[caption id="attachment_10568" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Daniel Beaty"][/caption]
We are happy to welcome guest celebrity blogger Daniel Beaty, who is currently starring at Off-Broadway's Union Square Theatre in the solo play Through the Night, which he also wrote. The acclaimed actor, who received an Obie Award for his other solo play, Emergence-See!, will blog for Playbill.com all week; his fourth entry follows.
Yesterday as I was leaving the gym, I received a text from a dear friend telling me to turn on CNN. A Bishop of a prominent 25,000-member church in Atlanta was being accused by two young men of sexual coercion from the time they were 16. They claim sexual acts took place and that they received lavish trips and gifts from this Bishop.
Now, I don’t know enough about the story to make a decision about if this Bishop is guilty of the crimes accused. But what I do know is that he has publicly led marches protesting gay marriage and said from his pulpit that homosexuality is an abortion from God. He also has a program in his church designed to make gay people straight.
My play Through the Night actually portrays a Bishop of a mega church who also has complex feelings around homosexuality. He preaches from the pulpit, “No matter what you have been, a drug addict, a prostitute, a murder, a homosexual, God can turn your life around.” In the play, he has a son who is in the closest, and this Bishop must wrestle with his interpretation of the Bible and his love for his son. Ultimately, my play offers the importance of acceptance, but I endeavor to have a layered conversation about the subject.
Now, clearly, the accusation about this Bishop and these underage boys presently in the media is a different conversation. However, this Bishop’s opinion of homosexuality is reflective of one of the core themes Through the Night addresses.
Now, an initial tendency for many when a story like this shows up in the media is to make a blanket statement about churches and the hypocrisy of religious leaders. I am not prepared to do that. And I have many reasons why I could. I’ll tell you the reason and then I’ll tell you what I feel.
While I was a student at Yale, I was also on the ministerial staff for a church near New Haven. This spiritual community nurtured me through the challenges of the Ivy League, and I hope I provided some comfort and encouragement to people as a young minister. However, about two years into my time with the church, it was revealed that both the Pastor and assistant Pastor were sleeping with teenage girls in the church. It came out because one of the girls became pregnant by the assistant Pastor. They invited me up to pray for them and the congregation. I did. Then, I waited until the service ended, walked out, and did not return to a church for five years.
I was devastated that my spiritual leaders were so deeply flawed. The hurt I experienced from their actions translated to a disconnection from God. Fortunately, I have my art – acting, singing, and writing and found my much-needed spiritual nourishment there. But for me personally, I knew I had a longing to be a part of a spiritual community.
So, there was a healing that had to take place. I had to discover that my relationship with God was precious and more valuable than the reality that human beings – all of us – are contradictory and flawed. Now, there are consequences for actions and never any excuse for those who abuse their power and harm children.
For me, I decided to focus more on my connection with God, then on the person who might be in the pulpit when I go to church. Also, I discovered something incredible about humanity that is the basis of how I now create characters. I build characters on contradiction because I believe human beings are fundamentally contradictory – at once divine and flawed, evolved in some areas and evolving in others.
This clarity not only provides my characters with a richness that I find my audiences appreciate, but it has also provided me with a great deal of compassion and has allowed me to reconnect with a spiritual community.
In fact, my Pastor and his wife are coming to the show on Friday night. And on Sunday morning, I will be in church before my big official press opening. I have been in five churches over the past month sharing excerpts of the show, and some of these churches are bringing groups to the play.
So, now the stage is my pulpit – not to preach – I find that in art preaching is death to character and discovery – but to invite a conversation. I am tackling this issue of homosexuality and the church in Through the Night. I don’t claim to have the answer, but what I am committed to is shedding light on the issue in a way that gets the audience talking. I hope you’ll come to the show and be a part of the conversation.