Mike Cope's blog

Friday, August 12, 2005

To follow this blog, you might want to read these front-page articles from this Sunday's and Wednesday's Abilene Reporter-News, as well as these two letters to the editor. Registering to enter the Reporter-News website is free. Here's the story in brief: ACU was planning to do the musical "Aida" for this year's Homecoming. But because a white ACU student was cast for the lead (as a Nubian princess), some people became very upset. As a result, ACU has decided to cancel it and do a different play. Three observations. First, Adam Hester has been a model of Christian compassion through all of this. He had intended to cast an African-American student in the lead--not just because she's black but because he felt her time had come to step into the lead role. But after all the voice lessons (that ACU paid for), it was decided that she couldn't sing the part. The paper quotes an opera singer who did part of the training, but failed to mention that he's an African-American. (I consider that relevant only because some are seeing a racial conspiracy here.) It wasn't prejudice; she just couldn't sing the part--though she's considered a wonderful actor and is deeply loved by the Hesters. She was cast this summer in the part opposite Adam Hester, playing his wife in the summer Shakespeare theater. This man doesn't have a bone of prejudice in him, which is why he wanted to bring this play celebrating diversity in the first place. I think even those who have been critical -- at least those close enough to know what they're talking about -- haven't made that charge. They're just questioning whether Adam's "colorblind" policy is correct and whether the play should have been chosen without an African-American ACU student to play the lead. Some have villified the theater department for planning to put "black face" on the actress -- which was never the plan. They were going to follow the model of the Broadway production of "Aida" where Caucasians, Asians, African-Americans, and other ethnicities are cast. As a statement from the school says, "The Broadway production used special braiding and other exotic hair treatment along with eye makeup for the Caucasians who were playing Nubians. The ACU Theatre Department intended to follow that model. The Theatre Department never planned to darken the skin to suggest the white actress was black or to use an offensive form of makeup such as blackface, which would be offensive to Caucasians as well as African-Americans." Look at Adam's statements in the Wednesday paper. His concern is that the way of Jesus be followed. Compassion and reconciliation are more important than winning an argument. Wow! Second, there have been examples here of where the local media, in an effort to have a BIG STORY, have been unfair and have actually driven a wedge of division in the community. E.g., when Adam was interviewed by KTXS, he spoke often about his appreciation for what the critics were saying, his concern for reconciliation, and his desire to follow the way of Christ. Can you guess? None of that made it into the final edit. That doesn't help the story if you've decided that the story is about prejudice at ACU. Third, it helps us understand that past sins are difficult to put behind. This wasn't, IMHO, a case of prejudice on the part of the theater department. But, there are aches and pains from the past that spill over. Many are rightfully hurt because of all the years ACU and many other Christian universities didn't even admit black students. Others are aware that at times even after those policies changed black students have been shunned or subjected to double standards (again, all over the country, not just at one university). An apology from the school in 2000 doesn't make all that go away. And so to some, this felt like ONE MORE THING. We must hear the criticism with this important context in mind. I appreciate what I learned from Adam: that compassion and reconciliation trump proving you're right. I'm not an organizational man. If I thought the school was trying to pull a fast one, I'd say so. And for full disclosure, Adam and Donna Hester are dear friends, and I feel defensive. Some might decide that the "colorblind" policy is wrong; but if they claim a movitation of prejudice on Adam's part -- well, they're just wrong. But wouldn't it be nice if a day came where something like this wasn't a big deal? Toward this end, I hope to see several of you at the "New Wineskins Retreat 2005" (not related to New Wineskins magazine except in mutual concerns). This year's topic is "Undoing Racism in Churches of Christ and Beyond." The speakers are Doug Foster, Steven Moore, Jack Reese, Edward Robinson (all full-time faculty members at ACU), Ralph Draper, Ervin Jackson, and David Holmes. If someone has a website with more info, please post it in the comments. The program is Aug. 26-27 at the Richland Hills Church of Christ. Also, a valuable resource is the book Unfinished Reconciliation, edited by John York and Gary Holloway. (Check out the insightful, hard-hitting chapters by Ken Greene!)

22 Comments:

  • "Man looks on the outside, God looks at the heart." The heart of ACU will prevail. It is red!

    By Blogger David Michael, at 8/12/2005 05:21:00 AM  

  • Question Mike --

    I think this Wineskins workshop is great - praise God for the topic. But....are all the speakers white? I don't know - that's why I ask.

    Seems to me a workshop on helping us undo racism would feature some of our prominent African American and/or Hispanic preachers to expound on the topic and their struggles. Ken Greene certainly comes to mind, and I'm sure there are dozens of others. Thanks.

    By Blogger KentF, at 8/12/2005 06:03:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    I can't find any info on the web about the "New Wineskins Retreat 2005." Does anyone know how we can get more info about that?

    By Blogger B-Rock, at 8/12/2005 06:27:00 AM  

  • This uncalled for attack on the Hesters, ACU and its theatre department really got to me. Again, the whole story wasn't aired, rather pieces and carefully cherry-picked parts were used to promote a totally erroneous scene. All involved in this sham, including the NAACP that brought this to a head, should be ashamed of themselves.

