Student director John Jordan Otte (courtesy: Dallas Voice)
Just days before Christians worldwide commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus, a college student’s production of a play depicting a Christ-like character as a homosexual is infuriating local residents who plan to protest this weekend’s event.
“Corpus Christi,” written by Terrence McNally, is the Tarleton State University project for student director John Jordan Otte, a 26-year-old homosexual who also says he’s Christian.
“The play is about acceptance and tolerance,” Otte said. “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.”
Otte is a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – known to many as the Mormon Church – which condemns homosexuality, and told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “I was extremely faithful. I did everything you were supposed to do.”
Saturday’s production in the small town of Stephenville, Texas, features the Jesus character named Joshua kissing Judas during their prom at Pontius Pilate High School and performing a same-sex marriage for two of his disciples.
Before the ceremony, a disciple named James pauses and quotes the Old Testament Scripture: “If a man lies with a man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.”
Joshua then responds: “Why would you memorize such a terrible passage? ‘And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.’ … God loves us most when we love each other.”
News of the play has residents voicing outrage and alumni threatening to withhold donations.
The local paper, the Stephenville Empire Tribune, headlined its front-page story with “Showdown at Tarleton,” and was flooded with letters to the editor calling the play “blasphemous.”
“This is a conservative community,” Carroll Cawyer of Stephenville told the Star-Telegram. “It’s just sticking a thumb in the eye of the standards of this community. That’s what a lot of people are upset about.”
David Harris, pastor at Hillcrest Church of Christ in Stephenville, discussed the play on his radio program and said listeners were incensed.
“We ran out of phone lines,” he told KTXA-TV. “People were e-mailing things. The ire was immeasurable.”
“I asked [Tarleton administrators], ‘So, if I come on your campus and I have a play that demeans and slams blacks, homosexuals and Jews – would you let me do the play?’ They said well it ‘just depends on the circumstances.’ I said, well evidently the circumstances with Christianity seem to be different with these folks because they won’t stand for what is right here.”
Tarleton President F. Dominic Dottavio is defending freedom of speech on his campus and thus is not canceling the play, which will have beefed-up security to handle expected protests outside the theater which seats only 95 people.
“Public universities are expected to extend the same constitutional freedoms we all enjoy in this country to their students, faculty members and staffs. Fundamental to the academic community are freedom of thought, speech and expression, issues we see publicly debated from time to time particularly in the arts. A certain play, speaker, concert, art exhibit or reading may provoke strong feelings and widely differing opinions,” he said.
Steven Shriner, right, plays Mary and Peter in a previous production of ‘Corpus Christi’ (photo: Ulysses Theatre Comany)
A letter to the editor responded to Dottavio, “You do have freedom of speech, but are you prepared for the consequences of your decision?”
According to the Dallas Voice, several of the actors in the project have been forced to leave the play in the wake of the uproar. It says “another, a freshman whose father is a Baptist minister in Stephenville, refused to quit the production and was thrown out of his house. Otte has taken in the student and given him a place to live.”
This is not the first time “Corpus Christi” has been in the news.
As WND noted in 2004, a New Jersey actor who reportedly played prominent roles in a previous production of the play was found guilty of seeking sex with someone he thought was a 14-year-old boy he met on the Internet.
Steven Shriner, who portrayed both Mary and Peter, was convicted of attempted sexual assault, attempted luring/enticing of a child, and attempted criminal sexual contact.