By Lisa L. McGloiry
On July 4th of each year, our nation commemorates the United States Declaration of Independence, a national holiday that we’ve celebrated for 247 years. On June 19, our country will also observe Juneteenth — America’s youngest federal holiday signed into law in 2021.
Both July 4th and Juneteenth are similar in that they celebrate freedom in America. A time when we recognize our nation’s independence from Great Britain and the liberation of enslaved Black Americans.
How Does Juneteenth Differ from the Emancipation Proclamation?
President Abraham Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This document declared that all persons held as enslaved people within the United States, “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free” but was conditional on the Union winning the Civil War.
Unfortunately, the Emancipation Proclamation did not take full effect until two and a half years later. After the Civil war ended, there were still 250,000 enslaved people that did not know they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation until June 19, 1865. On that day, Union General Gordon Grander rode into Galveston, Texas, to announce to Black Americans that they were free and that the Union Army would enforce the President’s proclamation.
On December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S Constitution officially abolished slavery, declaring the practice unconstitutional. Even then, the 13th Amendment did not end discriminatory practices against Black Americans. Still, it did end slavery and was a huge stepping stone to guaranteeing equality for all Americans.
Why Should the Church Recognize Juneteenth and July 4th?
Juneteenth and July 4th are part of the fabric of American history. Both holidays recognize the birth of freedom of our nation and the liberty of Americans — a founding principle of our great country. As such, there is ample room for all Christian Americans to give both holidays the recognition they deserve.
While many Americans are still learning about the importance of Juneteenth, it is cause for celebration in the Church! The body of Christ reflects people from different backgrounds, nationalities, and ethnicities, including Black Americans. According to the 2020 Census and Pew Research, Black Americans represent 41.1 million people (12.4%) in the United States, and 79% are Christians. As such, Juneteenth allows everyone in the body of Christ to celebrate an event that changed the course of history and greatly impacted the lives of our Black brothers and sisters in Christ for generations to come.
On a spiritual note, we, Christ-followers, understand the importance of freedom from bondage. At one time, all of us were slaves to sin until Christ set us free. Just as when General Grander announced to the enslaved people of Texas that they had been freed from slavery, we too can remember the day when a pastor, friend, parent, or even a stranger, told us that we had been set free from the bondage to sin. While General Grander’s good news informed the slaves that they had been emancipated two years earlier, the greater Gospel message communicates that we were emancipated by Jesus over 2,000 years ago. Romans 8:2 says, “For, in Christ, the law of the Spirit of life has now set us free from the law of sin and death.” And Romans 12:15 encourages us to share in the joys of others.
Juneteenth represents a turning point in America when our nation chose to right the wrong of slavery and also serves as a reminder of God’s heart for all mankind. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” John 17:21 also reminds us of Jesus’s prayer to the Father: “all of them be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”