United States (MNN) — The United States is two days away from celebrating its Independence Day, but some celebrated the anniversary of their own freedom just a few weeks ago. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation taking effect on January 1, 1863, black slaves in Texas did not find out they were free until June 19, 1865. Today, this date is remembered and celebrated as Juneteenth.
Juneteenth Encourages Conversation
Chelir Grady with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship explains:
“That’s an important moment in African American History, in particular, for us just to recognize that. Because at the end of the day, even if in 1863 there were black slaves that were celebrating all over the country, there were still those people in Texas, so many slaves in Texas, that were still living that life. It wasn’t until this moment that they were totally free.”
Juneteenth also tugs at an important conversation for the Church as it moves towards unity. Grady explains that on a micro-level, Christians were involved with the Underground Railroad and sought to end slavery. But on a macro-level, the collective Church was involved in the actual business of slavery.
Parts of the Church in the U.S. once distorted God’s Word to exercise control over black slaves. These events impact communities today. Joining this conversation requires recognizing and understanding the mistakes from the past. It also requires seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.
“I think it’s important for the Church to have conversations around this because it’s a part of our history as a Church. But it’s also just the history of the people that are in the Church…And so, I think if the church opens the door for this type of conversation [and] in a way it’s kind of like an act of repentance…so that we don’t repeat our mistakes,” Grady says.
Grady explains that if the Church is to correct its mistakes, it can’t remain silent about hard issues today. Acknowledging sin opens the door for the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and continue the process of sanctification.
“If the Church is talking about these things, and the Church is discussing these things, then the Church is opening up the door for us to not repeat the same mistakes because we’re allowing the love in the room and the unity in the room to help,” Grady says.
“That’s why I would say it’s a conversation that matters.”
Seeking a Better Way
Let’s enter this conversation intentionally, as the Church, to move towards a more unified body, reconciled by Christ and exuding the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let’s live in a way where everyone knows that we belong to Christ by our love for one another, regardless of the color of our skin, our race, or our ethnicity.
But refusing to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and seek amends is costly to the Gospel.
“I can’t tell you how many young black millennials that I talk to that are literally okay with Jesus, but hate the Church. When I say the Church, it’s not just white churches, it’s also black churches. The reality is that we as believers have to recognize that if we want to be like Jesus, we need to be able to be radical and want to bust up the world and the religious systems that aren’t in alignment with God’s Word.
“The Pharisees were all about…what the law says…But they weren’t loving people. They weren’t seeing the sick, the poor, the needy. They weren’t leading these people, as Jesus says in Matthew 9. [They were] lost sheep looking for a shepherd. Today, there are so many lost sheep that are looking for a shepherd, but they want a better way,” Grady explains.
Responding With Prayer
What could happen if the Church gave its brokenness to God, surrendered the collective sin, and did better, loved better like Jesus? Let’s find out.
Ask God for a heart of repentance. Pray for awareness and conviction. Pray for courage to speak up against injustice and for the courage to speak out on issues like race and ethnicity. Also, ask God for humility so the Church can follow the Spirit’s lead. Finally, pray for the joy which comes from unity in Christ.
Let’s pray these things for ourselves, but also for the Church in the U.S.
“My prayer, my hope is that we would not repeat the mistakes of the past and be willing to be radical and shake things up the way that Jesus did. And realize that in doing that you’re going to reveal to the world those that really aren’t about this life…really not about being like Jesus,” Grady says.
“But those who are really wanting to be like Jesus, if they…are open to the Spirit’s movement, I believe there’s so much that could happen in the North American Church.”
(Photo courtesy of Roven Images on Unsplash.)