Hamilton is a renowned Broadway musical that portrays Alexander Hamilton’s life in a dramatic, gripping fashion. It enthralls US attention and provides a beautiful mosaic of American culture. The show draws heavily from hip-hop, R&B, and jazz as well as other traditional show music.
When Hamilton premiered on Broadway in 2015, the play supposedly took in $30 million in ticket sales before opening. The play has received universal acclaim and continues to show around the world. Hamilton became available to stream on Disney+ in 2020, increasing its broad reach and appeal.
However, the show recently made headlines because a church put on its own rendition of the show. They directly copied the show but changed a few key lines to include an evangelistic message. As it gained national attention, Hamilton sent them a cease-and-desist letter for breaking copyright laws. They also received backlash because of their “altar call” afterward.
Is this an admirable way to engage the culture?
What is The Door Church?
I have become more and more careful in scrutinizing churches. The collective church is under the headship of Christ and is part of the bride that he purchased with his life (Acts 20:28). In this case, while the offense of this church is not egregious, it’s certainly worth discussing without harshness.
The Door McAllen Fellowship Ministries is an evangelical, nondenominational church and collection of ministries in McAllen, Texas. They clearly have a heart for evangelism and outreach, as well as community service. Situated close to the Texas–Mexico border, their outreach extends to a great number of American immigrants, and their church plants extend into South America as well.
One of their ministries includes theater productions. They put on a concert on many Saturdays as part of their “RGV productions.” While those events include live music and plays, sometimes they will also put on other large-scale productions. These include theatrical renditions of Despicable Me, Toy Story, and Beauty and the Beast, among others, all with a Christian message. (Note: The church has since removed the videos and references to the plays from their website, likely due to the national attention their site has received.) These plays are clearly put on for entertainment as well as gospel outreach, and admission is free. Since the church doesn’t make money off of them and the audience is not large, Disney would seem to have little reason to contest the church using their movies.
Even these, however, are probably questionable with respect to copyright laws. The difference with the church’s rendition of Hamilton is that, while the other plays are based on movies, they copied the Hamilton play word for word (except for where they added a gospel message).
Is Hamilton persecuting the church?
Hamilton’s team responded that it did not grant an “amateur or professional license” to The Door Church, and it never has to anyone else. The Hamilton team sent the church a cease-and-desist letter, telling them to remove their video of the play and stop advertising it.
Hamilton’s team responded graciously by allowing The Door Church to put on the second night of the performance, as long as they didn’t film or photograph the event. The pastor said in a sermon that he was thankful for the ability to continue with the second showing. He also thanked the Hamilton team for granting them a license for the show—which they never did. He also said that they had “over 30 people get saved between both nights, and that is really why we do these plays.” Which we should all certainly praise God for.
The discussion between the church and the show is ongoing, but it’s clear that the show was unauthorized. This is not a case of persecution but was clearly the fault of the church. It’s unclear whether The Door Church misunderstood the laws or broke them knowingly. Either way, their team should have known better, especially considering their experience putting on plays.
Whatever the consequences, hopefully The Door Church will act graciously, own up to its mistakes, apologize, and move forward through proper channels.
The Door Church message mentioned homosexuality
Most media outlets that covered the story noted that the sermon (an “altar call”) at the end of the play included this quote: “Maybe you struggle with alcohol, with drugs—with homosexuality—maybe you struggle with other things in life, your finances, whatever.” This led to some headlines like: “Texas Church Illegally Performs ‘Hamilton’ with Anti-LGBTQ Messaging” and “‘Hamilton’ team blasts Texas church’s unauthorized, homophobic performance.”
Pastor Roman Gutierrez denied that their church is anti-LGBT, saying that “everyone is welcome” in their church. He could certainly say that while still believing homosexuality is a sin, although he didn’t comment on that idea. Whether The Door Church holds a biblical view of sexuality or not, it’s obvious that our culture sees viewing homosexuality as a “struggle” as anti-LGBT and hateful. From the world’s perspective, this is understandable.
Hamilton’s team also did not know about the gospel message in the show when they allowed them to perform the play for a second night.
However, the biblical view of sex states that marriage and sex were created to be between one man and one woman. This biblical message is both offensive and a hard teaching, but the Bible shies away from neither.
Is The Door Church in the wrong?
The church rightly received criticism for copying Hamilton, especially without a proper agreement. However, many in culture also clearly revile and hate them for their apparent views on sexuality (1 John 3:12; Luke 6:22). Paul says that we must be “blameless and innocent” as we “shine light in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Peter says we ought to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
While much of The Door Church’s work clearly reflects the Great Commission, the call to love our neighbors, to serve our communities, and call people out of addiction, we should be careful to compromise our ministry with irresponsibility. Perhaps The Door Church should stretch themselves to higher creativity in the future by putting on entirely original shows. It’s also worth noting that God redeems failures like illegal play productions, especially when his people submit to his Spirit.
All of that said, churches should remain above reproach in their high calling. While we might be persecuted for our faith, the consequences of breaking the law otherwise are not persecution and taint our witness. The mistake might be innocent on the part of The Door Church, but regardless it was negligent. How they handle the situation from now forward will reveal their character.