome, but by embracing our unique backgrounds and cultures as assets to the entire body of Christ.”

Breaking down dividing walls has its challenges, but we must all remember that Christ has already abolished the largest one (Ephesians 2:11-22). By continuing to integrate the strengths of our various cultures we can model the unity of Christ’s body, and as a result, we will have a greater platform to declare the most important Emancipation Proclamation of all.

Steve Willis is the Senior Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Michael Walter is the worship minister at CBC.

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  • Steve Willis