Thoughts on Juneteenth, 2015

On this date in 1865, black slaves in Texas learned they were free. The date has been celebrated as “Juneteenth” in Texas and elsewhere ever since. And now that same week, in another part of the Old South, a young man gives expression to his hatred and murders nine innocent people. Really? A hundred and fifty years later, this is where we still are as a nation?

What happened in South Carolina is not primarily an attack on Christianity; neither is it primarily about gun violence, although that’s the direction the politicians on the right and left are trying to spin it.

What happened is about race. It is about hate. And all Americans have to acknowledge it, and in humility ask if we are part of the problem, or part of the solution.

Some white Americans have got to stop pretending that institutional racism doesn’t exist, and admit that black people in this country have a long way to go, just to level the playing field. To quote Ann Richards, some folks are born on third base, and think they hit a triple.

Meanwhile, some black Americans have got to stop blaming white folks for every problem, and take some responsibility for their actions.

But I’m white, so let me speak to that side of things. Getting some whites to acknowledge the level of racism that still exists in this country is next to impossible. Want a very subtle example?

I see commercials all the time for prominent churches here in town, and all the folks are smiling, and seem genuinely warm and friendly. But when I look closer, I notice that all the people are white. And kids are overwhelmingly blonde. And judging by the way they’re dressed, they’re all comfortably middle-class. The unspoken, subliminal message is pretty clear – “You can come to church here, if you look like us and know how to act.”

I can feel some of you getting defensive. You might say, “We would welcome those people if they would come.”

We are all “those people.” Jesus came to find us. And He sent us to do the same. We’ve got to be intentional about building bridges and making friends, and quit waiting on other folks to make the first move. I’m pretty sure the Great Commission didn’t say, “Go into all the world and build pretty buildings, and welcome anyone who shows up.”
I remember as a young man when integrating schools and “forced busing to achieve racial desegregation” were the issues. And I remember the marches, and the race riots of the 1960s, and “We Shall Overcome.” And I remember a restroom marked “Whites Only.”Fifty years later, things are different. Sort of. As a white guy, it seems to me that things are better in some ways, and worse in others.I wish I knew what the answer was. I certainly realize that we won’t solve this until Jesus returns and brings the Kingdom in its fullness. But I don’t think that means we can sit around on our Blessed Assurance and do nothing until then. I don’t know what that answer is, but I know that it will take people of good character on both sides who are willing to talk. And listen.We need to be intentional about making friends with people who are not like us. We’re going to be in heaven with one another for an awfully long time. Maybe we ought to start getting to know one another before then.Let it begin with me.

The Content of One’s Character

Today is Juneteenth. That’s not a misprint. June 19 is the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Federal troops arrived in Texas after the War Between the States to announce that slavery had officially been abolished, and all former slaves were now free. The day has been remembered ever since, and known by its slang name, “Juneteenth.”

It seems an appropriate day to reflect upon the current state of race relations in this country.

Item: Cheerios recently began airing a really cute commercial involving a beautiful little girl, her white mom and her black dad. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a link:

Cheerios received so much hate mail after it began airing that they had to disable comments on the YouTube page where it was posted. It’s worth noting that there were hateful comments being posted by both white and black viewers.

Item: Before a recent San Antonio Spurs NBA game, a little Hispanic boy in full Mariachi costume sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” Twitter erupted in a furious barrage of hateful racist comments. Never mind that the boy’s family are legal citizens, and that San Antonio as a city is older than the American republic, and has a long history of bi-racial culture.

These two incidents point out to me that although this country has indeed made great strides in pursuing liberty and justice for all, we still have a long way to go. Yes, America has a black president, and Texas has an hispanic senator, but we’re not there yet.

(And I should point out that simply criticizing the president does NOT make one a racist. There are plenty of people who object to his policies, not his skin color. That is not the issue I’m addressing here.)

I guess my point is that while “official” racism, Jim Crow laws, and the like are a thing of the past, racism now is more subtle and in some ways, harder to notice. And it requires a more diligent effort on the part of people of good conscience to see it and to work to eliminate it. (If you want to read more about a memory of mine about old school official racism, see my post from last week, “Grayburg Memories.”)

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pointed out that the most challenging part of the civil rights struggle was NOT the vicious, hate-filled speech of the bigots; rather, it was what he called “the appalling silence of the good people” who saw what was going on, yet chose to remain silent.

It’s not enough to say, “Well, I don’t even notice a person’s skin color.” We must work to do more – even to go out of our way to help.

When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?,” He responded with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Someone of a different ethnic background, a different social class, a different religion, yet going out of his way to reach out to another person. Note, too, that as far as the behavior of the “religious” people in the story, their response to the need in front of them was an #epicfail.

President George W. Bush and others have observed that 11:00 AM on Sunday mornings is still the most segregated hour in America. People of good will of all races must work to change that, to bring about the multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-generational Kingdom of God. It doesn’t come by our own efforts, that’s true – it comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. But we can certainly hinder it from coming, just as the lack of faith on the part of the people in Nazareth hindered Jesus from being able to very much in their midst.

Let us have the spiritual courage to pray for God to open our eyes to whatever prejudice or hatred may be in our hearts, and for the faith to work to build bridges rather than walls. Let us seek out others of good will, that we may be a witness to the lost of the essential Oneness of God’s people, no longer slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, but all one in Christ.

Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me.

Happy Juneteenth!