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Controversial play ‘Corpus Christi’ to be presented at Raleigh church for pride month

 The company of "Corpus Christi" at St. John's Metropolitan Community Church.
Dustin Britt
Submitted Image
The company of "Corpus Christi" at St. John's Metropolitan Community Church. (Left to right; front row) Benaiah Adesoji, Byron Ard; (back row) Alastair Motylinski, Stephanie Yu, Nat M. Sherwood, Mitchell Aaron Mulkey, Desmond Leach, Nathaniel Bush Jr., Kat Cupp, Xenon Winslow, Philip Guadagno, Naveed Moeed, Chris Acevedo.

A Raleigh church is presenting a play for LGBTQ pride month that reimagines the story of Jesus Christ and his disciples.

Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi depicts Jesus as a young gay man living in Texas who wrestles with questions of religion, identity and sexuality.

Since its premiere, the play has faced backlash from conservative religious groups for its portrayal of Jesus. Its 1998 premiere was canceled after protests and bomb threats. A production in Aurora, Colorado earlier this year was met with threating voicemails and threats of pickets.

While the play raises ire of religious conservatives, Reverend Vance Haywood says it speaks to queer people who have been cast out of all faith communities. He’s the senior pastor at St. John's Metropolitan Community Church, which began in the 1970s to serve LGBTQ people who had been cast out of mainline denominations. Hayward says the message of Corpus Christi fits with that mission.

"I found myself recalling and going back to and reconciling some of the religious trauma that I've experienced in my lifetime,” Haywood said. “So, I think it's really important for us to be able to share that message, and to bring it into a space that is supposed to be inclusive of all people but has so often been used as the very space to cause harm."

Director Dustin Britt says he strived to put together a cast and creative team that represents the diversity of Raleigh's queer community.

"Our cast is coming from across the racial spectrum, the religious spectrum, and certainly the gender spectrum,” Britt says. “Also, the neurodivergence of the group is pretty impressive and extraordinary. And it brings so much to the production.”

Britt added that it was important to have this diversity, because many previous productions featured casts exclusively made up of white men.

“I think in the late 90s, the face of the queer community publicly was largely cisgender men, many of them white, because the power dynamics within the queer community are not unlike the power dynamics in the community at large,” Britt said.

Corpus Christi runs Thursday through Saturday at St. John's Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh.

Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
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