June 19th has been traditionally named Juneteenth, a reflection on the emancipation of slaves in the state of Texas, the last state to recognize the Emancipation Proclamation. More isolated geographically, Texas was not a battleground, and thus its slaves were not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation unless they escaped. Planters and other slaveholders had migrated into Texas from eastern states to escape the fighting, and many brought their slaves with them, increasing by the thousands the number of slaves in the state at the end of the Civil War.
By 1865, there were an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas. As news of end of the war moved slowly, it did not reach Texas until May 1865, and the Army of the Transmissisipi did not surrender until June 2. On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Ganner arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government. On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston's Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of "General Order No. 3", announcing the total emancipation of slaves.
June 19th 2015 was the 150th celebration of the emancipation of all slaves throughout the United States. There are legislative efforts to make this day a national holiday, and this year it was to become a reality. But this June 19th, this Juneteenth, was a day of national reeling and horror over the slaughter of nine African American Christians in their church Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina by a young white supremacist man seeking to punish, humiliate and provoke a race war.
The last several years have been very difficult for African Americans. The repeated killing of young, unarmed African American men and women has provoked numerous protests throughout the nation. There has been some backlash against police resulting in several shootings in restaurants and patrol cars, but the killing continues quite unabated against African Americans. The massacre in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, killing many pastors and community leaders sent shock waves throughout the city, nation and the world.
The response by the families of the victims has been what many in the baffled media call "remarkable."
At the first Sunday after the shooting, the Pastor said in his sermon, "This is Fathers Day, and if you knew our Daddy, then our response is like his." The people of Charleston took to the streets for a unity march. They refuse to let this horror separate them and cause a race war.
Each continent and people has a special task and gift to bring the world. In the fabric of American society, each group of immigrants contributes the best of their heritage to the collective whole of our culture. As the deed of Christ was to bring the awareness that all people are equal in the eyes of the Creator, and all have forgiveness and salvation simply for the asking, our deepest Christian ideal is to recognize the Universal Human in all whom we meet. This is actually the exceptionalism that the United States of America is supposed to model for the world, that a community of free and equal beings can coexist and prosper together.
The traditional African Americans ancestors did not come to the American shores voluntarily. They came in chains, against their wills, torn from families and communities to face brutality that they never knew existed. It is upon their labor that the United States became an economic power as a young nation.
But the greatest gift the African Americans gave to the United States was that of endurance and Grace. They embraced Christianity and the Church flourished during slavery and after emancipation.
The Africans have consistently been a mirror to American culture, and through their sacrifice have made us a better society. Their sacrifice furthered the concept of what it truly means to be a human being, to be full citizens. From slavery to the civil rights movement, the African Americans have pushed us to be the best we can be, to make justice for all people the cause.
The death of four little girls in Alabama, killed in their Sunday School class, forced a nation to reckon with giving full citizenship to all of it's people. Before this, few were paying attention, but the humanity of the loss allowed many who were looking away or openly resisting change, to soften.
The loss of these nine people, and the response of their families and their congregation is the next call for our nation to model our exceptionalism as a people to the rest of the world. The purpose of forgiveness is to allow us to go forward. Christ's death and resurrection actually set the record straight. It is we who hang on, insisting on revenge, of listing our wounds and grievances, wanting punishment for transgressions.
Within the American culture, those with dark skin are marginalized, beaten, killed, and have their lives and rights given lesser status. It is easy to do this when you do not see the humanity in them, to say they are lazy thugs deserving of violence and poverty. Black Church burnings have happened as long as there have been Black Churches. Evil tries to demoralize by striking at the heart of any people's structures.
Evil does not happen without our participation. In my soon to be published book, I explore this in the following excerpt:
1. "Alfred Schutze, a German Christian Community priest wrote a book on the nature of evil in the modern era. The Enigma of Evil (English edition by Floris Books, 1978,) was first written in 1969 when Europe was still reeling from the discoveries of World War II and in the throws of the Vietnam War era. The essence of his message is that when the ego and “I” forces are weak; a vacuum is created in the human soul. This vacuum is easily inhabited by malevolent spiritual beings. He likens people who perpetrate crimes such as genocide, as being possessed. “If spiritual emptiness is not filled in a way appropriate to man through his own spiritual ego – strengthening, it is used by demons as a gateway for their assault….If the spiritual member is forced out of its harmony with soul and body, the inescapable tendency exists to draw in a spirituality from outside……………… We experienced the first terrible results of demonic possession in the deeds of concentration camps. They were not caused by a normal lapse of morality in weak individuals but must be seen in their context of the general human situation. Nothing is really gained by punishing such people for this is less a matter of morality and law than of ministry and medicine………… Paul’s words acquire distressing importance for our time: “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:1) The Enigma of Evil pg. 85-86. The solution to this prevalent climate of evil is to, as Christ said, “Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation.” (Matthew 26:41) We are to be awake and fully consciousness to have a strong ego and sense of ourselves as individuals thinking our own thoughts, using our wills to access the Christ and to choose morality even in the greatest of temptations. Only when we have such a strong ego, a sense of our own “I” which Christ gave us the capacity to have, can we freely choose to resist evil and choose morality instead.
The pastor of Emanuel AME Church said in his sermon that people expected a riot in response to the massacre. He replied, "they do not know us."
The example set by these amazing people is the model of the next step we are to take as a nation and as a family of humanity. To meet evil with love, injustice with endurance and commitment to transformation. The sacrifice may be what it takes to make us a truly Beloved Community on earth. It is causing great reflection, it has humanized and created empathy for the humanity of those who are different than us.
We have a long way to go, the wounds are deep, but this horror may make the culture look at the vacuum that exists in many people's souls where the adversaries lie in wait to inspire evil actions. In this case, the isolated young man who filled his soul with hate, he has been met with love and unity. Now, the culture needs to acknowledge how it creates the atmosphere where so many of it's precious members live in constant fear and endless humiliation because of the color of their skin.
This will not be an easy fix, it will not be a quick solution, but our hearts have been primed through deep searing pain to be open to the beauty and suffering of the other.
Divinity takes many forms. Externals are just that, external. What lies behind the physical world is eternal. We are invited to joy when we recognize and honor the Christ in each person we meet.
May we honor these nine sacrifices for the betterment of our collective culture. May we learn from the courageous acts of their families, and may we all look at how we contribute to the problem no matter how insignificant, so that evil can never take hold of an isolated person again to inspire such a painful act. It is only through forgiveness and the seeking of forgiveness that we can truly be free. This may lead to the deep full emancipation of humanity, if only we let it. Without forgiveness, endless cycles of pain will happen.
Blessings on our collective journey of the heart!
To hear the inspiring sermon, go to https://youtu.be/_7T7QQ90Jtk