Resource links at end of post.
Juneteenth is a day on our home calendar that represents education and celebration. It is a day to remind ourselves of the atrocious delay in emancipating the last of the slaves, two years after the proclamation. A day to drink strawberry soda and look back through historical records of the celebrations.
Juneteenth is not a day of endings. The emancipation proclamation consisted of words on paper. Important words. But words all the same. They had to be enacted–acted out–in order to hold power. Juneteenth marks the final acting out of the first promise in those words. But not the final promise.
Every day this June we receive more news of children in cages built with chainlink walls and ever-present light and sexual assault and isolation and discipline for socialization and lack of comfort, of stimulation, of humanity.
I don’t feel like celebrating a win one hundred fifty-three years old. Not when we should be emancipating children from cages today. From the all-powerful authority figures who demean, assault, and neglect them. From a place designed with torture in mind. And an administration bartering children’s lives, physical and psychological, for a wall.
My children and I will still remember Juneteenth. And while we drink our strawberry soda we will make phone calls and write letters and make a plan for how we can help bring about a new emancipation.
There is another important thing we will do. We will set right (again) in our own household the meaning of our religion. This is what I will tell them.
Romans 13 has been used by this administration to quell resistance and criticize those who reject its authority. The passage has been used through the ages by governments or authorities to subject people to all kinds of heinous crimes, including slavery. But Paul wrote, as usual, to a very specific circumstance: zealots who argued that there was no authority but God and used that to avoid paying taxes.
When the circumstance was different–concerning the spread of the gospel and a healing–Peter and John said to the council seeking to silence them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” [Acts 4: 19-20]
Going back to Paul, he admonished the Galatians that there is no law against acting in the spirit of God: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Galatians 5: 22-23]
In Matthew 25: 34-45, Jesus clarified the expectation for his followers and their treatment of others:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers*, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
I will tell my children that we each must make a decision about who to follow. Do we take one set of verses about paying taxes and allow it to quiet us into the mistreatment of humans, or do we take the whole of the Bible and resist evil, do good? As Christians, we are ultimately answerable to God. He is the ultimate authority. And his law is simple and clear.
People throughout time have tried to complicate it. Have tried to place some hierarchy on sin. There is a hierarchy, but it is on commands of action. There are two laws above all laws. Because they elucidate, demonstrate, and explain all the rest.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor** as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. [Matthew 22: 36-40]
- Love God.
- Love your neighbor.
That’s it. That’s the crux of all the law and the prophets.
As for me, I resist. I resist the caging of children. I resist the separation of children from their parents for no greater reason than stepping over an imaginary line on the ground. I resist the confusion and spectacle of this administration. I resist this administration’s use of my religion to harm people. I resist.
*Brother was used in both the old and the new testaments to mean a natural sibling, a near relation, a countryman, a follower, a colleague, or a fellow human.
**For a new testament definition of neighbor, read Luke 10: 25-37.