Relevancy of Monasticism – Part 7

that is the aim of many new monastic communities today – to live and exist in a way that conveys to the world the love of God and the teachings of Christ. One example of such a community is Nazareth House in North Carolina which provides hospitality and support to families visiting men on Death Row in Raleigh’s Central Prison. Families will often stay for a whole week leading up to their son, brother, husband or father’s execution.

However, some of the community members decided they needed to make a stand against the death penalty and particularly the way the executions imitate Christ’s – with a last supper on the Thursday evening and the execution taking place before a gathering of witnesses on the Friday – which they felt forced them to take part in idolatory. They “wanted people to know that Jesus died once and for all so that no one else would have to”[1], so with members of six other communities they began their series of protests. They knelt in front of the prison entrance in sackcloth and ashes (traditional mourning wear for the biblical Israelites) blocking the witnesses, without whom the execution couldn’t proceed, from entering. They were arrested and removed. They held a worship service outside the prison, blocking the road, and were arrested again. After six months and sixty-five arrests at four executions they appeared before a judge in court.

They presented their case, that the death penalty is unjust, that their faith compelled them to do all they could to prevent any murder and that Jesus’ death had brought an end to all human suffering. The judge heard them, allowed them to call witnesses and even said he was honoured to have heard the case. However, it was not in his power to decide on the justice of the death penalty. He could only do his job and find them guilty of trespassing. But he did suspend the sentence.

Only six months later, North Carolina Medical Board decided that any doctor participating in an execution was breaching medical ethics and, as the law says a doctor must be present at all executions, the death penalty in North Carolina became, essentially, redundant.

As theologian Dr Stanley Hauerwass said during the trial, “This is what Christians do when their convictions run against the systems of the world. They get in the way.”[2] This appears to be one of the defining characteristics of new monastic communities – they stand up and step out. They aren’t afraid to risk their own lives to spread the gospel. Whilst traditional congregations sit in their pews, looking out on the world and praying something will change, new monastics are in the world being the change


[1] Wilson-Hartgrove, Jonathan, New Monasticism, Brazos Press 2008 p.116

[2] As quoted by Wilson-Hartgrove, Jonathan, New Monasticism, Brazos Press 2008 p.118

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