    One thing that might help us is to get rid of the expression "color blind society" - how can we appreciate the special beauties, cultural richness and traditions if we attempt to see all and everyone as "one color" - NONSENSE!!

    When we truly begin to open our hearts and eyes to the differences, embracing those differences in love for each other, then maybe we can begin to truly root out the poison of bigottry from our hearts and society.

    btw-good question about the speakers at the Winskins workshop. Have to admit that was my first thought when I saw the list of names, but then I'm from a ferrin [sic] country and don't know all those invited to speak.

    Two names that came to my mind from our local scene were Dr. Jerry Taylor and Sr. Joe Almanza.

    Glad you're back. Mike! Your thought prodding entries have been missed. I'm happy to get out of the dreaded summertime hybernation. :o)

    By Blogger Kathy, at 8/12/2005 06:45:00 AM  

  • "there have been examples of where the local media... have been unfair and have actually driven a wedge of division in the community"

    This also represents observation # 3, "past sins are difficult to put behind".

    I have heard this said about the church as well. People tend to have very good memory when it comes to being wronged. I am so very glad that God is not that way. When we repent and ask forgiveness, He is able to wipe the slate completely clean. But, it shouldn't surprize us that people are not able to do that very often.

    By Blogger Brian, at 8/12/2005 06:54:00 AM  

  • Thanks for sharing this side of the story. It is a side that needs to be heard.

    And I'll see you at the retreat. I uploaded the brochure for the conference on my website, so you can download it here.

    By Blogger Travis, at 8/12/2005 07:32:00 AM  

  • Thank you for sharing this side of the story...as a graduate of the ACU Theatre Department I know what amazing people the Hester's are--it was always a blessing to be a part of a department where great art was produced and glorifying God was always the main goal...I am proud to call it my alma mater, and my life was changed by knowing and being taught and loved by the Hester's...I hate that this whole situation has taken place, and hope that a peaceful reconciliation can be found

    By Blogger tine, at 8/12/2005 07:41:00 AM  

  • This seems to be a "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

    If they had gone ahead with the play, yeah, a few people would have been pissed. According to some, the "sytemic racism" would have been proagated. However, the result now will probably be a different play with a white lead, and who knows what the fallout from that will be.

    To quote my British friends, "Bollocks," on all of it.

    The reason this situation has gotten under my skin so much is that it seems an outspoken, ultra-minority has hijacked the decision making process. If there was a massive outcry from the African-American community in Abilene, and other minority groups, and heck, even the lily-white crowd, if there were marches and rallies and protests showing that a large number of people were pissed off, then I could understand changing. The way this seems to be presented (by a slanted media, I concede), is a very small group of people raised a stink, and now we have a new play.

    This sounds like a 3,000 member church deciding not to move to PowerPoint because 3 old ladies like the hymn books better.

    By Blogger Greg Kendall-Ball, at 8/12/2005 07:50:00 AM  

  • Ralph Draper!!!

    My church in Longview would do joint church sometimes with Ralph's congregation. What a man! Great family too.

    By Blogger c, at 8/12/2005 08:37:00 AM  

  • I don't know the Hesters, but I assume they are the quality people you say. I trust you and many people at ACU.

    I'm sorry the Hesters have been hurt in all this. At the same time, as a African-American graduate of ACU I know that there has always been a sub-culture of prejudice and racism. It is palpable for non-white students. Having grown up and ministered in predominantly white churches, I can tell you that the racial issues are VERY real. I experience it in our churches weekly! And I'm not one of those people who suspect racism under ever rock!

    Because of that fact, institutions like ACU's theatre department should think carefully about presenting plays/musicals that celebrate diversity without being able to actually be diverse. Perhaps someone in the theatre department shoud recruit a spectacular black student who can do the part and nurture them at ACU--we do it for blacks who can run track!

    Moments like these should remind us how deeply rooted racism has been in our country and how painful it is has been--and is--for those who suffer from it. It's a shame that ACU's and the Hesters intelligence and motives have been criticized and made suspect over an issue of skin color. Welcome to my world!

    P.S. Mike, I have always love and appreciated your work and I usually don't commment, but this topic is important.

    By Blogger Sean, at 8/12/2005 09:24:00 AM  

  • Kent,
    Good question on the Wineskins speakers. The answer is no, they are not all caucasian. Doug Foster and Jack Reese are, but Steven Moore and Edward Robinson are both African-American faculty members at ACU. They are both amazing and godly men that I looked up to during my years in the GST at ACU.

    By Blogger Eric, at 8/12/2005 09:48:00 AM  

  • I remember hearing the Golden Rule as a pre-schooler and thinking is was a license for revenge. I would do unto others as they had done to me. As absurd as this sounds now, why do we offer a pass when the issue is race? I don't remember Christ suggesting we even the score when we are wronged. I know without the slightest doubt that Adam had no ill-intent and this situation and merely wanted to judge someone on their ability and not on the color of their skin. To refuse opportunity to the person of better talent soley because they are white smacks of reverse racism.

