Thursday, September 21 was the first show of “The Christians,” a play put together by HU’s theatre program. The play ran one weekend plus and additional showtime on Tuesday, September 26.
This was the first time HU presented a play set on a church stage. Jay Duffer, associate professor of theater and play director of “The Christians,” had a strong pull to make it happen.
“I thought it would be really engaging for our audiences,” Duffer said, “particularly because we are on a faith-based environment, and our Christianity is so important for us here.”
The play starts with a very normal Sunday sermon. The pastor, Paul, introduces a topic called The Fires of Hell by talking about the story of a boy who saved his little sister from a burning building at a conference. The boy dies because of the fire, but people overlooked the boy’s act of heroism, focusing on his religious stand, saying what a shame it is that he wasn’t Christian — he could have been in heaven.
Then, Pastor Joshua takes the podium and is quick to affront Pastor Paul. He is against the sermon because it means that Pastor Paul doesn’t believe in the existence of hell, while he believe in it and the existence of Satan. Pastor Paul responds by saying that there is no explicit mention of “Hell” in the Bible. Pastor Joshua bombards him with verses that state the contrary, but Pastor Paul evades them all by saying that they are not actual statements of “Hell.”
Then, Pastor Joshua takes the decision of leaving the church altogether, on the basis of the difference of beliefs that him and Pastor Paul have. He ends up leaving with 50 other church attendees behind him and a church waiting to collapse.
As time goes by, more people decide to leave Pastor Paul’s church due to his stance of a nonexistence hell. A member of the congregation faces him too, and then leaves because of the difference of beliefs. Pastor Paul’s conclusion was that if there was no hell, it meant that all people end up in heaven — no matter their religion, the sins they’ve committed, etc.
After his statement, one by one, the church members leave until there’s just his wife and him. His wife is also astonished by his beliefs. She feels left out and unattended, so thus, she decides to leave him. She parts along with her daughter and Pastor Paul is left alone.
The ending of the play presents a very conflicted, alone and defeated Pastor Paul. He starts reevaluating his beliefs, and says, “Why do I believe what I believe in? Because it’s a feeling that God put in my heart.” And the show ends.
The play leaves one hanging for more since the end was so abrupt. As people congregate outside, the same question of, “Why do believe the way I believe?” potentially arises in some people’s head.
That was something that was planned all along.
“I didn’t mean [for] this to be, in any way, a Sunday school lesson,” Duffer said, “and it’s not a church — it’s drama. It’s theater. And all good theater asks important questions. It tests our faith if we start to look at other viewpoints.”
When asked about the Forester Lecture on Hell, Duffer said that it was not a coincidence. He teamed up with David Alexander, professor of philosophy, to search for someone who could address the controversial topic in a professional way.
James Bruce, associate professor of philosophy at Brown University, comes into the equation. He presented four ideas of God’s relationship and justice at the lecture.
First was the idea of a courtroom, where God is a judge, punishing us for our wrongdoings or rewarding us. Second was the idea of a Father, where God is faithful and loves us in a self-sacrificed way. This then becomes expected of him. Third was the idea of politics, where God is an organizer of society. The last idea was seeing God as a provider of opportunities for all.
Bruce sides with Pastor Joshua, believing that Hell does exist and God is free of choosing the relationships he has, but first comes the relationship with those who have given their lives up to Christ.
“It is coordinated with the love of God,” Bruce said about the question of the justice that hell brings. “God is a free spirit. He is the creator of things he has created. Let’s not assume he chooses to have the same kind of relationship to everything he’s created.”
Bruce then concludes with the thought that God gives all of us an opportunity to be with him, but he is only Father to those who have a relationship with him, only offering heaven to those people.
Duffer supports this belief.
“There are many Christians who believe what Pastor Paul believes,” he said, “and there are others who are completely shocked that someone could believe that there’s no hell. The Bible is a tricky thing.”
Duffer seemed to be very happy about the university letting him cover a subject presented in “The Christians.” He said he is very proud of the cast, concert choir and musicians.
“They were a strong ensemble [and] a wonderful production,” he said, with a big smile on his face. “I couldn’t have been more thrilled as director.”