As we recently saw an anniversary of signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, I reflected on how this document relates to me, a fourth-generation descendant of slave owners. When I first discovered my ancestors kept slaves, I was mortified, guilt-ridden, and apologetic for my family’s participation in such an inhumane practice. For many years I denied that the blood of those I considered oppressors flowed through my veins.
However, as I have grown in age and I hope wisdom, I’ve come to realize that guilt and apologies are less than useful when attempting to turn social tides. I can do nothing about my family’s past. I can, however, be grateful for the intervention of the American leaders who declared slavery illegal. And I look at that intervention as a ticket to freedom, not only for my black brothers and sisters, but for my family members who otherwise may not have thrown off the yoke of this grave sin against God and mankind. When the Proclamation granted slaves their freedom, those who felt they “owned” them were forced to realign their social, economic and cultural values through lenses of equality, humanity, and justice. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was not the only factor responsible for the abolition of slavery, it brought about a new order calling for my ancestors to revisit and reset the moral compass they previously had sailed by.
Today more than ever all people, including Christians and church leaders, are charged with shining light on, and calling into question, unjust and inhumane practices. We must always remember our past, not in the impotent postures of guilt or denial of one’s heritage, but by way of challenging ourselves and our society to personally and collectively revisit, and perhaps reset, the moral compasses we sail by. I believe that in this way, we will begin to see God’s love and justice become elemental components of the blood that will one day flow through the veins of our descendants.
Copyright October, 2013
Lakewood, CO 80401