A Localist Moment in Emmaus, reprise

The Emmaus Moravian Church, founded in 1747

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.


  1. It sounds like a great town. Oftentimes great towns are made of great people. I find it difficult to believe that someone wanted to open such an establishment in such a place. Possibly, the comments he heard may have ministered to his heart and softened ti somewhat.

    1. Feel free to move! 🙂

      Actually, I’ve read that Detroit has some excellent opportunities to be remade in a rather more humane fashion, since vast swathes of land are now available cheaply for redevelopment.

      1. Yes, that is a pretty interesting and exciting thing. I hope the right people will be able to take advantage of it.

        1. I have family who are (for now) in Detroit, and one thing that does make me worry for the area is the general level of malaise among the locals. No one believes Detroit can be something better, it seems. I hope the right people will rebuild Detroit, too, but it will take the locals to realize their home has value, I think.

          1. As bad as Detroit is (and it really is bad), you’d be surprised at the number of people who truly love the city and believe it can be great again…or at least better than it is. Although you are right in that the most confident and optimistic lovers of Detroit tend to be those who live just outiside the city (like me). The real city-dwellers–the ones who let it get this bad in the first place–are quite apathetic and indifferent to any proposed improvements. It will not be they who take proper and full advantage the land development opportunities.

            (For any readers who don’t know what we’re talking about, the powers that be are looking at possibly bulldozing hundreds of blighted city blocks and turning them into farmland. At least that’s what I hope they do with them. Anyway, If you want to know more, do a Google search for downsizing Detroit)

  2. Father,

    Bless! I love Emmaus and lived in Allentown not far from there when it still had a sense of community. My in-laws live right near the border of Emmaus, close friends of my husband’s and mine live in Emmaus, and many other family and friends live near by.

    Actually, my husband and I have increasingly been talking about moving back to the area in the last several months. Community and committment to it is vital to the well-being of the family and the residents who live there.

  3. This was good to read Father. It is encouraging to hear of people standing together for the good of each other. Neighbors helping neighbors keep their community as it should be.

    I’m not too far from you Father, and I can say that where I’m from there is much of this kind of good going on. However, it sounds as though there is a greater level of a conservative perspective there. Although not long ago, the good people here kept a casino from the center of town, and I hope and pray that never ever happens.

    I am glad you made your presence there. Thanks for the update and the encouragement. I recently went back and re-listened to Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. It accompanies me as I work.


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