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The Times has an article today that I thought was interesting -- it alerted me to a trend of which I was unaware.

This is a very Wormy Can, and I realize that there are posters here of all religions, including no religion and the Evangelical Christian religion, so please tiptoe carefully, if you join the discussion, but I wonder what people think of this.

Is there a surge in Evangelical Christianity, or is it just beginning to be noticed by arts mavens? Will this affect ballet -- or concert dance in general?

Here's the article:

Evangelical Sales Are Converting Publishers

Some secular publishers chuckle at Evangelical best sellers like the hot new health guide "What Would Jesus Eat?" (not much fat, plenty of whole grains) or marriage manuals recommending wifely submission. Others, mindful of past allegations of anti-Semitism on the religious right, gulp at the popularity of books by Evangelical authors calling for the mass conversion of Jews.


The major publishers are forging ahead nonetheless, even paying eye-popping sums like a recent $45 million advance for a series of Evangelical thrillers by the best-selling author Timothy LaHaye. Laurence Kirshbaum, chairman of the books division of AOL Time Warner, which started a new Evangelical line last fall, called it making up for past neglect.

"We are mostly liberals in publishing who have probably been publishing a lot of books which are offensive to Christians or to that audience," he said. "Maybe this evens it out."

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Evangelical churches, along with charismatic churches, are growing dramatically while the traditional mainline Protestant churches are either leveling off or dropping (there is some difficulty evaluating the numbers, because the stats on mainline Protestant churches used to include anyone who had been born into the faith, so to speak, and now they include only people who are actually members). The explanation many give is that the evangelicals offer clearer (simpler) tenets in a scary world, and they focus on a personal relationship with God, while the mainline Protestants can be too "heady." (I am a mainline Protestant. We live in the gray areas of life.)

Now, many evangelicals are anti-dance, but you probably know about Ballet Magnificat, which certainly sounds as though it's run by evangelicals.

Since evangelicals are gaining enormous political power, I would definitely have some concern about the fate of arts funding. And I am sure that many on these boards are familiar with the decision of atty general John Ashcroft (who has a prayer group in his office every morning) to cover the exposed breast on the statue of Justice that stands behind him during press conferences in the justice department's Great Hall. Although she is not dancing, his objection to her visible nipple certainly says a lot about his attitude toward the body and in particular the female body. I know this is slightly off-topic, but here she is in her glory days, breast exposed: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/ame...000/1788845.stm

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There is a growth among evangelical Protestant Christian churches and related organizations that has been going on for about the last twenty years. I think it unlikely to impact ballet, as although some converts from the unchurched are quite devout, they are a small minority, and some of those quite approve of ballet as an art form, while there are those who find all secular dancing, whether performing or watching, something akin to a "near occasion of sin" if not sin itself.

The growth of the mega-churches, which provide a sort of one-stop shopping for Sunday activities, including in addition to worship, shopping, exercise classes, approved movies, and a whole lot of other things has made this movement more attractive to many. The problem that they seem to be experiencing is a high turnover rate. People start attending, stay for awhile, then either seek another, mainstream denomination, or become unchurched again.

I don't think it's anything for the arts community to worry about.

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I used to work in book advertising, and the phenomenon of evangelical bestsellers isn't new. What's new is that mainstream publishers are trying to get in on the action formerly reserved to Christian publishers. The mergers in publishing have meant, to give the example cited in the article, that the largest Christian publisher, Zondervan, is part of HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Apparently, the Christian worry is that their "liberal" owners will dilute the message of the true believers. I think the true believers have nothing to worry about. American publishers are not famous for their stand-up qualities in the face of a fatwa or boycott.

On the other hand, the true believers provide cause for nervousness, if not concern, on the part of the rest of us. Those evangelicals who object to the "Satanism" in the Harry Potter books, cannot be expected to take kindly to Wilis, Fairies, or swans in thrall to evil sorcerers -- let alone to all that exposed female flesh on display. All it would take would be for some Pat Robertson type to go to the ballet just once, and there would be hell to pay, excuse the expression.

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I live in Wheaton, Illinois, which is often called the "evangelical Vatican" because it is the home to many fundamentalist groups and Wheaton College, the alma mater of Billy Graham. Wheaton College, for many years, had students sign "The Pledge," which included bans on card playing, dancing, drinking, attending movies, etc. In modified form, I am sure that this is still in effect.

I hasten to add that I'm a former ballet dancer and current liturgical dancer whose mainline (Episcopal) church is in much-more-welcoming Oak Park. As a high-school teacher, I had a very fundamentalist colleague years ago who was horrified at the costumes (or lack thereof, in her eyes) in a televised performance of Gerald Arpino's "Trinity" (which, of course, is one of my favorites).

