BOCA RATON, Fla. (BP)–Several Florida lawmakers threatened to cut state funding of Florida Atlantic University programs because its theater department is staging a play featuring a homosexual character as Christ, while university officials promise to convene a committee to review policies and procedures in wake of the statewide controversy.
“Corpus Christi,” which opened March 28 at FAU, parallels parts of the Gospels by chronicling a character named Joshua who is growing up as a homosexual in modern-day Texas.
A kiss between Joshua and a character named Judas is similar to the kiss the biblical Judas used to identify Jesus to the Romans.
“For anyone who’s a Christian, it’s very offensive,” state Sen. Debby Sanderson said in an interview with the Associated Press.
University officials said they have received numerous complaints from Christians throughout the state. The state’s Baptist community, however, has been silent, university spokeswoman Lynn Laurenti said.
“The prime mover behind the protest is the Catholic League,” Laurenti told Baptist Press March 30.
School officials said they would allow the play to finish the weekend’s run.
“It’s a matter of academic freedom,” Laurenti said. FAU’s top administrators did not know of the play’s content until this week, she said.
“This play is an eloquent description of man’s humanity to man,” Laurenti said. “The central character, who is gay, morphs into Jesus. It’s handled in a very tasteful manner.”
Laurenti said the play, produced as a graduate student show, was written after Matthew Shepard, a homosexual, was murdered in Wyoming in 1998.
University President Anthony James Cantanese said in a prepared statement he was distressed when he learned Christians were offended by the production, but he noted the show is protected by the First Amendment.
“This play, which mingles the traditional story of the life of Jesus Christ with another story about a young man growing up gay in Texas, has deeply offended many in our community,” Cantanese said. “Most members of FAU’s administration have not seen this play and did not know the content of the production. The faculty of the Theatre Department made the decision to stage this play under the principles of academic freedom that have been a bulwark of higher education in the United States for many decades.”
The university president, a self-professed Christian, said he will not attend the play. “I advise people who may be offended by this play to avoid it,” he noted.
Laurenti said the show will not be stopped after university attorneys told Cantanese to do so would be a “against the law.”
“One of the prices we have to pay with the First Amendment is occasionally stepping on people’s sensitivities,” Laurenti told Baptist Press. “That is a sign that democracy is alive and well.”
However, when asked if the university would permit students to perform a play that would depict Martin Luther King as a racist, Laurenti replied, “Well, that just wouldn’t happen.”
Cantanese ordered Provost Richard Osburn to convene a committee of senior scholars to review policies and procedures for such controversial events.
“It is essential to safeguard the rights of faculty members,” he said. “It is essential that this university respect the sensitivities of all ethnic and religious groups within our community.”
Sanderson and other state senators said March 29 they would read the play and then decide what action, if any, to take. Last year, the school received $112 million from the state.
Corpus Christi, written by Terrence McNally, debuted on Broadway in 1998. It was met with fierce protests from Roman Catholic groups.
For additional information about the play, contact the university at (561) 297-3000.