My wife was out of town recently visiting our daughter’s family-especially our little grand daughter-in Spokane. And, as the saying goes, “When the cat’s away, the mouse will play.” I saw Lucas Hnath’s play, ‘The Christians‘ at the DCPA.
I feared that this would be yet another heavy handed depiction of sanctimonious, knuckle dragging Christians that is the usual fare at “high brow” theater. But, I reasoned, at least I could be pretty sure that it wasn’t going to be the Evangelical treacle that Hollywood is occasionally churning out now.
I was pleasantly surprised all around. Yes, it depicts a day in the life of a mega-church. But it takes a sympathetic look at all sides of a bruising church split. It was anything but saccharine. But nor was it judgemental. Instead, it was thoughtful and thought provoking.
It began with the stereotypical, impeccably coiffed head pastor enthusiastically praising the Lord-and his congregation-for successfully completing a huge fund raising campaign to retire the debt on their equally huge church. The choir and “praise band” provides suitably upbeat musical accompaniment throughout. And they really were good-I, along with most of the audience-occasionally joined in with song and clapping.
But then the story takes a very unexpected turn.
The pastor goes to the pulpit and declares that he has had a revelation and that “all roads lead to God.” Yes, Jesus is the Savior. But so is Mohammed. And the Buddha. And any other deity you care to mention. And, for those so inclined, no deity at all will do.
Before the sermon is even over, the fault lines of the impending schism break into the open. The assistant pastor comes to the mic and declares, that while the head pastor played an instrumental role his own salvation, he can’t abide what he considers a clear deviation from Scripture. A few minutes later, after an impassioned defense of Orthodoxy, he walks out of the sanctuary. And the life of the church.
The head pastor comes back to the pulpit and fires up the praise band again. But the dam is beginning to leak. During a question and answer session that follows, a single mother (who has been tithing 20% of her meager income) asks the pastor if “My young son dies, will Hitler be with him in heaven?”
“Yes, I believe he will.”
It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. More and more of the congregation begins melting away. Including the pastor’s wife, who admits in a congregational meeting, she doesn’t side with her husband. And never believed that all roads lead to heaven in the first place.
In the final scene, the head pastor, deflated, slumps on the stairs of the platform that had been the scene of so many high energy triumphs. The sanctuary is empty and dark.
The play ends. No pat answers for the audience. Just an invitation to contemplate the questions that rattled around our heads as we, too, file out of the empty “church.”
“The Christians” run at the DCPA is over. But should it come back around sometime, I recommend that you take it in. I don’t believe that you will be disappointed.