“Erected by the men and women and children of DeKalb County to the memory of the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy of whose virtues in peace and in war we are witnesses to the end that justice may be done and that the truth perish not.”

Last night those words were fulfilled in a way that their author never could have predicted as the Confederate monument in Decatur’s town square came down. Justice was finally done and the truth was proclaimed.

That truth is that the memorial, erected is 1908 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was a monument to the sin of slavery and those who were willing to commit treason to preserve it. And every day African Americans and other citizens who are repulsed by the sinful past were forced to walk by that monument glorifying it. For years Decatur residents had tried to have the monument removed, but state law prohibits the removal of Confederate memorials. However, earlier this month Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger declared it a “public nuisance” and ordered it be brought down.

The timing of the removal, shortly before midnight, was a fitting prelude to today’s Juneteenth observance. Today is the 155th anniversary of the ending of slavery in this country. On this date in 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free, two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

All these years later we are still dealing with the legacy of slavery, the systemic racism that still plagues our country. Taking down a monument to hate and the worst of our history, putting up a banner in front of our church proclaiming that Black Lives Matter are symbols. Some may say they are “only” symbols, but symbols matter. They remind us of what we hold dear, what we honor and proclaim to be true. 

I offer this Juneteenth prayer for our nation, that was put out by the national Church:

God of freedom, you have made your faithfulness known from generation to generation. We celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the announcement in Texas on June 19, 1865, of the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Let us reflect on the jubilation that filled the hearts of women and men of African descent as they learned of their deliverance from the bondage of slavery, even as we mourn that the promise of true freedom has yet to be fulfilled. We pray now for all whose lives have been traumatized and remain threatened by the legacy of slavery and institutional racism in our nation. We know that the arc of history is long and that it bends toward justice. Help us to commit to the work of ending racism by building the beloved community where all are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character; in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

I also offer this reflection today from our bishop, Rob Wright:

June 19, 2020

The statement “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter” is entirely inadequate. It misses the mark by 401 years. “All Lives Matter” bears little resemblance to the lived reality of black and brown people since America’s founding. ALM is either tragically uninformed or dishonest about how our country with the church’s blessing and participation, has worked systematically, legally, economically, politically, academically, theologically and ecclesiastically to un-matter blacks lives.

Given the soaring words of scripture and our nation’s founding documents, the very need of a segment of the population to have to assert that they matter is the very evidence of the presence and success of this un-mattering. The need to cry out that one matters is a vivid failure of our fidelity to both holy scripture and our nation’s founding documents!

ALM is well intentioned but aspirational. Native, female, Hispanic, poor, immigrant, incarcerated and gay lives at present do not equally matter according to hiring, health care, wages, budgets, policies, policing, public services, public schools or political representation. 

But this inequity is just a symptom of a “…far deeper malady within the American spirit.” Black lives and other lives are being un-mattered because of the persistent implementation of sin that “ …so easily ensnares us.” Sin is the conscious and unconscious un-mattering of God, of one another and of our planet. 

In defiance of this human tendency to un-matter people, didn’t Jesus, all over Galilee, at the Cross and after his Resurrection, matter people? Isn’t that why his words and example continue to soften our hearts and save us from the status quo? 

If progress with integrity and spiritual wholeness are our goals, then we will have to summon up a supernatural amount of maturity to confess what we “have done and left undone,” and embark on a “revolution of values” with measurable outcomes.

So, by the Spirit’s power, let us continue to work to hurry-up the day when every American and every inhabitant of the planet can say “All lives Matter” and it be demonstrably true. Until then, justice, truth and fidelity demand that we stand with the un-mattered and affirm “Black Lives Matter.” 

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