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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Preaching to the Choir at "Southern Baptist Sissies"

I'm glad I saw the play Southern Baptist Sissies last night, presented by Queen City Theatre Company at Spirit Square. But I can't help feeling it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "preaching to the choir."

The show is by Del Shores, who also wrote the campy Sordid Lives. But while Sordid Lives felt more intentionally outlandish and over the top, for me this play hit a little closer to home. These weren't just characters. They were the people I grew up with.

Set in a Texas church, Southern Baptist Sissies is the tale of four "sissy" boys who sing together in the choir. Early on, they all realize something makes them different. And, as the narrator, Mark, points out, in a congregation of about 40 youth, "statistically, it worked out just about right."

Mark struggles with the way  his heartfelt desires conflict with what he hears at church about sin, temptation and repentance. Andrew is the first one to "get saved." T.J. fights his urges and ends up "happily married" to a Baylor belle. Benny is the most flamboyant of the four, a future drag queen whose sexuality was never in question:

Yeah, precious, with me you took one look and you knew! I would make even Jerry Falwell question that "choice" shit. That is, if he cared enough to really get to know me. If he did, his whole world would come tumblin' down like the walls of fuckin' Jericho. Then he'd have to deal with his own true nature, if you know what I mean. Ever hear, "thee protests too much, Tinky Winky?!!!"

It's an in-your-face show from the moment it opens with the boys singing the chorus of that Baptist classic, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, I'll Be There. Narrator Mark bursts forth to finish the hymn: "Unless you're a fag!"

The play's dialogue--particularly Mark's lines--underlines the hypocrisy of their preacher's insistence that "these urges" are something to be surmounted, not succumbed to.

Preacher: God gave us the freedom of choice!"
Mark: Really? Well I choose to go to hell! I choose to gnash my teeth! Wouldn't you? I mean, it's so logical.

My favorite scene came at the end of the first act, when a drag queen angel sings a country song asking how something can be so wrong but feel so right. As one of the characters kneels in prayer, the preacher in his black suit stands over one shoulder, the flamboyant angel in white on the other. The ironic message about good and evil was clear. But the relative subtlety of that scene was appealing compared to the too-long second act, with its overwrought ending that, unfortunately, left some inconsiderate members of the audience snickering, not sniffling.

To be sure, much of the play is meant to draw laughs, and it does. But as a Christian, I couldn't help watching it and feeling really sad about the truths it so harshly depicts. I thought of some of my dearest friends who would relate all too well to this play, people whose acceptance of their homosexuality coincided with their departure from organized religion. And my heart hurt to realize that for too many people in this world, church is a place of judgment, criticism and pain.

When it comes down to it, I really don't care what it says in Leviticus or Romans or anywhere else, the simple truth for me is this: God is love. And God's plan for all of us is about loving others, accepting ourselves as He made us, and letting our light shine. It's a plan of goodness and wholeness, not a plan of sadness and brokenness.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Although the show was sold out, I wondered how many of us were there to experience something we didn't already know. I'm pretty sure the people who really need to hear the show's message weren't in the audience last night. But I think you could find most of them on their pews this morning.

P.S. If you're curious, you can actually read some more chunks from the play here.


Chronic Critic said...

Beautifully said, as always. I like your brand of Christianity.

Glenn Bosley-Mitchell said...

Great review Lynsley. I certainly want to visit the play sometime. I really appreciate your own heartfelt comments about the faith components of this issue. Really curious how small town southern folks might resound to your beliefs, but keep on preachin' sister!

Anonymous said...

People who simply can't live with hypocrisy in many traditional protestant religions are flocking to more accepting religious places of worship and fellowship... one of the reasons that our Unitarian Universalist parking lot is overflowing and we are looking at offering two services on Sundays. It makes me sad to leave the faith of my youth, but at UU I can truly live by the Golden Rule - along with all of God's children. I always used to "excuse" the Methodists by saying, "at least they allow women to minister!", but when they took a stand against gays in the pulpit, I had to find other religious options... the better for my soul and conscious.

Patti Holston said...

Shores is incredibly adept at articulating the issues. Like Glenn, I too hope to see the play. I watch "Sordid Lives" to detox from visits to Alabama.
I also hope the show contains another Baptist favorite: "They'll Know We're Christians By Our Love".

Mandy said...

Great post, Lynsley. And I like your bottom line: God is love. Quite right. :)

Dale said...

First, let me say that I am a strong believer the right to write, produce and perform plays of all topics. Personally, as someone who grew up as a Baptist, I found the title offensive and I assume that was probably the playwright's intent. Likely it was a commercial decision to generate controversy and I'm sure it will succeed in that goal. I grew up attending a rural Baptist church. The church had gay members then and still does today. There was no controversy over this and, I'm sure, never will be. The philosophy of the church is that all were welcome to come and worship God. This does not mean that the members of the church condone a lifestyle with which they disagree, it simply means that the church believes its doors should be open to all. I think people are eager to engage in stereotypes about groups (gays, straights, conservatives, liberals, Baptists, Methodists, etc.)that are not always true. I have attended a variety of churches over the years and have never attended one that didn't have gays attending and often in roles of leadership. I have not seen the play, but perhaps it is targeting the stereotype of Southern Baptists? And in doing so, is it not possible that the drama itself is intolerant as well? Whenever we feel the need to "lecture" someone else, we should be careful because our own biases are showing through. Christianity is about love for God and love for our fellow beings. Are there Christians who do not follow the teachings of Christ? Of course. Are there those who lecture about intolerance who are also intolerant? Yes.

Del Shores said...

Hi... Del Shores here. Thanks for your review. I agree that my play preaches to our choir -- but I do feel it reaches beyond. Even so, I believe we need this sermon. I can't tell you how many letters I've already gotten from those who saw this production. The word "healing" always comes up. I've had people say this play saved their life and made them feel worthy of God's love.

@Dale. Like so many Christians, you are judging. This time judging before you even saw my play. Unlike many of the hatred, the sermons preached from pulpits and by tele-evangelists, my play is about love and acceptance for everybody. And I did not name the play Southern Baptist Sissies for any other reason than "sissy" was the word I was called growing up. It was a negative word. Have you called someone that? So go see the play, then get back to me. And frankly, you DO NOT DESERVE AN OPINION until you do. I have fans who are Christians, good Christians who walk the walk. And frankly, if your church does not condone homosexuality, then they are hypocrites. Because I suspect that they are eating pork, shellfish, wearing blended fabrics and not stoning rebellious children at the gates of the city. And they are JUDGING, just like you did my play without even seeing it. Shame on you.

To all the gays who are reading this, remember this, when someone questions the creations (you), they are questioning the Creator (God!). You are perfect, just as you are.