I wrote last week regarding the proposed opening of a swingers’ club (to be named “The Vault”) on Main Street in Emmaus, at the very heart of the borough. Last night, to consider the matter, the borough’s zoning hearing board met at the Emmaus Community Park (an aptly named venue for this event), rather than their usual borough hall location. Suffice it to say that the proposal was rejected again on its appeal by the board.
I attended as much of the meeting as I could (from its beginning at 7:30pm to about 10pm), not so much to speak (which I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to do anyway, since they started hearing residents from the opposite end of the amphitheatre from where I was sitting), but rather simply to be involved and to provide as much pastoral presence as was possible. There were hundreds of people there, probably around 400, of all ages. The residents who spoke out against the proposed club were lawyers, a pastor, a retired FBI agent, mothers, fathers, local business owners, leaders of community organizations.
It was striking and truly moving to hear all these people speak, sometimes with anger, always with drive and passion, but most often with love. The people of Emmaus love their town, and with that love comes a sense of responsibility. No matter what the precise letter of the law said (which was the grounds on which the appeal was rejected), the strong sense of a dedication to the common good was immediately palpable for all those who spoke out against this club.
The club owner, whom I had hoped would see the borough lined up against him and realize he’d made a mistake, attempted to co-opt the moral authority of both the love of the original Moravians of Emmaus for the Native Americans, as well as using the language of the civil rights movement, to promote the notion of “tolerance” and lack of “prejudice” for a club for swingers which we are asked to believe wasn’t for the purpose of swinging. The club’s website was nothing short of pornographic in many of its elements (and those elements were put on verbal display last night), yet of course we are assured that those things had nothing to do with the actual workings of the club.
This duplicitous sort of thinking of course dominates our current cultural discourse, but it is deeply flawed. One cannot call upon the moral authority of a movement begun and nurtured by a solid moral, religious tradition and then violate that tradition’s most basic moral sensibilities. Neither the Moravians nor the civil rights leaders of the 1960s (all Christians of traditional morality) would have “tolerated” any such thing in the heart of their community. These are not rarefied philosophical ideas that can be separated from their tradition. It’s not about tolerance, but rather love, especially for one’s home. One does not have to be on a witch hunt for swingers to be disapproving of a club explicitly for them on bold display in the very middle of Emmaus.
Those opposed (who were pretty much everyone other than the potential proprietor) expressed themselves with candor, clarity, eloquence, and most of all, love. No one freaked out. No one screamed at the man. They just made it clear that Emmaus’s most beloved and defining district is not the place for what he wanted to do.
I came away from that meeting extremely proud to belong to Emmaus. This is a good, good town.