This Sunday, we celebrate Juneteenth.
Made a local observance by Diocesan Convention 2020, Juneteenth commemorates the good news of the Emancipation Proclamation, brought to the people of Galveston, TX, in 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln’s address. While the news is good, we lament the delay in sharing it and how its promise of freedom remains unfulfilled.
In October 2021, Grace Cathedral joined our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Diocese of California Bishop Marc Andrus in endorsing the movement to end slavery for good. We know that people convicted of crimes continue to work for the benefit of prisons and private companies while incarcerated. To correct this injustice, we must change the law and remove the clauses from the California Constitution and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that allow involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime.
We need to end slavery for good. “For good” has two meanings — first, the end, goodbye, and good riddance. The second is good in mind: good values, practices, reasons, and outcomes. What is good about the movement to end slavery?
It’s good ethics. Christian ethics are discerned by weighing scripture and tradition, the whole of human knowledge and experience, and balancing ends and means. In our public commitment to end slavery for good, we join the Presiding Bishop and General Convention of The Episcopal Church. We proclaim the values of our scripture and tradition to say justice should also be humane and that slavery has no place in our national life.
It’s good bipartisanship. Our church has a tradition of finding a middle way, a mean between extremes. While we sometimes mirror the political leanings of our liberal to the progressive milieu, this is not a partisan position. The movement to end slavery for good crosses the political divide, with states like Utah taking the lead. Our advocacy creates conditions for healing both in our criminal justice system and our fractious political environment.
It’s good rehabilitation. Throughout federal prisons, work is required unless there is a medical exception. Prisoners who do not work are punished, including the denial of family visits. This model has not prepared and cannot prepare prisoners for successful re-entry into society. This unjust justice system contributes to recidivism. But real and just work inside prisons equips people for real and just work outside the criminal justice system.
There’s no question that ending slavery for goodwill upends the status quo in prisons and presents immediate operational challenges. But operations are derivative of values, and questions of implementation are best resolved when there is a commitment to foundational principles. They are how questions, not if or whether. It’s right, and it’s time to end slavery for good.
In the coming days, we have a chance to make state history and move a constitutional amendment (ACA3) from its deliberation in the Senate to the popular vote in the November 2022 ballot. The Senate must do this by June 30, 2022, or the good news will be delayed yet again.
Let’s help deliver good news. Here’s what to do:
- Size up the issue with this new infographic.
- Then contact your state senator, let them know that you care about ending slavery for good, and urge them to advance ACA3.
See you in church,
The Rev. Canon Anna E. Rossi
Director of Interfaith Engagement