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Creationists cause New Ulm community theater to cancel production of "Inherit the Wind"

Some Minnesota evangelicals don't want to be associated with a play that questions creationism.
Some Minnesota evangelicals don't want to be associated with a play that questions creationism.

The New Ulm Actors Community Theater has decided to cancel its planned production of "Inherit the Wind" thanks to pressure from local evangelicals who object to the way the play portrays the evolution/creationism debate.

SEE ALSO: Matt Birk refused White House trip because President Obama is pro-choice

The play debuted in 1955 and is based on the the 1925 "Scopes monkey trial," which centered on the relationship between creationism and evolution and on how the latter should be taught in public schools, if at all. One of the playwrights, Jerome Lawrence, said he and his partner, Robert Lee, "used the teaching of evolution as a parable, a metaphor for any kind of mind control... It's not about science versus religion. It's about the right to think."

But according to the New Ulm Journal, professors at Martin Luther College and local members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod think creationism isn't portrayed in a favorable light in the play, so they ended up pressuring a number of performers and the production's director, Zach Stowe, to back out. Stowe is a student at MLC.

More from the Journal:

After seeing the poster for the audition, several MLC professors raised objections about the play's subject to the administration...

MLC is the college of ministry for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), which believes in creationism that teaches the Genesis story as a factual, historical account. [Jeffrey Schone, MLC's VP of Student Life] said MLC was concerned about making it absolutely clear to its students, WELS members and the public about its beliefs and teachings on creationism. He said he recognizes the subtext of the play, but feels it is unfairly critical of creationism and that most people would only see the criticism...

[On September 3], Stowe resigned from the play. He cited a flood of e-mails and letters objecting to his association with the play from MLC professors and local WELS members for his decision. He was also concerned that MLC administration would maybe take their concerns further if the outcry kept growing, so he decided to focus on the more important issue of his schooling.

In the two weeks after Stowe pulled out, six cast members decided to follow suit, citing either the opinion of WELS pastors or simply a lack of desire to remain involved without Stowe's leadership, the Journal reports. With the play set to open on October 4, there wasn't enough time to replace everyone who left, and the community theater ended up having to cancel the whole thing.

In comments made to the Journal, Stowe said he isn't thrilled with how things played out, but understands creationists' issue with the production.

"The play does not just say evolution is right. It treats Christians with respect. The entire point of the play is both sides need open, free discussions," he said. "But I don't have any negative feelings about it. Everyone acted how their conscience directed them in this situation. I can respect it."

:::: UPDATE ::::

As the Bluestem Prairie blog points out, WELS is so conservative, Michele Bachmann quit the church while she was running for president.

From a July 2011 Washington Post report:

The Lutheran denomination that GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann quit in June sought to explain its belief that the papacy is the anti-Christ after reports questioned whether Bachmann is anti-Catholic.

Six days before Bachmann officially launched her presidential campaign last month, the Minnesota Republican and her family verbally requested to leave Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., which is part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

In light of that information, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise WELS pastors took issue with a play that questions Christian dogma, even if it does so in the most subtle of ways.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.


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