Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue – Deuteronomy 16:20
‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25:40
Florida is now the third most populous state – 22 million plus and growing more every day. Faith has been part of its history, for better or worse, since the search for the fountain of youth. At the beginning of the 21st century, Christian unity and witness has one particular question to address as a partner in democratic society.
What does a pluralistic society of mutual flourishing look like in Florida? We’ve never seen one, but let’s imagine one.
When the Spanish landed on the peninsula and named it Florida, they claimed it under the Doctrine of Discovery. With that came subjugation and genocide of indigenous populations and the institution of slavery. In the run up to the American Revolution, Britain took over Florida for some twenty years but then ceded it back to Spain. Spain abolished slavery in its colonies in 1811, including Florida. As a haven for the enslaved who escaped the Southern states, multicultural towns emerged along the First Coast and in the central panhandle.
In 1821, the United States took control of Florida, ending the territory as a safe haven for Americans and Seminoles. General Andrew Jackson established a “for whites only” policy and began three decades of war with the Seminoles – the longest running internal conflict in North American history. North Florida was firmly established with plantation enslavement of Africans. At the end of the Civil War, Florida’s governor shot himself rather than live in a non-slave state.
Of course, we’ve made lots of changes over the last century and a half. The population in the state is highly diverse. Yet everywhere racial disparities, if not racial discrimination, stand out as a continuing legacy. Over and again working people, of both African and European descent, have struggled for fair wages, good schools, and the power of the vote, sometimes together though too often in opposition. Powerful interests rebuffed them to insure business interests. Today nearly half of households live at or below the poverty line. We are not all flourishing, and we have yet to make universal prosperity our common goal.
Within the Florida Council of Churches, we are asking soberly, sincerely and seriously what it means to confess, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” and that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
What does a church and society that does not depend upon the social construct of poverty really look like?
We invite everyone, of faith and of no faith, to pursue that question with us.