The Door McAllen church in Texas has issued a formal apology after staging an unauthorized, Jesus-infused performance of the musical “Hamilton.” The church’s theft earlier this month received national attention after film of its first performance was shared with me by an anonymous source and I posted several clips on Twitter.
The copyright infringement was bad enough. The religious messaging, which wasn’t in the original production, only made things worse. And to top it off, the show was followed by a sermon urging people to turn away from homosexuality.
In an Instagram post this morning, the church issued a statement apologizing for what it had done:
On behalf of The Door Christian Fellowship McAllen Church, I would like to personally apologize to the creator of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the producers of Hamilton, and the numerous others who contributed their intellectual property to Hamilton, for staging an unauthorized production of Hamilton that infringed on the rights and copyrights of many.
The Door Christian Fellowship McAllen Church did not ask for, or receive, a license from the producers or creators of Hamilton to produce, stage, replicate or alter any part of Hamilton; nor did we seek prior permission to alter Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work by changing the music, the lyrics, deleting songs, and adding dialogue.
We respect the copyrights of Hamilton”s [sic] author and contributors. These copyrights are protected by federal law. We acknowledge there are lawful avenues to obtain a license to stage properties which we did not pursue. And it is never permissible to alter an artistic work such as Hamilton without legal permission. I recognize as the Pastor of the church that I have an obligation and responsibility to follow the law and educate our community about these protocols. Our ministry will use this moment as a learning opportunity about protected artistic works and intellectual property.
On behalf of The Door Christian Fellowship McAllen Church, we agree we will never stage the performance again and will destroy any and all video or sound recordings and images of the unauthorized performances or rehearsals, and request that all our members do the same. Lastly, we will pay damages for our actions.
There are a few things I find interesting about that lengthy statement.
First is the acknowledgment that the church never received permission to stage this show. That directly contradicts what Pastor Roman Gutierrez told the church on Sunday, August 7, after both performances had already occurred. The church knew people were complaining after Friday night’s show but said they were given permission to continue on Saturday night anyway. Gutierrez claimed they had received a license to “perform our version” of the show directly from “the Hamilton team.”
Was he lying? Was he misled by someone? Is the church still working with RGV Productions, the group that was behind this whole thing? We still haven’t gotten any of those answers!
The last line of that apology is also notable: “… we will pay damages for our actions.” That’s important. As I wrote before, if this church could stage a production of this caliber, with all the necessary costumes and sets, then they have money. How much will be paid in damages? To whom? We have no idea.
In a statement to WFAA today, Shane Marshall Brown, a spokesperson for “Hamilton,” said any money received by the show’s creative team would be donated to the South Texas Equality Project:
“The South Texas Equality Project is a coalition of organizations that work to advocate for, celebrate, uplift, educate, and provide support to the LGBTQIA+ community of the Rio Grande Valley,” Brown said.
Remember that “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s only public response to this kerfuffle so far has been a tweet acknowledging his awareness of the problem and adding, “Now lawyers do their work.”
Paying the “Hamilton” team some random amount of money (since the rights aren’t available to anybody yet) is important. But it would also strike me as far more generous if the church also donated to a local fine arts program so that students with a passion for theater could hone their skills in a secular way, taught by professionals.
The statement also says, “We acknowledge there are lawful avenues to obtain a license to stage properties which we did not pursue.” But The Door McAllen has done this before! In recent years, they staged similarly Christianized versions of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Despicable Me, Toy Story, and more.
While those performances are no longer available online, the church didn’t apologize for all its past crimes. Will any of the people behind those other movies be receiving any payments? We don’t know.
Maybe the biggest omission from the “Hamilton” apology is a reference to what was said at the church after the performances ended.
On Friday night, August 5, a pastor (I believe it’s Victor Lopez) came on stage and told the crowd to seek Jesus if they were struggling “with alcohol, with drugs, homosexuality.” As if being gay is something that needs to be fixed.
That sort of rhetoric may be common in conservative Christian circles, but it was especially troubling to see “Hamilton,” a musical theater phenomenon, used as a weapon against LGBTQ people. Today’s statement makes no mention of that comment, nor does it apologize for it.
As of this writing, the church is still mostly silent on social media. All of its videos, including past sermons, have been taken down from YouTube. We still haven’t heard any comments, as far as I can tell, from any of the actors involved in the show.
This statement is a start, but given all the unanswered questions, it can’t be the last word.