In recent weeks, we've had several opportunities to react to the death penalty in NC. Our friends at Rutba House, an intentional community just down the street, have formed a coaltion to protest the wave of recent executions at Central Prison in Raleigh. Several Emmaus Way community members have acted on their conscience and have joined the protests. Just last night, we provided food for a gathering of this coalition.
So do we have an official position on capital punishment? Do you have to oppose the death penalty to be a part of our community?
The blunt answers are, "no" and "no."
But there is so much more to say. We strive to be a community of activists. As a result, we are excited when Emmaus Way steps out based on conscience shaped by an understanding of God's heart and vision to respond to the ills and pains of our community and world. Several in our community feel prayerfully compelled to activism in this arena. I certainly applaude their conviction and courage.
There is another value, perhaps a hidden value, that needs to be highlighted. That value is honest dialogue as a component of mission in the ways of Jesus. One of my greatest critiques of many churches in our culture is the maintenance of the myth of consensus and uniformity that so often precludes honest dialogue and missional risks. Let me explain a bit...
Whether liberal or conservative, free or episcopal, protestant or Catholic — the modern church is a doctrinally-driven church. This is one of the strong legacies of the reformation (regardless of which side of the reformation you are on). The engine that drives so many churches is the expectation of doctrinal conformity. We join our churches by doctrinal affirmation. Leaders find respect and positions of responsibility (along with several other important qualifications) by affirming the doctrinal stream of the fellowship and being able to communicate this tradition. This doctrinal impulse creates an aura of uniformity and consensus.
After serving for 20 years in large, mainstream evangelical churches, my view from the inside reveals that homogeneity even in doctrine and essential beliefs is a myth. The diversity in even "essentials" is astounding. I can't tell you how many times I've heard statements like this whispered in my office: "I know I'm supposed to believe in hell — but I don't and I can't."
The need for uniformity and the intuitive sense of many in Christian churches of diversity combine to put a lid on honest dialogue about critical theological, political, and social issues. This "lid" is strongly accentuated by the strong attachment of special politcal social positions to the core doctrine of most churches.
For example in some churches, you had better be "pro-life" or if not keep really quiet. In the church across the street, a "pro-choice" verdict is a social, theological essential. This divisiveness and inertia holds to form for Republican/Democratic alliegances, views of homosexuality, and - issues like capital punishment. So we stay silent in our churches.
We live in a culture that has lost its ability to dialogue in the midst of differences and instead of teaching this very-Jesus-like skill and leading, we are quiet. There are grave consequences in our mission because of this silence. Consensus so often drives our mission. Or better said, it impedes mission. No longer can we risk or act on faith impulses where there is no consensus.
I cannot tell how many missional opportunities I have seen missed because of the lack of consensus, the lack of dialogue that would clarify the goals of the opportunity, or the fear of taking a risk. I serve on Durham's MLK Steering Committee. I was shocked in my first meeting to hear that some white churches had turned the opportunity to host an MLK event because there was not a consensus on MLK's legacy. He was and remains controversial for some. Hence, a wonderful opportunity that most would embrace results in a painful rejection.
What is Emmaus Way's hope in regards to social issues that divide us? Simply - we hope to talk about them in a manner that informs, builds community, inspires mission, and — on occasion — precludes missional activity. Dialogue can be a great friend to wisdom and caution.
In doing so, I think we will take a bold step away from the norm. Dialogue in arenas of emotion and division is a deviation from the norm that churches in the emerging culture must take. Postmodernism, is, if anything, an era of divergent experiences and stories. The failure to let people tell these stories and share these experiences will be a great failure to accessible and authentic in a post-modern, post-reformation, post-Enligthenment culture.
Finally, on capital punishment...I invite our community to begin talking - in this space, face-to-face, and in public arenas. Let's find the time and places to explore this issue that inspired some to protest. What can we learn from them? Are there cautions to present? Are there perspectives that we are missing? This is a task and privilege that we entirely capable of fulfilling. Peace, Tim