Two weeks ago I saw the movie “Selma”. A month ago, I saw an exhibit on the 13th amendment at the Huntington Library. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. It was passed by the Senate in 1864, then by the House in 1865. It was ratified by the required number of states on Dec. 6, 1865.
I learned at the exhibit that the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified by Kentucky in 1976. I also learned that the state of Mississippi began the process to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment in 1995 and the process was completed in 2013. It was an important action for these states to take: to recognize the folly of the past and make good on a core value expressed in the statement “all men (sic) are created equal”.
It is also a reminder to those of us living today that the legacy of slavery still lives as a dividing wall that must be dismantled brick by brick, stone by stone. Paul wrote of a dividing wall, “the hostility between us”, in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul claimed that Christ has broken it down, “for he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one.” Paul was writing about Gentiles and Jews, but his proclamation is true today for those of us living in the midst of racial divides that continue.
Paul was writing to people who experienced the divide, calling them to live into the unity that Christ provides us. It is not an easy unity. It is a unity that requires those of us who live with the legacy of white privilege recognize those who live with the legacy of slavery.
The fact that some Southern states did not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment until recently should be food for thought. It should teach those of us reticent to learn that race matters still. No one is color blind. This is the world as it is.
Paul’s exhortation reminds us that as Christians, we have a ministry to live into the world as God intends it to be. This work is difficult, risky work. And while we have come a long way since Selma, we must never tire of the work to which Christ calls us: remove the dividing walls with his help and by his grace – brick by brick, stone by stone, conversation by conversation.