by Troy stokes
There is no way that I could write objectively
about the cancellation of Martin Sherman's splendid
play BENT. For the last ten years, a major focus of
my energies has been attempting to move the United
Methodist Church in the direction of fairer treatment
of its homosexual members. Changes have been minimal
and slow, so the best I can do is advise the reader
of my bias and proceed.
In the fall of 1980, Rev. Wilson Wade, pastor of
St. Luke United Methodist Church in Austin, asked the
Wesley Foundation, the Methodist Church's campus
ministry, to fund "production of two socially relevant dramas which would articulate the universal
human situation of sin and salvation without the confusions occasioned by religious rhetoric." A stated
purpose in the proposal was to involve those persons
who do not attend church. The request was approved,
and Wade attempted to secure rights to perform Elie
Wiesel's The Trial of God.
He found he could not get those rights, and obtained Bent by Martin Sherman, which deals with the
Nazi persecution and extermination of homosexuals.
Instead, Rev. Wade's choice alarmed the board of directors of the Wesley Foundation. The chairman, Rev.
George Ricker (pator at University UMC) reviewed the
script and refused to sign checks to pay for production, which was already under way. A board meeting
was called, and funding was withdrawn by unanimous
The prevailing feeling was that, although, the
play had merit, it was just too controversial for the
United Methodist Church to sponsor. Dr. Ralph Seiler
(Superintendent of the Austin District of the Methodist Church) indicated that the overt sexuality in the
play made it unsuitable.
A frequent refrain was that a dispute over this
play would be "bad strategy for the- ultimate full inclusion of gay people in the life of the church." I
find it depressing that this decision'was made without
asking any gay people. i:o openly jay people serve
on the Wesley Foundation board, and none were invited
to the meeting as guest, though it should have been
obvious that the board's decision would have "needed
interpretation" to the gay community. This attitude
is characteristic of the church's condescending approach. It makes decisions about people's lives
without consulting them. The feelings of conservative-minded fat cats are considered important. The
feelings of minority people are not.
The "strategy" turned out to be bad in at least
one instance: on Sunday, January 16, my friend and
companion Ronnie Sawey confronted Rev. Ricker about
his decision during the eleven o'clock worship service at University Methodist. Although this did not
cause the board to change its decision, it did call
into question the practice of neglecting the concerns
minor Ltv ggQg^ ;_^ ar.^afc^'^l,.far, rjy =cj -or. ?.-
There are youths in and out of the Methodist
Church who care about being Christian while being in
conflict about their sexual activities and feelings.
Homosexuals and many others are in this group. It
is tragic that the church can't apply the same em-
Continued on page 18
Max, left, played by Richard Gere, and Rudy, right,
from the Broadway play "bent."
BENT PRODUCTION CONTINUES
I am trying to raise $2,300 for a professional
quality production of BENT this spring.
My personal commitment to producing this play in
Austin is greater than ever, precisely because an
agency of the United Methodist Church has withdrawn
support on the grounds that certain church people
might be offended.
Several hundred dollars of my own money will be
put into this effort. The production staff I have
been working with is also making a financial commitment. We also have the corrmitment of some of the best
actors in town to make this play an outstanding
theatrical event of deep social significance for the
We have a grant of $1,200 from the Austin Parks
and Recreation Department to stage BENT at Center
Stage Theatre and tentative agreement from UT to
stage it in their Drama Workshop Theatre. Ten performances are planned.
We need all the financial commitments we can get
as soon as possible, because "up-front" money is necessary before we can get receipts from ticket sales.
Rev. Wade is pastor of St. Luke United Methodist
Church, 1306 West Lynn, in Austin, phone 476-8164.