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Why Alexander Hamilton Gave His Heart to Jesus At a Texas Church This Weekend

By Bob Smietana
hamilton church
A scene between Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Eliza, in an unauthorized production of the musical “Hamilton,” at The Door Church in McAllen, Texas. (Video screen grab)

When offered a chance to save his soul at a Texas church this past weekend, Alexander Hamilton did not throw away his shot.

During a slightly adapted production of the hit musical “Hamilton” at The Door Church, a large, diverse congregation, the main character bowed his head, closed his eyes and gave his life to Jesus.

“What is a legacy?” the actor playing Hamilton said, according to a recording of the show obtained by media. “It’s knowing you repented and accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ that sets men free.”

There was just one problem. The church did not have the rights to perform “Hamilton” or post videos from a performance online.

“‘Hamilton’ does not grant amateur or professional licenses for any stage productions and did not grant one to The Door Church,” a spokesperson for the musical told media in an email. 

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After learning about the unauthorized performance on social media, the producers of “Hamilton” sent a cease-and-desist letter to the church, instructing them to remove all videos and other images of the Friday performance. The producers did tell the church it could go ahead with a performance on Saturday, provided the performance was not recorded, no images of the event were posted online and no additional productions would be staged.

According to a statement from the producers, they planned to discuss “this matter with the parties behind this unauthorized production within the coming days once all facts are properly vetted.”

Written by actor and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton” reimagines the early days of the United States with a diverse cast and a hip-hop inspired score. The musical debuted in 2015 and became a pop culture juggernaut.

Alexander Hamilton, right, gives his life to Jesus in The Door Church’s unauthorized production of the musical “Hamilton,” in McAllen, Texas. (Video screen grab)

A staffer told media the church has no comment about the production. During a worship service, pastor Roman Gutierrez acknowledged that the church was contacted by a lawyer from “Hamilton” and had removed the videos.

“We had over 30 people get saved between both nights, and that is really why we do these plays,” he said. “For people to get saved.”

The church website contains links to previous church productions of “Toy Story,” “Despicable Me,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” using images from films of those stories.

Videos of the church’s “Hamilton” included a series of references to Jesus not found in the original play. In a scene between Hamilton and his wife, Eliza, she tells him that everything will be all right if he gives his life to Jesus.

“God is not who I need right now,” Hamilton replies.

Following the production — which included costumes and an extensive set that seemed to replicate that of the Broadway show — a pastor gave an altar call. He told people that no matter their struggles, whether it was finances, addictions or homosexuality, God could help them.

The comparison of LGBTQ people to people with addictions angered “Hamilton” fans. So did the use of a beloved show without permission.

Doing so was the equivalent of stealing, said secular commentator and writer Hemant Mehta, who posted about the church on social media. Church leaders should have known better, he said.

“Are you telling me that no one involved in putting on this show asked the question, can we do this?” he said.

Jake Johnson, associate professor of musicology at Oklahoma City University, said that while there are serious ethical and legal issues involved, he was impressed by the sophistication of the church production. But he was not surprised by it. Churches have long adapted works of pop culture to spread their messages, he said. And they are not above changing the text or even adding songs from other sources to get their point across.

The most extreme example, he said, is the “Re-Sound of Music,” a reworking of “The Sound of Music” to promote the polygamist beliefs of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That music, which still exists online, turns a song called “You Two,” originally sung by a father to his children in the movie version of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” into a polygamist anthem.

A Canadian church is also known for creating Christian-themed plays based on popular movies and musicals, including one called “The Passion of the Iron Man,” in which the Marvel hero is crucified while the villainous Loki sings R.E.M.’s “The End of the World as We Know It.”

Musicals are also uniquely suited to be used by religious groups, said Johnson, author of “Lying in the Middle: Musical Theater and Belief at the Heart of America,” which looks at church adaptations of musicals.

“Musicals are almost always a kind of Christian narrative, in the sense that they’re about reconciliation and redemption,” he said. “Even if it’s not overtly about religion at all, the story can easily slide into this pocket of Christian idealism where everything works out in the end and the good guys win and the bad guys will be vanquished.”

jake johnson hamilton
Jake Johnson. (Photo via Oklahoma City University)

Johnson also said that musicals appeal to a wide range of American society, including theater-going audiences in liberal cities like New York as well as a red state like Texas. The church adaptation is a kind of homage to the power of musicals to bring people together, he said.

Author and historian Peter Manseau also sees some parallels between “Hamilton” and more overtly religious musicals.

“‘Hamilton’ is in some ways a show in the mold of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Godspell,’ which also began as radical new tellings of a familiar story,” he told RNS. “Given the popularity of ‘Hamilton,’ it’s almost inevitable churches would try to repurpose it, even in ways counter to the show’s intentions.”

Musicals can also be a way for churches and other faith groups to bring people together. For a number of years, Bethany Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake, Illinois, has put on musicals like “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Mary Poppins.”

The church pays for the rights to perform those shows, said Ruth Ann Poppen, director of worship and music, and sees them as a way to help people in the church and the community build their musical skills and self-confidence — and to celebrate the talents in the community. Half the cast from a recent version of “Mary Poppins” came from outside the church.  

“It is a way for us to reach out to be more visible and have people come into our sanctuary outside of really regular worship services,” she said.