    By Blogger Val, at 8/12/2005 10:40:00 AM  

  • Sean, thanks for your honest and heart-felt response. I really appreciate your candor and reminders of the everyday realities of racism (and all the other -isms that hurt others).

    By Blogger kristi w, at 8/12/2005 11:13:00 AM  

  • I appreciate hearing the perspective of Sean as well. However, one thing to note about the diversity of the play is that 25 percent (2 out of 8) of the named cast members were African-American students. If I recall correctly, that's a higher percentage than there are African-Americans at ACU as a whole or even in Texas. Just because the lead role was not played by an African-American doesn't mean the cast lacked diversity altogether. Still, I applaud the decision to change musicals because it placed relationships, respect and community above being "right" or exercising personal freedoms.

    By Blogger Wendy, at 8/12/2005 11:45:00 AM  

  • Val - I don't think this issue is about evening the score. Simplifying and labeling it reverse racism doesn't help this situation which I think most people see as pretty complicated, regardless of their race.

    By Blogger Little Light, at 8/12/2005 01:14:00 PM  

  • How about "Undoing Discrimination (including disability, race, etc..) In the Churches of Christ and Beyond"??? I have faced more discrimination in the Church than in the world. How ironic this is that when i evangelize to hurting people in the bars to business professionals in Starbuck's, they hear my message and do not see my disability. But, when i apply for a ministry position, etc... no matter what kind experiences, and education and amazing references i have like you, Dusty Rush, etc... my disability is the reason why i'm knocked out... This is turning into a blog entry...HA! God's power is made perfect weakness and may i add differences! Our heritage has ignored social injustices in the past...Thank you for leading us Mike in what Jesus has led us in all along - SOCIAL JUSTICE IN THE NAME OF LOVE!!!

    By Blogger Todd Lollar, at 8/12/2005 03:08:00 PM  

  • Blogs are the best places for information and yours hits the spot. Keep on giving us the relevant information we need.

    I also have a niche buying laptops web site/blog. It's a great resource also if you're looking for buying laptops related products.

    By Blogger Ted Kushner, at 8/12/2005 07:32:00 PM  

  • I think Mr. Kushner is a spammer, what do you all think. Hiss, hiss.

    When I made my last comment with the link to the "New Wineskins" brochure, I did not read Kentf's comment. Kent, the majority of the speakers at the conference are black, with a smattering of white folks (I think there are two white speakers, and two of us who are doing book reviews). This conference was started my friend Dr. Jerry Taylor and some of his friends as a place of fellowship for preachers in African-American Churches of Christ who had received heavy criticism from the more conservative side of Churches of Christ. The retreat speakers are very prominent in African-American Churches. Over the past few years the retreat has begun to be more interracial, and this year's meeting is intended to further that goal (it is held at Richland Hills Church of Christ, a white church).

    I wish more of our predominately white conferences would take on this topic. Come on Tulsa, Zoe, Streams in the Desert, Christian College Lecturships!

    By Blogger Travis, at 8/13/2005 08:52:00 AM  

  • Of all the people in the world to be drug through this issue I can not believe Adam and Donna Hester are having to endure this. More spiritfilled, gentle, compassionate and graceful people you will not find.
    They are proven leaders, mentors and spiritual directors and their reputation is above reproach. God bless them as they endure what is not fair!

    By Blogger Arlene Kasselman, at 8/13/2005 12:03:00 PM  

  • I was truly astonished at the criticisms levied at ACU, even by its own Office of Multicultural Enrichment, at this issue. Does Aida "call for" a black lead? No, not acording to the INTERNATIONAL licensing board (MTI); Was Ms. Owens a better choice vocally? No, not accoriding to all the experts weighing in, including, as Mike points out, Samuel Cooke. Is ACU's policy to exclude theatre students from all but roles that correspond to their ethnicity? Of course not. Black students have often played non-black characters. That's theatre.

    So, the only warrant I can understand behind the criticizing community's argument is "We don't like it." They should reconsider their own responsibility in driving a wedge deeper by using such an argument.

    By Blogger Cole, at 8/14/2005 07:00:00 AM  

  • This issue breaks my heart as I am very close to the Hesters and an alum of the theatre department there. I first heard about this issue last week from a friend, and I hadn't heard anything yet. I couldn't imagine what the problem could be. There had been controversial casting desisions in the past but Adam is the ultimate professional and I know as you all who know him do that means he's going to do what's best for the play. I'm not surprised however that Adam would make this decision however because I know that he also sees somethings as more important to theatre, as dicsipline to which he has dedicated much. I applaud Adam for his decision and I hang my head at those who wish to villify a great man without the benefit of knowing his heart.

    By Blogger Kyle, at 8/14/2005 09:44:00 AM  

  • Ah, the slanted media. This sounds like the kind of piece the New York Times would do.

    By Blogger Lucinda Ross, at 8/14/2005 04:25:00 PM  

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