That said, even Wheaton College has allowed dance in its musicals in recent years. A Baroque dance ensemble also gave a very well attended workshop plus performance there several years ago. A Master's degree candidate held a liturgical dance evening there a few years ago. On the other hand, in the past year, I've heard from young would-be liturgical dancers who are (not surprisingly, in my view) discouraged by the climate for dance there.

One of the dancers in my liturgical dance group in Oak Park has worked slowly and patiently -- and successfully -- to have dance accepted at her own large conservative Protestant church elsewhere. So, I would say that, on balance, it has been worse and could be worse. Roman Catholics also have real concerns of longstanding about the acceptance of liturgical dance; however, given the current problems in the church, they have more pressing issues to face right now.

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This doesn't strike me as anything to worry about. The publishing industry has just realized that there's a huge market waiting to be tapped, and they're tapping it. It is true our Attorney General doesn't approve of dancing, but from what I've seen of him on C-SPAN, this is no great loss to the nation. (Amazing how times have changed, though. Bush Senior wouldn't nominate Ashcroft for any post, although he thought about it -- too right-wing for the nomination to make it through Congress.) As to the role of evangelical religion in American society, that's too vast a subject to get into here. Fortunately, it seems unlikely to take hold in moral sinkholes such as New York City and San Francisco.

Dear Sister Wendy. I must admit to being slightly taken aback myself at the spectacle of an elderly nun waxing eloquent over the shapely buttocks of some Bacchus or other.

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It’s amazing what you can find on Ballet Alert sometimes. :) I spent much of my childhood in Wheaton and a couple of towns bordering it, and that near-nekkid “Trinity” was the very first dance I ever saw. Not that I remember it being that good.

Evangelicals are regularly confused with fundamentalists, but while the former may be as theologically conservative and culturally benighted as the latter, they often aren’t. Many evangelicals have wide and educated cultural tastes. Wheaton and Wheaton College are strongholds of evangelicalism, not fundamentalism, and the dancing students had to pledge not to engage in was social. I could be mistaken, but I really don’t think the theatrical was covered. So while I’m sure there are evangelicals who are suspicious of dance, I’ve met legions who aren’t.

As for mainline Protestantism being too intellectual for evangelicals, I’m afraid that’s another overly broad statement. Although writers like LaHaye are bestsellers, many evangelicals have no interest in pulp like that or “What Would Jesus Eat” or almost anything else in the ghetto of what the Times aptly called “spiritually correct” bookstores. And while it’s true some evangelicals won’t let their kids read Harry Potter, others, such as Alan Jacobs, a Wheaton College English professor, have praised it. See www.booksandculture.com or www.marshillaudio.org for some “heady” evangelical thinking.

So I don’t think evangelicalism as a whole is a threat to concert dance. Finally, on the recommendation of an evangelical, I attended a certain Upper West side church one Sunday morning in 1990. During the social hour after the service someone asked me why I was in town. When I told them I’d come to see NYCB, he mentioned that a couple of its members attended there.

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I'm one of those people who confuse evangelicalism with fundamentalism, and I'm grateful to kfw for pointing out there's a difference. On the subject of Wheaton College, I'm friends with a married couple who both graduated from there. They are also subscribers to NYCB.

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I also thank kfw for the clarification. Although I live in the midst of everything from fundamentalism to evangelicals and beyond, I am not that sensitive to the nuances, since I am not a part of any of them. Recently, a Roman Catholic referred to my (Episcopal) church as a Methodist church. Clearly, she suffered from the same problem as I.

Like Farrell Fan, I can also assert that some of my friends are Wheaton College graduates. I can add that for many years I have subscribed to and supported their Artist Series, which brings in world-class artists such as Kathleen Battle.

Re Arpino's Trinity: It's a product of its time, in part. Nonetheless, in recent revival, the audience and I still loved the joyous dancing (I would add, however, that the last few minutes of candle-placing are far less effective now than they were long ago).


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I know people who call themselves evangelical Episcopalians who are much more liberal than the televangelists and people on Christian radio stations. Many of the latter call themselves evangelical but sound awfully fundamentalist to me. Based on my personal experience with some profs, Wheaton College seems to be more liberal or open-minded than those TV-type evangelical institutions and spokespeople; PBS spent a whole episode of its Evolution series covering the fact that Wheaton teaches evolution as well as creationism.

Maybe the trouble with this thread is that it's pretty hard to make blanket statements about evangelicals or any other religious group, although guessing is fun. Tomorrow night at the Met I will be on the lookout for WWJD bracelets in the audience! ;-)

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