STEPHENVILLE — A class project depicting Jesus Christ as gay has hit a nerve in Stephenville.
Tarleton State University is adding security for expected demonstrations Saturday when students perform the production, called "Corpus Christi."
The play, by Terrence McNally, opened in New York in the 1990s. Student John Otte chose the script for his advanced directing class.
University spokeswoman Liza Benedict said the performance is not part of the school's regular theater season, and that it was never intended for the public. It is not, however, closed to the public.
Hillcrest Church of Christ preacher David Harris said it should be, although he would prefer that it be canceled. "You are insulting me and every other person who calls himself a Christian by trying to rip the foundation out of Christianity," Harris said.
Benedict said some alumni have complained and even threatened to withdraw financial support. "It's a clear-cut legal issue," she said. "We have no choice in this. It is a First Amendment right. It is an academic freedom."
Students who talked about "Corpus Christi" with News 8 agreed.
Liberal arts major Christopher Hepburn said the controversy is "ridiculous." "This is academia, and one of the attributes of academia is cultural diversity," he said. "Having this shown is something we should embrace as college students."
Bio-med major Timothy Parker echoed that sentiment. "This is something being put on as a learning experience for the students," he said, adding that the play is a way of communicating a message.
"Jesus didn't hate people. He loved them all equally," Parker said. "We should follow that example and love others equally."
Harris questions whether the university really must allow the play. "If it were reversed, and they were doing a play demeaning homosexuals, there would be an outcry," he said. "I don't think they would allow it."
Harris said his weekly radio show has been flooded by callers opposed to the production.
The student director who chose "Corpus Christi," John Otte, declined to be interviewed for this report. He issued this statement through the university:
I chose this play to direct and produce because I am a Christian and I believe that this play can bring people together in a story of acceptance and realization of the alienation we in the gay community feel from most of our churches.
It is being said often that this play is a direct attack on Christians, their faith, and their deity. It simply is not true. He is my savior as well, and I was raised in an extremely faithful and religious home.
I know it is difficult for some people to understand, but I am not attacking anyone in choosing this play. I want people to see and understand another side to faith. I want us all to know that unconditional love means just that -- unconditional -- and I believe tolerance is a key message in this play.
None of us — not one of us — should ever feel alone or separated from God or whomever we believe in.
I am grateful to my University and the faculty and staff here at Tarleton for allowing me to express myself as an individual and to put forth such an important piece of art by Terrence McNally. They are truly scholars in their own right and fighters upholding the Constitution and defending our freedoms as citizens of the United States. Tarleton should be applauded and not defamed for there actions.
On an even more personal note, I am so grateful to Terrence McNally for writing such a beautiful and far-reaching message within his plays. His support and the support of the cast are so important and sustaining through all of this.
My theater department and the other three directors in my class have been very supportive and understanding. I hope people can watch and know about their work and dedication as well. Trey Foster, Kaylie Carrico, and Rickie Daniels. They are directing "The Women of Lockerbie," "The Importance of being Earnest," and "Road to Rome." Our story is sadly overshadowing all their hard work and dedication.
Here is a quote I like from Terrence McNally explaining why he wrote the play:
"I hope the play reaches a receptive audience. It had a rough birth in NYC and I felt the controversy about the play kept people from really seeing it. It was never intended to shock people. It was meant to enlarge their understanding of the divinity in each of us and at the same time, to include gay men and women in the story of Christ's life and encourage a return to spirituality. It is pretty easy for gay people to feel alienated from any and all religions. The play is my attempt to lessen that feeling of alienation. We are told from birth what sinners we are. I was trying to imagine a world where gay men and women were spiritual "heroes" as well. Sometimes it felt like all the play accomplished was to reveal how deep and vicious the homophobia in our society really was. My play about love and faith became an excuse for hate and rage. I continue to believe that eventually CORPUS CHRISTI will be recognized for what it is: an act of faith, not outrage."
Stephenville is in Erath County, about 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth