Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Musical Theater, White Evangelicals & Politics

Over the years, my Grandma Jackson amassed a collection of Reader's Digest created record collections... including the one pictured here - a collection of Broadway standards. I have fond memories of sitting in the front room at her house, playing those records and listening to all of those songs over and over again... which might explain why I can sing "If They Asked Me, I Could Write a Book" from PAL JOEY even though I've never seen a production of the show.

Starting in late elementary school, I began appearing in musicals myself. I played Winthrop Paroo in THE MUSIC MAN, Schroeder in YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, Lord Boxington in MY FAIR LADY, Pop in GYPSY, Ali Hakim in OKLAHOMA, and a secondary role whose name I can't remember in TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA. And I loved it, even though I didn't have a strong singing voice or any real dancing talent. (Let's be honest: when required, I could waltz or do a box step, but it required me to be muttering the count under my breath.)

In college, I was a theater major for a semester, even stage-managing a production of NO NO NANETTE... but more importantly, I discovered (thanks to friends) the wider catalog of musicals beyond the mid-century hit parade. I was intrigued by the theatricality of PIPPIN and CANDIDE and dove headfirst into the wonder that was BIG RIVER. I was mesmerized by the intricate (if darkly cynical) music of Stephen Sondheim. Of course, in the last few years I've come to deeply enjoy the music and artistry of HAMILTON... 

...but this post isn't really about my love of Broadway (even though I've never been to NYC). 

It's about politics. And white evangelicals.


It's the tale of two musicals. (Apologies to Charles Dickens.)

In THE MUSIC MAN, Harold Hill is a traveling salesman who is, without question, a con artist. He sells band instruments, uniforms, and the dream of "Seventy-Six Trombones" to unsuspecting townspeople... then skips out with the money. Marian, the town librarian and piano teacher, falls in love with him even though she knows he's a fake. Though he could make a run for it, he chooses to stay and face the music because he has also fallen in love with her. (I'll leave the wonderful coda to the story hidden for those of you who need to go immediately and watch the glorious movie adaption starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.)

I've come to believe that many white evangelicals had a similar view of Donald Trump back in 2016. They knew he was a con man, a flim flam artist, but they figured that his willingness to spend time with certain evangelical leaders would cause him not only to appoint conservative judges but also to take faith in Christ more seriously than he did with quotes like "I don't like to ask for forgiveness" and "two Corinthians". 

Yes, I realize that I'm over-simplifying this... bear with me for a minute.

In GREASE (a musical I really don't enjoy), Danny Zuko is a bad boy who's actually a nice guy when he's not around his gang of knuckleheads. His summer romance with Sandy is challenged when she ends up being the new girl at his high school... and comic hijinks and romantic plot twists ensue. And singing. Lots of singing.

Anyway, one of the key elements of GREASE is how it turns the classic "women tamed the West" trope on its head, as Sandy chooses to become a bad boy's dream girl to win him back. 

Which is similar to what has happened to white evangelicals in response to the craziness of the last four+ years. Rather than "the love of a good woman" changing the "unrepentant man" into a hero, the flim flam artist got a huge chunk of white evangelicals to figuratively dress themselves up like Olivia Newton-John in the final minutes of the film version of GREASE. ("Tell me about it, stud.")

I am a conservative white evangelical - though, as many of you have read, not a supporter of the former President or the current lemming-like bent of the Republican Party. My prayer is that we who claim Christ would have "A Brand New Day" (sly reference to THE WIZ) where our primary loyalty is not to a political party, not to a media-driven narrative of fear; and not to a guy with a spray tan whose trail of failed marriages & businesses should have made clear (similar to the song he often quotes) what kind of snake we were electing. 

To bring the metaphor back around, it's as if we lost our collective minds and decided that the best thing for the cause of Jesus was to throw our support behind a mixture of Mama Rose, Mrs. Lovett, Max Bialystock, and Jud Fry. Which makes the musical we've been writing look more like a Sondheim story than Jimmy Cagney in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY.
Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:19-23 AMP
Let's write a better story... one where the lead character is marked by the fruit of the Spirit rather than "fits of anger, disputes, dissensions" and "other things like these". Let's sing a better song, one that resonates with grace of the Bishop in the prologue to LES MISERABLES.

And let us live with your loyalties clear:
It’s not Godly to:
  • Love a news outlet more than the good news of God’s Word.
  • Love your American Citizenship more than your Heavenly Citizenship.
  • Love your membership to a political party or church denomination more than your membership to the Church.
Rondell TreviƱo (Twitter: @Rondell_Trevino)

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