“Once On This Island” Too Offensive For One Uptight Pastor

Ken AshfordGodstuff, Theatre1 Comment

Swank In my occasional forays into wingnuttia land, I often check the writings of Reverand Grant Swank, a columnist at Renew America and a pastor New Hope Church in Windham, Maine.  His writings are unintentionally hysterical.

Imagine my joy when I read his latest column "Eastern Nazarene College anti-Christian play presented", which is essentially a reprint of an email he sent to the President of Eastern Nazarine College, located in Boston's South Shore.

Dear ENC President Corlis McGee:

I just sat through the 4 pm October 17 musical, "Once On This Island," in Cove Center.

"Once On This Island" is a calypso-style musical about an ill-fated romance between Ti Moune, a dark-skinned peasant girl, and Daniel Beauxhomme, a light-skinned descendant of French plantation owners and their slaves. 

Here's a scene from the actual production that Swank saw (taken from the local paper in Quincy, the Patriot-Ledger):


"Once On This Island" is more than a love story; it addresses racism and class struggle on a post-coloniel Carribean island.  It's about muli-culturalism and diversity.

So fans of Pastor Swank can guess what he thought of it.

I am disappointed and disgusted.

Of course he is.

This play should never be presented on a Christian campus, let alone a holiness campus.

What's the difference between a "Christian campus" and a "holiness campus"?  Apparently, the latter would never do "Once On This Island".

Its accent on godS — in the plural — was throughout, particularly praying constantly to these gods, in one instance for gods to heal a sick body. There is only one God who appeared in Christ. There is no room for polytheism laced throughout an ENC drama department presentation.

Riiight.  I mean… it's not as if "multicultural understanding" is a defining value of the Eastern Nazarene College.  Excuse me?  Oh.. really?

At the Friday homecoming Marriott dinner, when the musical was highlighted with a lead actress singing, she sang out "My God. . ." in the singular. That obviously told the attendees that she was praying to the biblical God, the deity adhered to by Eastern Nazarene College. However, when she sang that same song in the Saturday musical, "God" was changed to repeated mentioning of "gods," not only by this one singer but all singers in one selection after another.

Ah.  They pulled a bait-and-switch on Pastor Swank.  As an alumni of ENC, he attended the Friday homecoming dinner at that Marriott (strawberry shortcake for dessert, I'm guessing), and the drama department did a little preview.  But they omitted the "s", thereby fooling Pastor Swank into coming to see the full show.  Sucker.

Further, there were two lovers in the play who spent the night together — unmarried. Such was an obvious scene depicting just that, no indirect implications implied. It was evident without apology or qualification.

Because in the REAL world, two unmarried lovers NEVER spend the night together.  Or if they do, there's a lot of apology and qualification.

But enough about my sex life.  Back to Michael Medved's Pastor Swank's review:

In addition, there was much so-called dancing throughout the musical. The dancing was without doubt in most instances quite suggestive. This underlined most disturbingly the demonic overtones from start to finish. There is no polite way to state that but to state the strong term "demonic."

Yes, let's state it a couple more times.  Demonic, demonic, demonic.

Don't these people know that they dance the Viennese Waltz, hankies aflutter, to creole music?

Moreover, who scheduled this offensive presentation on none other than the Lord's Day afternoon at 4 o-clock?

Presumably, he's talking about the special benefit performance held yesterday.  I hope it was a full house.

Anyway, having unleashed his wrath at the play with colored people, Pastor Swank turned to… yes… the program.  Apparently, the play was too demonic for Swank to watch, so he spent the entire time reading the program, looking for things to condemn.

In the printed musical program on page 2, the musical director and drama department head both tried to legitimatize the musical as being multicultural, a lesson in colonialism, etc. Even praise was given to students sharing with one another their understandings of "the faith." This does not wash with any thinking Christian, that is, when sitting through the production. These two program page 2 statements are limp at best, insulting at worst.

Pastor Swank doesn't have a problem with "multiculturalism" in the performing arts, so long as it represents his (and only his) brand of Christian culturalism.  (The "multi" part is superfluous and a much un-needed syllable).

The musical was not a "child-friendly" performance because of the violence and demonic/ghost insertions. What child should have been subjected, for instance, to scenes in which knives were put to humans' necks under threat of slaying these individuals?

One wonders if Swank missed the ENC college of Phantom of the Opera.

I am sorry that my granddaughter, age 5, was seated in the audience.

"I'm sorrier still that her parents didn't want me to sit with them."

A teen grandchild of mine was planning on attending ENC in a couple of years. Now, not so.

ENC's loss?

My wife and I will not be contributing moneys henceforth to ENC.

Thery won't be contributing moneyS because the play sang about godS.

Though having attended ENC plays for decades, I doubt if I will ever trust an ENC production again. I will never recommend friends attending an ENC play, though I have been a chief supporter of same for years.

You won't recommend friends who attend an ENC play, Pastor?  That's going nuclear, dude!

What is particularly sad is that the young students in the musical have now been given the message that this kind of anti-Christian production is legitimate at Eastern Nazarene College; therefore, they will expect same for future productions. This should never happen again.

"They should just keep doing The Wizard of Oz and Seussical until their ears bleed."

These students should be read such emails as this one. And the musical director as well as drama department head should be given this email with directives to squash any hopes of scheduling this kind of content.

"And what about book-burning, too?  Can we get an amen to book-burning?!?"

I noted in the musical program on page 2….

Oh Christs.  We're back to the program.

I noted in the musical program on page 2 there a sentence that the college mission statement has been changed. A red flag went up on that sentence.

Judging by the writing style of their alumni, perhaps the college ought to focus on English language skills.

Why has that mission statement been changed? I then would appreciate you mailing to me the "old" mission statement" and the "new" one to compare what change has been made for as far as I know we alumni have not been informed of any change in the college mission statement.

Pastor, you might want to read here.  Or this, from Wikipedia:

The president and trustees of the college determined in 1931, one year after gaining its charter to grant degrees in Massachusetts, that it is part of the college's mission to be "distinctly interdenominational and cosmopolitan in service." Students are not required to profess any religion, but faculty members are required to be Christians.

The sad fact is that ENC was not intended to be the Christian Tightwad College.

Finally, I am seriously posting on well-read Internet websites the above for Eastern Nazarene College graduates and prospective students to read what has happened in Cove Center this homecoming weekend.

You go, girl.

If the world does not know, I fear that the drama department is going to continue its present track of improper productions at the college from which I graduated.

I cannot envision my professors Bertha Munro, Edith Cove, Alvin Kaufman and such ever countenancing a musical such as has been offered this homecoming event 2009. This kind of "opening up the door" to obscene, anti-Christian productions simply cannot continue. If it does, I will be at the forefront to communicate with as many alumni as I can muster about this horrific intrusion.

Oh, Pastor.  You were probably ignored when you were a student at ENC.  What makes you think anybody cares what you think now?