The United Kingdom is credited for being the first major world power to outlaw slavery. With the leadership of William Wilberforce, an evangelical member of the Church of England and student of John Newton (evangelical Anglican clergyman and author of Amazing Grace), Britain’s first legislation in 1807 laid the foundation of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act.
In the United States, abolitionists had been active in ending the slave trade for years and began to organize so as to pass legislation as early as 1798. Since becoming the 15th State in 1792, Kentucky has had an unusual history with regard to abolition and civil rights. Complicated as this history might be, it was not complicated for a group of Christians meeting just outside of Paris, Kentucky at Cane Ridge. The site of the original camp meeting that formed the “Christian Church” portion of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) movement, the Cane Ridge Meeting House, like many houses of worship on the frontier, had a loft/balcony in the long cabin church for slaves. While the nation and the world continued its relentless march toward civil war and the ultimate end of slavery with the 13th Amendment in 1865, the Christians gathering at Cane Ridge had removed their balcony in the early 1820’s.
Even so, our past has not always been stellar with regard to abolition and civil rights. One of our founders, Alexander Campbell, while serving in the House of Burgess in what was then Virginia, argued for a “gradual emancipation” of the African slave so as to prepare both the emancipated slave and the southern economy for this new social order. Of course, this sounded reasonable to everyone except the slave. Yet, even in moments of uncertainty, by God’s grace, we have reminded ourselves of the radical equality of the Lord’s Table and consequently, the Lord’s Church.
For almost a half century, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has intentionally worked to address the racism of our society and the racism within our own church. We have called this process the Reconciliation Mission. Over the next two weeks, we will receive our annual free-will offering for Reconciliation. These funds make it possible to support mission work in urban and rural areas that address not only the cause, but also the effects of racism. This voluntary annual offering is the only source of funding for this ministry.
With the number of ethnic congregations being added to our Church growing and the increased numbers of African American, Latino/a and Pacific Asian members within our Church, the need for this ministry has become a vital means to ensure the strength and unity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).