WEEK IN REVIEW: The Illegal, Christian "Hamilton" Saga
Creationists in court, hipster Catholicism, book bans, and more!
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The plan was to take a short break last weekend. In theory, that meant I could do more passive reading for pleasure instead of active doomscrolling. But when I found out that a church in Texas had staged its own (illegal) production of Hamilton, after which the pastor urged the audience to stop being gay, I had a new obsession.
Only a couple of people had posted anything about what The Door McAllen church in Texas was doing by the time I caught wind of it. But by Saturday afternoon, the previous night’s livestream had been taken down from YouTube, and I was left to piece together what happened from various TikTok videos and Instagram reels by people cringing at how the church had Christianized various scenes.
By Saturday night, we knew:
This was not some Christian parody of Hamilton. This was meant to be a replica of the actual Broadway show… with a few scenes modified/added for a Christian audience. That would be illegal.
The church said publicly that it had cancelled Saturday night’s performance… while privately telling people it was still going on. That would be unethical.
I thought that’s where this story would end. The church had successfully performed two arguably illegal shows… while hiding the evidence (Friday’s livestream) of what it had done. Unless the actual producers of Hamilton chose to do anything, there wasn’t much else to talk about.
But then, on Sunday afternoon, one kind soul shared a copy of the Friday livestream he had grabbed before it was taken offline. (The person asked to remain anonymous.)
I began clipping scenes immediately.
You can see a lot more of those clips right here. Overall, this was a very expensive, very thought-out, and very illegal performance.
On Monday morning, things got even more complicated. The *actual* Hamilton producers issued a statement saying they had sent a cease and desist letter to the church… while also allowing them to perform their Saturday show. They also said they never gave the church permission to do the show, contradicting what the pastor had said earlier. We’ll learn more in coming days as all the facts get sorted out.
Even Lin-Manuel Miranda chimed in on Wednesday:
Dramatists Guild @dramatistsguildThe Dramatists Guild condemns the Door McAllen Church for its unauthorized production of @Lin_Manuel’s groundbreaking musical @HamiltonMusical performed on August 5 and August 6, 2022, in McAllen, Texas.... https://t.co/XGGZnBKZw3 #dontchangethewords #dontchangethemusic https://t.co/jYYVY4EPgv
The controversy led to a flurry of coverage, just about all of which included the damning clips from the show. My tweets were shared in the New York Post, Playbill, CNN, NBC News, Washington Post, and others. I was interviewed about it by Religion News Service and the New York Times:
Clips obtained and published on Twitter by Hemant Mehta, a writer, showed several of the rewritten lyrics. Mr. Mehta, who is based near Chicago, said in an interview that he did not attend the play, and that the clips were sent to him by someone who wanted to remain anonymous.
“If a local theater did exactly what they did, without the gospel message at the end and without the Christian conversion parts of the show, there wouldn’t be any conversation about whether this is OK,” Mr. Mehta said. “Of course it would not be OK.”
“It’s stealing from the creative geniuses of the people who made the original,” Mr. Mehta said. “It’s not something you put together overnight, which means a lot of people must have been aware of what they were trying to do for months in advance.”
The Door McAllen church, by the way, has done this sort of thing before.
… and a glimpse from their version of Despicable Me:
There are a lot of important stories in the news right now. This one has fairly low stakes, but it’s a mix of religion, theater, and bigotry… which are all right in my wheelhouse. I was grateful to have the flexibility to cover it and spread it.
As always, I appreciate your support through Patreon and Substack, which allows me to pursue these efforts while working on articles and other projects.
Also, for anyone interested, I will be speaking at the following places in the coming weeks. Tickets for the conferences are still available!
August 26-28: BAHACon (Sarnia, Ontario)
September 3: Kentucky Freethought Convention (Louisville, KY). Use promo code “FRIENDLY” for a discount!
September 24-25: 3rd International Humanism Conference on Social Justice (Toronto, Ontario)
October 30: Houston Oasis (Houston, Texas)
As I’m putting finishing touches on this newsletter, Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses who has face death threats for decades, was apparently stabbed during an event in New York. His condition isn’t clear just yet and little is known about the assailant. Needless to say, I wish Rushdie a quick recovery. No attack like this is ever justified, and if it turns out to be a religious extremist, we can’t shy away from pointing out and discussing those motivations.
This is also news: The Creationists behind Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum have sued their insurance providers for rejecting their requests to cover pandemic-related losses.
The insurers say the Creationists don't understand their own policies. They say there’s no evidence the places shut down due to a COVID outbreak among staffers, which nullifies one insurance provision, while the “interruption by civil authority” provision doesn’t apply because Kentucky’s executive orders didn’t result in the “complete interruption” of operations which denied them access to the premises.
I don’t know how this will play out, but the facts don’t seem to be on the side of the Creationists, who had no problem raising money during the pandemic.
I have a suggestion for any public high school football coaches who want to push Christianity on their players: Maybe don’t brag about your crimes in the summer camp schedule or on social media. That’s what Sherman Holt, the new head football coach at Swain High School in Bryson City, North Carolina, recently did. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is now demanding answers.
If you believe the headline at the New York Times, “New York’s hottest club is the Catholic Church.”
That would mean all the cool kids are lining up to get inside a place where child sexual abuse has been a rampant problem for decades, where women are forbidden from participating in the highest levels of leadership, where abortion rights and the existence of transgender people are both denied, where same-sex marriage is considered immoral, where financial scandals never cease, where medical care can be denied for dogmatic reasons, where cultural genocide thrives, where lobbyists fight against laws that would benefit victims of abuse, and where the rules of celibacy require some leaders to keep their families a secret.
