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Squires: Frederick Douglass pursued freedom so that black people could have dignity. Eric Adams fights so that black students have drag queens.

Op-ed
Historical / Contributor, Pool / Pool | Getty Images

Juneteenth has been surrounded by a cloud of partisanship in recent years since it was rapidly transformed from local celebrations, mainly in Texas, to a federal holiday in the wake of George Floyd’s death. On one side are activists who see the United States as a white supremacist country that needs a new flag, anthem, and Independence Day. On the other are conservatives who reject the essence of the holiday because they think it is being used to further divide the country.

While Juneteenth has been celebrated in Texas for decades to commemorate the end of slavery in that state, news of the Emancipation Proclamation contained in Union General Gordon Granger’s General Order No. 3 did not end legalized slavery in America. Two Union border states – Delaware and Kentucky – did not formally end slavery until the 13th Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865. In fact, Delaware did not ratify the 13th Amendment until 1901, almost 40 years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Like much of American history – especially when it comes to race – Juneteenth is complicated. It shouldn’t be that way because Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating the most important American value: freedom. But like all values, freedom is not neutral. In this context it implies being released from one thing in order to pursue another.

The formerly enslaved used their newfound liberty to rebuild their families, create businesses, fight honorably in foreign wars, lead social organizations, birth political movements, and march for equal citizenship. The black freedom struggle of the 19th and 20th centuries was a testament to what liberated people can do, epitomized by a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

King’s understanding of the moral universe makes sense to me as a Christian, but New York City Mayor Eric Adams shows how quickly that arc bends into a boomerang when stripped of the biblical definitions of morality and justice.

Adams tweeted, “Drag storytellers, and the libraries and schools that support them, are advancing a love of diversity, personal expression, and literacy that is core to what our city embraces.” He followed up with another tweet saying that schools should be used to “educate” students on LGBT issues. His admission is in stark contrast to the Democrats across the country who denied this type of indoctrination was taking place as they protested the Parental Rights in Education bill in Florida during their “Don’t Say Gay” campaign.

Adams, who is black, is one of the highest-profile Democrats to come out and publicly support the practice of using schools – and taxpayer dollars – to promote gender ideology to children, often without the consent of parents.

His race is only important to the extent it shows that racial identity politics are often a smokescreen for radicalism in America today. Hiram Revels was a Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from Mississippi in 1870 and the first black person to serve in Congress. He pushed for equal citizenship for freedmen during the Reconstruction era as well as the reintegration of ex-Confederates into American society, as long as they pledged loyalty to the Union.

Eric Adams is the second black mayor of New York City. His political interests and instincts align more with the liberal white wine moms of the Upper West Side than the working-class black families in Queens and Brooklyn who powered his mayoral campaign.

There is no way Frederick Douglass could ever have imagined that his work to abolish slavery would eventually lead to the mayor of America’s largest city promoting drag queen story hour to low-income students. He pursued freedom for the right reason.

“As colored men, we only ask to be allowed to do with ourselves, subject only to the same great laws for the welfare of human society which apply to other men, Jews, Gentiles, Barbarian, Sythian. Let us stand upon our own legs, work with our own hands, and eat bread in the sweat of our own brows.”

The fight against chattel slavery and segregation was built on the biblical principle that every person is created in the image of God. The sexual revolution, gay rights movement, legalized abortion, third-wave feminism, and the trans movement reject biblical teaching about the nature of mankind in favor of a twisted form of individual transgressive libertarianism.

The Bible says that there are false prophets who promise freedom but are themselves “slaves of corruption.” It also says that people who abandon the knowledge of God and entangle themselves in sin are in a worse position than if they never knew God’s commandments in the first place.

We are a nation enslaved to sin and too prideful to see our confusion. No generation, country, or political party has a monopoly on immorality, but there are important distinctions that point to different stages of cultural devolution.

Prostitution is commonly called the “world’s oldest profession” because of its prevalence in every culture since the beginning of time. There is a significant difference between it being done secretly in the privacy of a person’s home, in the back of someone’s car in violation of the law, and openly on every other street corner in the town square with the full support of legislators, businesses, and celebrities.

The act is the same in all three places, but the increasing levels of acceptance and promotion are indicative of a culture in decline. Christina Aguilera recently wore a strap-on during an L.A. Pride performance. That type of behavior will cost her nothing. Public support for the next Republican candidate for president, however, would cost her everything.

A nation that has no shame over gross moral misconduct and that socially censures differences in political opinion is one in which disease is the default state of the body politic. It is the inevitable result of promoting darkness in the daylight and forcing the light into hiding.

This is why getting a politician or pundit on MSNBC to say that every school deserves a drag queen story hour is easy, but getting one to say every child deserves a mother and father is hard.

Freedom without restraint is bondage. For much of this nation’s history, those boundaries were religious in nature. Even if you did not attend church, theft, murder, and adultery were all serious moral failures because the Judeo-Christian influence over the culture created an assumed center.

Americans have largely replaced religion with politics, and that evolution has changed the “closet” in our culture. Every society promotes certain beliefs, behaviors, and practices and penalizes others. The question is not whether certain things go in the closet, but which things go inside.

The LGBT community today is allowed to live out loud and proud, with the full backing and support of Fortune 500 corporations, corporate media, Hollywood, academia, and elected officials. People who believe in the gender binary or who don't want toddlers learning about personal pronouns have to say so quietly and carefully for fear of losing their jobs or becoming social outcasts. People see what happens when celebrities like J.K. Rowling speak up for women and adjust their behavior accordingly.

This is why the Christian worldview is such a threat to the people who celebrate sin in the name of liberation. They don’t mind Jesus as an always-affirming moral teacher, as long as his lessons support their agenda. This is as true for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she connects Jesus to immigration as it is for Rep. Lauren Boebert when she connects his crucifixion to gun control.

Political zealots hate the notion of Jesus as the only remedy for the sin-sick soul. They reject the notion that our standards of morality come from an external, transcendent source. They believe life has conditional value, sex is casual and primarily for recreation, marriage only requires two consenting adults (for now), and crime is caused by unmet material needs. This worldview sounds like freedom in theory, but it leads to bondage in practice. It also proves a valuable lesson for us all: Retaining a moral standard in a culture where everything is permitted is much harder than doing it in a culture where nothing is allowed.

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