Our Legacy of Slavery
Soon it will again be June 19 ( “Juneteenth”) — the day we remember the legacy of US slavery, and celebrate the liberation of African Americans from that enslavement. How many of us will remember?
People of faith need to wrestle with the slaveholding histories of our predecessors: Devout adherents of every major spiritual tradition have held slaves.
- How do we account for these rationalizations, and these violations of the humane imperative at the core of our founding prophets and avatars teachings?
- What is it, in our various traditions, that allowed — or even enabled — such inhumane conduct and thought?
- Does that potential to condone violence and oppression remain in place?
- Do we understand what it is?
What are we doing (if anything) to guard against other inhumane misapplications of our faith traditions, in the future?
Slavery existed when our ancient prophets walked the earth. Few of them directly called for universal emancipation, although early followers may have been inspired to liberate their own slaves. In most cases, movements for emancipation developed centuries afterward, premised on longstanding, but imperfectly implemented, spiritual teachings of justice, mercy and universal human solidarity.
But not at the time. In fact, the movement for universal emancipation was driven more decisively by secular ethical and political awakening grounded in science and modernity, than by spiritual tradition. Are we willing to be honest with ourselves about this history?