A Change of Heart Without A Change In Action Means Nothing

 

A couple of years ago I was in a production of The Laramie Project. Being in this production was meaningful to me because I remembered being a scared kid, just trying to come out when I saw the HBO movie. This felt full circle in some ways; I was out, I was happy. But at the same time, I was cognizant of the fact that Matthew Shephard’s murder was not an isolated incident. Queer people are still at risk every day (especially transgender women of color).

As we prepared for the performance I was struck by the fact that it seemed as if most people coming to see The Laramie Project considered it as a period drama. Some terrible thing that had happened and thank goodness that doesn’t happen anymore. As I thought about what my bio should be for the program I decided to dedicate my performance to the transgender people who had been killed so far that year. I wanted to raise awareness that this play wasn’t simply about a historical event.

After the performance, several folks came up to me and asked about the number in the program (over 200 people killed that year). They couldn’t believe there were so many. And that they hadn’t heard about them.

I walked away from that production thankful for the experience but wondering what could have been done differently. Doing the show didn’t seem to be enough. Raising awareness wasn’t enough. People came to the theatre and had an emotional experience. Maybe they even left have their perceptions shifted, but would the act of having seen the place actually change their behavior?

There are all sorts of conversations about the meaning and role of art in the world. In my evangelical tradition art is often designed as thinly veiled propaganda. It’s designed to get you to commit your life to Jesus. I’ve never found that to be very effective. But neither have I found art that simply raises awareness to be satisfying.

I want art that provokes thought and elicits emotions, but I also want art that inspires people to change. What I’m learning from non-profit work is that you have to make the action steps visible and easy for people.

That’s the idea behind Uprising Theatre Company. What if, after people had seen The Laramie Project, there had been tables set up in the lobby where people could sign up for the LGBT host home program, or give money to a trans youth support group, or sign a petition asking for better protections for LGBT people? What if, before people even left the theatre, they could get involved in actual, concrete ways to bring about change? What if the ways to get involved in change were clear and accessible? Then maybe our production could have been more than a night at the theatre and instead been a catalyst for lasting change.

What if, after people had seen The Laramie Project, there had been tables set up in the lobby where people could sign up for the LGBT host home program, or give money to a trans youth support group, or sign a petition asking for better protections for LGBT people? What if, before people even left the theatre, they could get involved in actual, concrete ways to bring about change? What if the ways to get involved in change were clear and accessible? Then maybe our production could have been more than a night at the theatre and instead been a catalyst for lasting change.

There is something to be said for raising awareness, for educating people, for opening their eyes and shifting their perceptions. But it can’t end there. It has to lead to changed actions and behavior.

For more about the intersections of Christianity, activism, and the stories we well, check out these articles, videos, and podcasts.

Here are a few of our favorites:
Flip Those Tables
Kind Homophobia and Transphobia Is Still Evil

Photo CreditJoshua Rappeneker via Compfightcc

This article was published by Fr. Shannon Kearns