A Pastoral Message on Juneteenth, the Emanuel Nine, and the fight for voting rights

The following message was shared first with the community of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

Beloved Community,

If you are here in Chicago this weekend and have any occasion to be downtown you are sure to notice that the skyline has been lit red in honor of Juneteenth. This holiday commemorates the date in 1865 on which the news of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, which outlawed slavery, finally reached the state of Texas. You may also have read that Governor Pritzker declared Juneteenth an Illinois state holiday this week and that the United States Senate has passed a bill to make it a national holiday as well.

I cannot help but notice the coincidental correspondence between the color red that is associated with Juneteenth and the Church’s use of the color red to mark the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. For those of us who are Lutheran, we may associate red with not only Pentecost but with Reformation Day as well. That seems fitting. On Reformation Day we recognize that the good news of God’s loving, liberating, and life-giving Word is always coming to us anew, breaking through our broken institutions and expectations. On Juneteenth, or Freedom Day as it is sometimes called, we are reminded of the ongoing and tragic gap between the promise of freedom and its fulfillment.

The color red serves another purpose in the Church’s calendar of festivals and commemorations, signifying dates dedicated to martyrs. Tomorrow (June 17) has been named a day for commemoration of the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine, the nine people who were killed at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina on that date by a White supremacist as they gathered for bible study and prayer. We are called on this day to remember their names, mourn their deaths, and recommit ourselves to dismantling racism within the Church and throughout society.

We remember their names: Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Lee Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

Next Monday, June 21 marks the anniversary of three other martyrs – Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner – who were kidnapped and murdered on that date in 1964 while working to register African American people to vote in Mississippi. Today voting rights are once again under attack in our nation and people of faith have a role to play in the fight to protect and expand voting rights. To commemorate this day, and as part of a national effort on securing voting rights, I invite each of you to join me, Dr. Marvin Wickware, and a number of LSTC alumni from across Chicago at a public action in support of voting rights next Monday, June 21 at Chicago’s Federal Plaza at noon. You can find more information by following the link below.

To learn more: https://bit.ly/3zwf7Hi

Let us pray that God will hasten the day when the promise of freedom will be fulfilled throughout the world.

In Christ,

Pastor Erik

O God, in your divine mystery you embrace difference in unity, and you call your people to live in peace with all. We pray for an end to racial and ethnic prejudice. Free us from the dread of difference. Free the church from constricting traditions. Free our society from centuries of violence against the other. Break down the walls that separate your people by color, culture, or religion. Call us to repentance for our sins of racism and prejudice, known and unknown. Transform discrimination into a passion for justice. Guide us to nurture a society that embodies reconciliation and cooperation among all, for the sake of the one who embodies your love, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

— From, “All Creation Sings” © 2020, Augsburg Fortress

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