I’m sure they’re all just clamoring to get inside.
The headline is for a guest essay by Julia Yost, editor of the conservative journal First Things, who claims Catholicism is in fashion among a group of “young, educated Americans”… by whom she means a handful of quirky podcasters who defend Catholic traditions. It’s a horrible article that I dissected at length here.
There’s a dark joke about how it’s a good thing libraries have been around for centuries because there’s no way in hell Republicans would allow them to be created today. But it’s not like Republicans are hands-off right now. Their conservative Christian voters are now painting libraries as enemies of children all because they dare to offer people access to information that others may want to keep from them.
The public institutions that have formed the bedrock of our nation are under attack by Christian nationalists and their allies. They want to keep everyone else in the dark like they do in their churches, and conservative politicians and judges are eager to help them achieve their goal.
We shouldn’t be surprised, though. The people least likely to find value in an infinite supply of books are the people who believe only one book matters.
During an appearance at the right-wing CPAC conference, conspiracy theorist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was asked about the phrase “Christian nationalist.” She insisted, falsely, that “most Americans” were Christian nationalists like her.
Not surprisingly, she’s wrong on two counts in that single sentence: She has plenty to be ashamed of and “most Americans” are not Christian nationalists.
Honestly, if she’s championing Christian nationalism, that may be the best argument against Christian nationalism. No one should want to live in a country where someone like her represents the height of patriotism.
Five-year-old Zoey is an orphan. She lost her father in 2020 in an industrial accident. Just a tragic situation. But her aunt, Emily, took her in and the adoption became official last week.
The Baptist school in Louisiana that Zoey attended last year responded to all of this… by kicking her out just as she was set to begin kindergarten. Their reasoning? Emily is in a same-sex marriage. That’s it. Zoey has to suffer even more because the Baptist church that runs the school puts bigotry over compassion.
One question that ran through my mind as I learned about this story was why Emily wanted to send Zoey to that school. Did she know about their bigotry? Were they surprised by this decision? So I asked her.
She told me this was about stability for Zoey: “God was her connection to her daddy and we completely supported her.” There had been no problem the previous year when Emily and her partner were just Zoey’s legal guardians. It was only when the adoption was finalized that the church couldn’t handle it anymore.
As the saying goes, there’s no hate quite like “Christian love.”
Hats off to the Fargo School Board in North Dakota for voting 7-2 to stop saying the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings. Board member Seth Holden delivered an excellent speech explaining why the religious ritual had no place in their meetings:
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the Hays USD 489 school district in Kansas was on the verge of changing its dress code which banned students from wearing clothes endorsing “Satanism.” It happened after a parent, who happened to be a member of The Satanic Temple, urged the school board to revise the student handbook.
I guess I was too optimistic. This week, when the board finally had a chance to adopt a revised dress code, it voted 5-2 against doing so. The reasons were predictably awful. The question now is whether any child will test the policy. Will someone wear a perfectly innocuous Satanic shirt that isn’t inherently offensive or disruptive…?
Creationist Matt Powell usually makes himself look bad by spreading scientific misinformation, like saying evolution is racist because it teaches that “we evolved from African Americans” even though, he argues, there are “African Americans that are still alive today.”
But he recently went full-blown extremist when he said he wanted the government to murder drag queens because he falsely believes they perform sexual acts in front of children in libraries.
It’s all just vile hate speech in the name of Jesus. This is where Powell’s Christianity led him: To a Creationist ministry where the desire for other people’s death is treated as perfectly normal exegesis.
On behalf of the godless, we don’t want Dick Cheney either.
What the hell is going on with the Skeptics Society?
Michael Shermer @michaelshermerNo @ETVPod Skeptic is a science mag so we need evidence. Your entire argument: CRT moral panic is false—you can look it up. I sent you docs posted by @realchrisrufo of CRT being taught in lower schools & asked you to explain. You didn't. If he's wrong explain why. You haven't. https://t.co/cEsSCcjy9h
That tweet involves a back and forth between Skeptic’s Michael Shermer and writer/philosopher Aaron Rabinowitz, who was writing a defense of “Critical Race Theory” for the magazine until he argued that part of the problem was that the “moral panic” against CRT was coming from people not generally known as extremists… like Shermer himself.
The article didn’t make it into the magazine. Thankfully, Rabinowitz is telling his side of the story elsewhere.
Speaking of people who’ve lost their way…
If you’re more concerned about Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke dropping an F-bomb during a campaign event than the mass shooting he was commenting on, the problem is you.
NPR @NPRVoters like to see a sense of authenticity in candidates, especially in Texas. But cursing and vulgar language in front of children and the elderly more often than not crosses the line. https://t.co/wq2QvEF0mL
I made a note to myself to check back on this Kat Kerr comment in three months:
If this tweet doesn’t make sense to you, congratulations on not growing up in the evangelical Christian world.
If you’re curious about what “sword drill” means, this video may help:
Fundamentalist Christian grandmother Lori Alexander, a.k.a. The Transformed Wife, keeps doling out words of non-wisdom:
And now for your weekly dose of fundie insanity:
This week in Atheist Bible Study? Numbers 14. Are we invading Canaan or not? Most of the spies say no. Caleb says yes. Who will win?!
I spoke with my co-host Jessica Greiff about many of the stories in this newsletter during this week’s podcast:
Finally, this one’s just amusing:
That’s it for this week! Stay safe. Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Please become a full subscriber or share this with someone who may enjoy it. It would mean a lot to me :)