by Rev. Laura Barclay
In their book Free for All, Emmaus Way pastors Tim Conder and Daniel Rhodes share their experiences with interpreting the Bible in community. Far from the disaster of what some might expect from the implications of a “free for all,” the communal interpretation brings the Bible to life through discussions of issues most churches fear discussing.
One of the most compelling chapters looks at the community’s discussion of Romans 1:26-27 and surrounding verses, a passage that is frequently used to condemn homosexuality. This Durham, N.C. community of liberal, moderate, conservative, straight and gay members fearlessly and respectfully discusses the text and interprets it for today. One gay member is comfortable enough to share a story about a group of boys who stoned her after a Pride event as she walked to her car, sending her to the hospital with a detached retina. While the members do not uniformly agree on an interpretation of this passage — rarely would any church community agree on all texts — they do respect their brothers and sisters in Christ, condemn the violence and hatred shown to their fellow church member, and provide a safe and compassionate space for fellowship and sharing.
In a chapter discussing the changing landscape of Christian ethics as new discoveries are made — for example, global warming — the authors discuss the nature of baptism in one of the most compelling pieces I’ve read on the topic. To symbolize the churning waters of chaos at the beginning of Genesis, new members are baptized in a river, experiencing death through full immersion and being raised into a New World with a new system of ethics in Christ. The authors characterize baptism as a “strong political and ethical statement, because it declares the advent of a new order.” This new order is characterized by a biblical hermeneutic that is mindful of the poor and accomplished through the missional efforts of the church, such as community organizing and work with ex-convicts. It is also accomplished through embodying the hospitality of Jesus. In welcoming all and allowing all voices to struggle with the text in this community around food and table fellowship, these ministers and this church are accomplishing a level of Christian community rarely seen in most churches.
For information on the book, visit http://www.amazon.com/Free-All-Rediscovering-Community-communities/dp/080107147X
Learn more about Emmaus Way in Durham, N.C., at http://www.emmausway.net/