Engaging Culture

This Beautiful City & The Growing Influence of Evangelicals

I had an unusual opportunity last week.  The Ahmanson Theatre / Kirk Douglas Theatre / Center Theater Group in LA (the largest live theater company in Los Angeles) staged a series of performances of the new play “This Beautiful City.”  The play was created by The Civilians, a New York City theater company.  The play is a look at the growing influence of evangelicals in America and focused on Colorado Springs.  (Home of some of the largest churches and ministries in the country.)

An interesting aspect of the Civilians method is to spend up to six months in a community, interviewing people from all sides of the issue, making transcripts of the massive number of interviews, and then writing the play based on those interviews.  In this case, about three months into the experience, the news that Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church, had been involved with a gay masseuse and meth added another bizarre layer to the play.

The opportunity came when Raul Espinoza, Audience Development Manager for the theater, asked me to host an after the play “talk back” conversation with the audience.  So last weekend, after the play, the actors, Raul, and I came onstage and discussed the play, the process, and how people responded.

The theater is in West Hollywood, and there were some leaders from the gay community in the audience.  I would also estimate that a majority of the audience were not terribly friendly to evangelical Christianity.  If there were any evangelicals in the crowd, they were few and far between.  The play itself wasn’t done from a Christian perspective, and the main themes were the growing influence of evangelicals in Colorado Springs, and how local people (believers and non-believers) react to that influence.  There were also minor themes of overt Christian influence in the military (The Air Force Academy is in the Springs), the Ted Haggard revelation, how major ministries have used their power in the community (some local businesses are careful who they work with – afraid they might lose the Focus on the Family business).

I must say the performance was very professional and the acting quite excellent.  The play was more balanced than I’ve experienced in the past, and much of that was because it wasn’t just “made up” as so many do, but based on actual transcripts of interviews with real people.

The conversation was fascinating.  Needless to say, as an evangelical myself, I became the “target” for some anger and bitterness in the audience.  But the greatest thing about the play is that it provided a platform for a diverse audience to discuss these types of often controversial and divisive issues.  Over the next few days and possibly weeks, I’ll talk on this blog about some of the biggest issues people in the audience had with evangelicals.

Today, I would just encourage my readers to find these types of discussions and get involved.  Was it uncomfortable?  Of course.  Were some folks really upset?  Yes.  But we’re never going to move any of these issues forward until we can stop calling each other names and start the conversation.  I was able to bring up some perspectives that many people in that audience hadn’t thought of, and a couple of times they were stopped in their tracks.  That doesn’t mean I was always right, but I do love to watch the moments when “revelation” happens.  When people see something in an entirely new way from a new perspective.

I think we all experienced a little of that, and we all grew a little closer in the process.  Check back this week, because some of the specific issues people brought up were fascinating.

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  1. Phil,
    I’m glad you had this experience and I look forward to reading more about it. It’s always easier to stay where things are ‘safe’ and where you feel wanted and secure. It takes a lot to move beyond your comfort zone to interact with people in a setting your normally not in.

    You’re right, we need to move beyond name calling in order to deal with the issues that tug at our hearts. This seems like a great experience to get at genuine conversation that goes beyond the four walls of the church.

    I’ve found from many conversations that when people are ‘mad with God’ it’s likely that they are actually mad with how someone has poorly represented God. When the distinction can be seen, then change begins to happen.

    I’m reminded… Jesus came into a world that, for the most part, didn’t recognize him and he reached out to three types of people: Those who were looking for him, those who weren’t looking for him, and those who hated him. He calls us to do the same.

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    Author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

  2. APW3 really cool and well said. An excellent post Phil and one with some very interesting ideas, topics, discoveries and going beyond what we are used to. Keep up the challenge of breaking barriers and establishing new grounds in the world – where our living our faith really matters.

  3. It is interesting the left's obsession with evangelical Christianity. If you believe the polls in the upcoming election, they would show that evangelical Christians have very little influence in today's culture and society. In my opinion, the contempt is a form of rebellion from their parent's faith.  Otherwise, you would see just as much vitriol against radical Islam who's theology consists of all the tenents the left fears about evangelical Christianity.

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