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Culture Beat: Theater of blasphemy

"Culture Beat: Theater of blasphemy" Continued...

Issue: "Rethinking divorce," June 13, 1998

But then the Manhattan Theater Club caved again. Other theater groups across the country offered to take up the mantle and do the play themselves. The specter of caving in to right-wing homophobes was invoked. Club officials were looking bad in their social circles. In the face of such peer pressure, the Manhattan Theater Club reversed its decision. Artistic director Lynne Meadow announced: "We have been in contact with Police Commissioner Howard Safir and his intelligence division, which have been overwhelmingly supportive in stepping in to aid our endeavors and give us the reasonable assurances we need to produce this play responsibly and safely." In other words, protesters may face serious jail time.

America's cultural elite has no conception of how monstrously offensive such a portrayal of their Lord and Savior is to Christians. The secularists have no sensitivity and no qualms about blasphemy.

Salman Rushdie had a bounty put on his head by an Islamic court simply for implying in a novel that Mohammed's wives were unfaithful. A Christian in Pakistan was sentenced to death simply for praising Mr. Rushdie's novel. This play goes much, much further in its sacrilege.

In a time that pretends to value sensitivity and multiculturalism, dramatizations of the sex life of Martin Luther King-much less of Mohammed-would be condemned as the coarsest bigotry, probably by the same people who are now defending Corpus Christi. The sensibilities of Christians, however, remain fair game.

Christianity has a different spirit, though, than Islam. Followers of Christ-who has always faced mockery and blasphemy from the sinners he came to redeem-will have no interest in murdering Mr. McMally or bombing the Manhattan Theater Club. The author and his Manhattanites will someday face a more significant reckoning.

It is not clear whether the controversy over this play will spark a backlash against the arts establishment, with its homophilia and contempt for the religious public, or whether it will provoke a backlash against Christians, whose inevitable protests will likely be spun into sinister proportions by the media.

Expect the controversy to reignite opposition to the NEA, an issue that has become moribund in Congress and among Republicans, who have assumed that putting the head of the Country Music Foundation in charge and toning down the number of offensive grants would quiet the critics.

The issue, however, goes far beyond the pathologies of the art world.Defenders of the play will be saying that it is, in fact, respectful of Christ. Self-righteousness is the last refuge of a sinner, and homosexuals have been eagerly justifying their vices in moralistic and religious terms. And liberal theologians in the church have been eager to play along.

What is depicted in the play has become commonplace in theological books and journals, many of which are making the argument that since Jesus was unmarried, hung around with men, had a "beloved disciple," and the like, he can be central to a "gay theology." Proponents of the ordination of homosexuals, "gay marriage," and changing the Christian sexual ethos to sanction homosexual acts have been putting forward such ideas for years. Just as the so-called "Queer theory," which looks at academic disciplines such as literature, history, and cultural studies from a homosexual point of view, has become entrenched in contemporary academia, its tenets are being applied in contemporary theology. In fact, such scholarship represents a significant branch of academic theology today.

Christians, particularly those in mainline churches, concerned about this off-Broadway production would do well to check out the course offerings and reading lists of their seminaries and divinity schools.

Blasphemy is not just theatrical. It's theological. It's taking place not just in the worldly streets off Broadway, but in ostensibly Christian churches. Perhaps the production of Corpus Christi will prove to be a catalyst-whether for action or for discernment or for the onset of overt persecution from a hostile culture-that will energize the genuine Body of Christ.

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