Bad Minnesota Lutherans Cancel Community Theater Production Of ‘Inherit The Wind,’ For Freedom

Bad Minnesota Lutherans Cancel Community Theater Production Of 'Inherit The Wind,' For FreedomAs a perfect finale to the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, we have this story from New Ulm, Minnesota: a New Ulm Actors Community Theater production of the 1955 play Inherit the Wind had to be cancelled after fundamentalist Lutherans made life miserable for the play’s director and several actors. These are the fire-breathing Michele Bachmann kind of Minnesota Lutherans, not the Garrison Keillor kind. The denomination’s views are so extreme, in fact, that Bachmann left the church when she ran for president, seeing as how it might be difficult to get votes from Catholics when the WELS website says “We identify the anti-Christ as the papacy.”

The trouble started when faculty members at Martin Luther College, the ministry college for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), saw a poster advertising auditions and complained to the school’s administration about pro-evolution overtones in the play, which uses a fictionalized retelling of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey trial” as a means to critique McCarthyism. The administration was also duly alarmed, and cancelled the single on-campus audition that the community group had planned for MLC students.

Within a few more days, the play’s director, Zach Stowe, a student at MLC, resigned as director, saying that he had received a torrent of emails and letters from MLC professors and area WELS members. Yes, college professors wrote to a student telling him that directing a play was bad for Jesus. Stowe added that he was worried that school administrators might take further action against students involved in the production. Shortly after that, six cast members also decided it wasn’t worth being in a community theater production that the community had turned against, and with no time to fill all the empty roles, before an opening night set for October 4, the theater board “indefinitely postponed” the production. No replacement date has been set.

MLC Vice President of Student Life Jeffrey Schone told the New Ulm Journal that, since the school trains WELS ministers, the college’s administration had a legitimate interest in expressing “concern” about its students being associated with the play. The denomination is committed to an absolutely literal interpretation of Genesis and the creation story, so even the slightest involvement of MLC students with a play that suggests the crazy notion that evolution is real might taint the college’s brand:

Schone said MLC was concerned about making it absolutely clear to its students, WELS members and the public about its beliefs and teachings on creationism. He said he recognizes the subtext of the play, but feels it is unfairly critical of creationism and that most people would only see the criticism.

“We felt it was not compatible with what [the school] teaches the Bible says about the universe and the world,” said Schone. “This is a ministerial school. People employing our students need confidence about their views.”

Zach Stowe said that he believes in creationism, but was disappointed that MLC involved itself in a community theater production.

He said he believes open discussion about the topic is essential to proving its validity.

“The play does not just say evolution is right. It treats Christians with respect. The entire point of the play is both sides need open, free discussions,” said Stowe. “But, I don’t have any negative feelings about it. Everyone acted how their conscience directed them in this situation. I can respect it.”

And he’d darn well better respect it if he knows what’s good for him.

Interviewed during a 1996 Broadway revival of the Inherit the Wind, Jerome Lawrence said that he and co-author Robert E Lee

“used the teaching of evolution as a parable, a metaphor for any kind of mind control … It’s not about science versus religion. It’s about the right to think.”

And now the good people of New Ulm, Minnesota, have learned a valuable lesson about the value of freedom of thought.

[New Ulm Journal / City Pages]

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  • FauxAntocles


  • Jim Donaught

    “even the slightest involvement of MLC students with a play that suggests the crazy notion that evolution is real might taint the college’s brand”Yeah, you can’t have your students THINKING or anything . . . that would be much too dangerous to your brand. The word “cult” comes to mind when I read garbage like this.

  • boobookitteh

    Henry Drummond said it best: … if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind.

  • Ellis_Weiner

    “But, I don’t have any negative feelings about it. Everyone acted how their conscience directed them in this situation. I can respect it.”Oh good. As long as everyone acted in accordance with their conscience, no matter how narrow, ignorant, or downright stoopid they, in fact, are. It just shows to go you that, as I always say, Pol Pot (or, okay–HITLER) thought he was doing the right thing, too. Don’t we all?

  • malsperanza

    This is part of the Ulm Community Theater Great American Plays series. Next season it plans to offer the cancellation of productions of Lillian Hellman’s “Another Part of the Forest” which presents an unbalanced view of the Confederacy, and Tennessee Williams’s “Not About Nightingales,” which says mean things about Mussolini.

  • (((JustPixelz)))

    Watching “Inherit the Wind” to learn about the evolution debate is like watching Fox News to learn about anything.

  • SayItWithWookies

    Teach the controversy! As long as it’s just the creationism side.

  • coozledad

    It’s really a fucking shame. Those Lutherans would have been the perfect stand- ins for 1920’s Tennessee gobshites hooting from the gallery. And Marcus Bachmann as William Jennings Bryan? Goosebumps, folks.Oh well. There’s always the possibility they could refuse to stage To Kill a Mockingbird, too.

    • $73376667

      You take that back! Bryan was at least coherent!

      • coozledad

        Obviously, you’ve never heard Marcus’ Marital Aid of Gold speech.

  • Tio_Doidinho

    The synod I fled from (Missouri Synod) has forever been in competition with WI for the Craziest Lutheran Award. (’twas the Missouri Synod who excommunicated a pastor for daring to do a 9/11 memorial service with non-Christians.) Good effort, Wisconsin, but you’re gonna have to do better than that. Burn the director at the stake if you want to keep your ranking.

  • Mickey Bitsko

    While they’re at it they should ban the movie version as well. What’s the use of casting Gene Kelly (as a dull HL Mencken knock-off) if he’s not going to dance?

  • redarmyzombie

    So, nice things?Nope, I forgot, we can’t have nice things.

  • Pandora Maltese

    that’s fucked up

  • Gretchen Miller Neuman

    What’s next? Fundementalist Anglicans?

  • Thorbjorn

    It’s shameful what that group has done to the reputation of an otherwise excellent town. I am a New Ulm Lutheran, not their brand, of course, but it shames me that they’ve brought this sort of contempt on others.

  • natl_[redacted]_cmdr

    This is Minnesota Not-Nice.

  • Jeffrey Schone and his peers must be a riot at book burnings. We certainly want these “little Christs” deciding that people are incapable of seeing beyond the surface of art.

  • Lina

    Which is that it has no value at that school.

  • Harvey Sugar

    On a related note: Minnesotans cancel Rainbow Rowell’s book visit after parents’ complaints

  • Warpde

    What would you expect.Minnesota.The land of Bachmann and pray away teh gay.

  • Arcturus

    When I was a kid in small-town Wisconsin, the local Wisconsin Lutheran pastor wouldn’t let any of their boys join the local Boy Scout troop. The reason? Because the Boy Scout Oath had “God” and “country” in the same line, therefore making “country” as important as “God.” That was bad juju 45 years ago – its good to see their minds have opened since then.

  • kotz

    I grew up in the WELS cult. This is standard operating procedure for them. Well, actually, the WELS of the 80’s would have forbidden the play in the first place, without all that time wasted in casting and rehearsal and such.

  • wh3546q346

    can we start publicly caning religious “people” every time they harass people like this?