Home Christian News Juneteenth Celebrations Teach History, Praise God for Freedom

Juneteenth Celebrations Teach History, Praise God for Freedom

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Texas African American History Memorial, Texas State Capitol, Austin Photo by Nick Amoscato, via Flickr

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. (BP) – Campus pastor Chris Ogden grew up in a “very white evangelical tradition,” but he shepherded multiethnic Horizon West Church to celebrate Juneteenth, the national holiday marking when Blacks enslaved in Galveston, Texas, were freed two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

His life experiences led him to appreciate the day. Through a youth ministry internship in Southern California, he was introduced to the writings of Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass and Ralph Abernathy.

“The last piece of that for me, my dad remarried in 2008 and the woman that he remarried had adopted several children and four of those children were African American.”

Suddenly, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Philando Castile, Eric Gardener and Trayvon Martin were personal.

“I started thinking if my brother Micah, who has intellectual disabilities and is a 6-foot-2, now a Black man,” Ogden said, “if he were walking the streets late at night like he sometimes does, that could be him. And the stereotypes that often go into policing and different things, and so all of that just kind of made those things seem a little bit personal.”

In Houston, Texas, about an hour from Juneteenth’s foundational event of June 19, 1865, senior pastor Steve Hall Sr. believes all churches have an opportunity to educate youth about racial injustices.

“One of the things that we try to do is to be an outlet for our congregation, our members, as well as the young folk especially, because they really don’t have the background that many of our older saints have, and that’s really my impetus for it,” said Hall, longtime pastor of Bethany Baptist Church SBC, a congregation of African Americans. “The 40 acres and a mule story, all of the history that goes along with some of our older saints, some of our babies they just don’t understand.

“They don’t understand the background with regards to reparations or even why that even came about. But for the most part, our efforts are to celebrate while we educate, and that’s probably my greatest theme to go along with it.”

Both churches held Juneteenth musical celebrations and on a limited scale, incorporated the message of Juneteenth into their Father’s Day sermons and celebrations. Bethany Baptist held a Gospel concert June 18. Horizon included a set of music by African American Gospel artists in its Sunday worship time and posted a Juneteenth message on the church’s Facebook page.

Horizon West, a campus of First Baptist Church of Orlando, is the result of the Easter 2021 merger of Horizon West and Oasis Community Church. The blended congregation is about 60 percent white, 20-25 percent Brazilian and Spanish-speaking groups, 5-10 percent Islanders from Trinidad and Jamaica and about 5 percent African American. The church leadership is ethnically mixed, with an African American campus director.

Ogden believes fellow Southern Baptists should also mark Juneteenth, especially in today’s cultural climate.

“There’s a very unfortunate, kind of reactionary sense in a large chunk of the white evangelical community as if the culture is forcing us to do racial equity work,” Ogden said. “And my argument is that unfortunately the white evangelical church has so failed to do that, that the Lord is almost rebuking us through culture. We shouldn’t be lagging behind.

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Diana Chandler is senior writer for Baptist Press.