Juneteenth – A Special Day for All
A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long. (Psalm 23, NRSV)
I have heard the words of the 23rd Psalm all of my life, but I hear them brand new when they come to me through the voices of my black sisters and brothers. In just a few weeks, we will all have the opportunity to celebrate Juneteenth together – many of us in a special way as we gather for our Annual Conference on that day. Do you know what Juneteenth is? I am among many who believe this should be declared a national holiday in our United States. It should be a deeply emotional and spiritual day. Juneteenth, short for June Nineteenth, marks the day in our history when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to guarantee that all enslaved people be freed. This came two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, legally ending slavery in the United States. Most consider it to be the longest running African American holiday. I believe it should be a holy-day of the entire country, so that we never forget what a terrible violence was once considered acceptable to many in our culture. Juneteenth should be observed by all, as a national shame but also a promise for a different future.
Forty-seven of our fifty states have made Juneteenth a state holiday, including Wisconsin. There are many wonderful celebrations with music and speeches and great food, awareness raising, educating, and commemorating freedom, in principle. For freedom did not come with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, nor with Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day, or any of the other historic Juneteenth celebrations. Juneteenth does not celebrate victory, but a shift in a worldview that once saw people as property, races valued differently, and bigotry and prejudice as normal. Juneteenth does not just celebrate an ending – the cessation of slavery – but the hope and promise of a new life, a life yet to be realized for millions of black people.
Our Wisconsin Conference is committed to radical inclusion and racial justice. This is not a theme, nor is it an empty claim. We will make changes in the way we do our work in the Wisconsin Conference to reflect that this is our priority and our greatest shared value. Racial justice in a culture that allows anti-Asian, anti-Black, anti-Hmong, anti-Latinx, anti-immigrant, and anti-fringe minority thinking and behavior is radical in its very nature. Three meanings of the word radical apply: from the roots, in the extreme, and revolutionary, all have currency in our vision for the future.
At our very roots as United Methodists we are a people defined by God’s redeeming grace, dedicated to justice and mercy for all people. We are at our roots a people grounded in unconditional love and unbounded tolerance for difference. From our roots grow the core values of compassion, forgiveness, welcome, and kindness. We do not always, or many times often, live fully from our roots, but they are our roots, nonetheless. With nurture and care, we can regrow from these sacred roots.
Our radical inclusion must be extreme; it must define us, and we should be known globally as the church for all people, with all people, of all people. Racial justice must not simply be one priority among many; it should be our top priority. We must work together in new ways to ensure that all people are fairly treated, kindly treated, respectfully treated, and equitably treated.
Lastly, our radical inclusion is revolutionary. We are committed to dismantling racism throughout our entire connectional system. We will work constantly to eradicate racism and all of its toxic impacts. We will strive to build in its place a beloved community for all that has seldom been seen on our earth. We will strive not just for reconciliation and restoration, but reparations and healing. We will repent of all injustice that has come before with a renewed commitment to create a future that honors, respects, and celebrates all races, nations, ethnicities, and languages.
This is my invitation to you this year – attend and observe Juneteenth services and celebrations, either (safely) in person or online. Let this be both a symbolic and a practical act of solidarity with our black siblings seeking to create beloved community in our country and world. And reflect again on the words of the Psalmist, meditating on what these words might mean to a people enslaved, a people dispossessed, a people disrespected and violently treated – people who are our brothers and sisters seeking their placed in beloved community for all. This is my prayer and my hope.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).