Freedom Fugitives —
By Shannon Vowell
I write on June 19th or “Juneteenth,” the newest federal holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates the day – June 19, 1865 – when news of Union victory and universal emancipation finally reached Galveston, Texas, by way of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and 1,800 federal troops.
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was, at this point, two and half years old. The Civil War had been over nearly two months; emancipation had been the law of the whole land since April.
But it was news to the enslaved persons of Galveston.
The whole world had changed – their whole world had been liberated – and they had had no idea.
Contemplate that a moment, if you will: People whose entire lives had been held hostage to a demonic lie – that they were less than people, that they could be “owned” by people, that there was no hope of escape – remained hostage to that lie even after it had been repudiated at the cost of 620,000 war dead (including one assassinated President).
Freedom had been hard fought and hard won, at astronomical costs in blood and tears… but they had persisted, week after week, in slavery.
It strikes me that there is a corollary to this tragic paradox in Christianity today.
People whose entire lives are held hostage to various demonic lies – that they are less than other people, that they can be “owned” by their own appetites and emotions, that there is no hope of escape – remain hostage to those lies even though they were repudiated at the cost of the crucified Messiah.
Freedom has been hard fought and hard won, at astronomical costs in blood and tears… but some persist, week after week, in slavery.
Jesus’s words, “it is finished,” were the Emancipation Proclamation for the whole of humanity.
Jesus’s resurrection was the decisive victory on behalf of all of humankind.
But many – too many – live like the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, lived between April 9, 1865 (the end of the Civil War) and June 19, 1865 (the arrival of the news of that ending):
Our absolute freedom has been won; it is the law of the universe. Our shackles and our despair are completely out of alignment with reality. But we live like we have no idea.
News travelled slowly in 1865. Long distance travel, particularly in the west and the deep south, was dangerous for all kinds of reasons – including lack of water, wild animals, and hostile people armed with effective weaponry.
But Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his 1,800 federal troops made the long, hot, dry, hazardous trip to Galveston because the news that they carried was a matter of transcendent importance and urgent application.
They brought truth that literally set people free! Such truth made the challenges of bringing it look negligible by comparison.
That, too, has a Christian corollary: Are those of us who understand we are free willing to face the challenges of bringing that good news to those who are still under the impression they are enslaved?
What challenges do we face, friends?
Hostile people armed with effectively weaponized words.
But we have the Living Water – and we have the full armor of God! How can we falter, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his 1,800 federal troops did not?
Many of us are familiar with the story of Japanese Lieutenant Hiroo Onada.
He was stationed on the island of Lubang during the final months of World War II. After evading capture by American troops, he remained in hiding in the jungle – determined to hold the island for the Emperor, as ordered, and convinced that the war was still in process – for thirty years.
Declared dead in 1959, Onada finally returned to Japan in 1974. He received a hero’s welcome and was eulogized as recently as 2021 (in the film Onada: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle).
My guess is that he would trade all the attention and acclaim to get back even a few of those precious years wasted in the jungle.
Several Christian corollaries here, too, intricately entangled with the Juneteenth truths:
- Can Christians inadvertently engage in wars that are already won?
- Can we mistakenly hunker down in jungles, pouring out our lives in defending territory that doesn’t matter a bit to our King?
- Can we operate under such anachronistic assumptions that even our noblest sacrifices amount to, well, a waste of time?
I think we can. I think sometimes we do. And I think the single biggest reason that Onada stayed stuck as long as he did is also the single biggest reason that we stay stuck as long as we sometimes do: isolation.
Onada was all by himself in the jungle. There were no voices besides his own to offer alternative perspectives or to argue from a different logical vantage point. A monologue rarely reveals new insights.
One conversation with his Emperor – a few words! – and Onada would have caught up with reality and been free to go live his life pursuing purposes that actually mattered. In the absence of that one conversation, thirty years wasted, off task.
We Christians can achieve similar effects by isolating ourselves – in person, online – so that the only voices we ever encounter are those whose perspectives and logical vantage points mirror our own. Like monologues, echo chambers tend inexorably toward exaggeration and obsolescence.
One conversation with King Jesus – a few words! – and we can catch up with reality and be freed to go live life pursuing purposes that actually matter. In the absence of such conversation, we cannot help but waste our time and substance, off task.
Onada had no idea the war was over. The whole world had changed, and he had had no idea.
The enslaved people of Galveston had no idea that they were free. The whole world had changed, and they had had no idea.
What about us?
Do we understand that we are free? Do we live as free people – demonstrating and declaring the goodness of the One Who purchased our freedom?
Do we understand that the war is won? Do we fight the good fight in that knowledge?
Juneteenth matters so much.
It matters because it’s an opportunity to celebrate the principles of freedom and justice for all, which this nation continues to strive to perfect.
It matters because it’s history – and we have to remember accurately who we have been, if we are going to vision effectively who we want to become.
It also matters because it points beyond American freedom, to the freedom Christ purchased once, for all, on the Cross.
We have heard the unbelievably good news: we are free!
Let’s live into our freedom, share the news of that freedom with everyone else, and stay in constant contact with our King, so that we can align all our efforts with His orders.
Praise God for Juneteenth!
And praise God for the freedom that lasts beyond any and all holidays and transcends any and all borders…
Freedom for now. Freedom forever. Praise God!
Shannon Vowell, a frequent contributor to Good News, blogs at shannonvowell.com. She is the author of Beginning … Again: Discovering and Delighting in God’s Plan for your Future, available on Amazon.