Have you ever been to Pleasant Hill, Tennessee? I would guess many have not. It is a small community nestled in the mountains of Cumberland County with a population of about 500. And within that tiny community is a giant of a congregation, the Pleasant Hill Community Church. This congregation does not shy away from the hard stuff of life, but confronts it head on.
I was invited to lead a class for the community there on Sunday, June 26, and then to preach during worship for the congregation’s first Abolition Sunday, a Sunday dedicated to raising awareness about the problems with the death penalty and empowering people of faith, particularly Christians, to end it.
To my knowledge, this congregation is the first in Tennessee to declare its commitment to repeal by setting aside one Sunday a year to focus on the issue. The idea came to two of the church’s members when they attended the Kairos Conference in Atlanta last year, a conference sponsored by People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. The two wanted to do something tangible within their own congregation to witness to a different way of addressing the violence in our communities, and Abolition Sunday was born.
Obviously, the issue of the death penalty is a difficult one with the variety of strong views that individuals have about it. And, because of its difficulty, too often, it simply isn’t addressed, particularly in our churches.
Though most every church has a cross visible from the steeple or prominently placed in the sanctuary, we Christians too easily shy away from the hard reality that the cross is a symbol of execution and that we follow one who himself was executed. Don’t we have to talk about it? As a former parish pastor, I know the extreme pressure pastors and church leaders are under to keep such divisive issues to a minimum, but at what cost?
The worship at Pleasant Hill Community Church on Abolition Sunday was deeply moving and the Spirit at work among those present was palpable. I am deeply grateful to the members of this congregation and hope that they will inspire others to address this issue not only in light of its policy failures, but in light of their faith.
Thank you Pleasant Hill Community Church for your witness and ministry in Tennessee.
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