As the calendar turned this year, I was reminded of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. By signing this Proclamation, the legal status of more than three-million slaves in the Confederate states in the south (those states which seceded from the American states during the Civil War, from 1861-1865), changed from slave to free. In conjunction with this historic signing, churches in the north held candlelight vigils honoring and commemorating this event.
Four brief matters to note.
First, a Presidential proclamation, an executive order, was issued to overturn an evil against human beings. As Christians, we recognize governments are put into place by God and are “God’s servant for your good,” that is the good of all, not a few. We are thankful when human laws reflect key truths about human dignity and worth revealed in God’s law.
Second, even though a law was signed stating these slaves were free, the immediate effect of this law did not result in the freedom for all these slaves. We also know that even if a law is in effect, as important as that is, it does not mean a person will be looked at or treated equally, as a fellow image-bearer of God. History is replete with examples of this, which continues to this day.
Third, the churches in the north set aside time, both purposefully and intentionally, to thank the Lord for the passing of this law, for they believed this human Presidential proclamation upheld God’s law about the worth and dignity, the equality of all, that all humanity is created in the imago Dei, and this ought to be upheld and celebrated. It is also true that churches ought to engage in vigils of sorrow and grief and repentance when God’s laws and commands are not reflected in human laws, and when the imago Dei is undermined or not acknowledged in the life of the other.
Fourth, and to move into the present day, the last couple of years have reflected increased racial tensions, indicating the issue is not ultimately the law. Rather, the problem is with the human heart. In a posture of prayer, trusting in the kind providence of God, may this be the year that the church of Jesus Christ reflects the reality of the new heavens and new earth in the realm of race relations, and may we in the EFCA, by his grace and for his glory, humbly and courageously, dependently on God and interdependently on one another, lead the way in our orthodoxy and our orthopraxy, in our belief and our behavior, in our teaching and our living.