Howard Sherman, an arts administrator, writer and advocate, said churches and other groups can stage musicals if they get the rights to them. The church in Texas did not do that, which he found concerning. Copyrights help artists make a living and give them the right to control their own work.

“That is a lesson that anyone in a leadership capacity, an educational capacity, or an ethical capacity should be teaching people, especially young people,” said Sherman, who posted about the Texas play on Twitter.

Mehta suggested, in the spirit of musicals, a redemptive resolution to this situation, allowing the Texas church to make amends.

“I would love to see them make a sizable donation to a fine arts program — that might be a way to make up for what they have done and allow everyone to benefit.”

Kathryn Post contributed to this story. 

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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20 Responses

  1. These church productions need to write original content that is both entertaining and compelling. Instead they use evangelism to justify theft. Just more ends justify the means in evangelism.

    1. I agree, especially since many of these productions twist the narrative in a way that may not align with the original author or producer’s intent. That can cause them to answer unplanned, unintended questions, and defend or clarify their stances (like what is happening with Lin-Manuel re: Hamilton).

    2. Dan Allen, well said. “Thou shalt not steal” applies to intellectual property as well as tangible goods.

    3. Let me get this straight:
      Hamilton has an Altar Call Ending.

      Or is this another example of “Just like Hamilton, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”?

      We’re living in a South Park episode.
      Or the story-within-a-story of Ray Blackston’s A Pagan’s Nightmare.
      It’s the only explanation that makes sense.

  2. Yes, the church stole the production, but so many people got saved! I guess Jesus would be satisfied with the church’s approach-NOT!

  3. Oh boy… 30 people “saved” and how many turned away forever because of this stunt? Like Dan says… more american mega-churchianity behaving badly and trampling on the real gospel of Jesus their pathetic attempts to be something they’re not (and in this case, unethical to boot)
    Not everyone in the fold is like this, but why are so many american christians so ‘dumb’? This is shoot-yourself-in-the-foot kind of idiocy… what happens to the brains of the committee planning this, when they sit down to put on this kind of thing? I don’t have a problem with putting on a musical (article mentions other churches doing it right) but via this means? Wake up american church – turn on your brains again before you’ve managed to permanently turn off just about everyone the world over…

    1. Loren, I do not think the issue or whether this did financial harm trumps the stealing of the production.

      1. My objection is to assuming nefarious intent. McAllen TX is a remote, poor, border city, probably 90%+ Latino. It’s not unreasonable to assume they just didn’t know what they were doing was illegal. And I’d bet my house, if they were giving a pro-LGBQ message, nobody would care about this. But CNN and other outlets think this is a big deal. Why might that be?

        1. Loren –
          They may have had good intent. Lin Manuel Miranda is well-respected artist hailed throughout the Latino community, so perhaps they wanted to emulate his work as a way of reflecting that. However, we know the saying: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
          Lin Manuel has done a lot of award-winning work. Why pick Hamilton? Yes, it is one of the most popular shows of this era. However, there has been a debate for many years about Hamilton’s sexuality, given the tone of some of the letters he wrote to John Laurens. So to deliberately pick THIS show to tell an anti-LGBTQ message is “taking a shot” at the work (to use language from the show) and does cause me to question intent.
          Furthermore, the church was dishonest about receiving permission. If you watch one of the posted videos, they claim to have had permission. But that was not so, hence why they had to remove the videos.
          A LOT of wrong going on here.

          1. Also, no amount of “good intent” cancels out dishonest and harmful action. The “ends” never justify the means.

        2. This wasn’t a puppet show for VBS. This was a full stage production- and you cannot honestly believe that with the sets and costumes they produced that no one there knows how musical theater works and that they would need permission to use someone else’s intellectual material. On the SLIM possibility that they didn’t, it’s willful ignorance- turning a blind eye and intentionally not doing due diligence.

  4. That church deserves to get sued out of existence for stealing intellectual property. Don’t tell me christians believe in right and wrong. They don’t care.

    1. Almost as a non sequitur, the writers mention that (probably secular) fans dislike that homosexuality is categorized as a problem that one might bring to the Lord. No surprise, the world has been pushing for acceptance of sexual immorality and unbiblical standards since the 1960’s. However, many in the church today are also accepting the world’s values, trading the gospel for a false gospel, which is really no gospel at all.

      Is it because the editorial stance of the RNS leans toward agreement with the world in matters of sexuality that this part of the story was tossed in there like that?

  5. There are so many well-written shows they could have used. In many cases their writers would have be very glad to see another production happen.

    There are also hundreds of amateur companies looking forward to when they will be allowed to produce Hamilton. They may look down on anyone jumping the gun, let alone a version modified to tell the story differently.

    1. The complete disregard for intellectual property and the hubris manifested in comments about 30 “brought to Christ” is shameful, disrespectful of Lin Manuel Miranda and a total perversion of any correct interpretation of “do unto others…”.
      No integrity represented by this “church” leadership team; all public schools know EXACTLY how expensive it is to purchase rights to produce a musical; this church simply proceeded and allowed staff to proceed with total disregard for ethics: it is a significantly POOR witness.

      1. yes. to counter their “30” there are literally 10s of thousands on tiktok and twitter who are more firmly entrenched in the idea that the church is a scam. And before anyone says “It’s not about numbers, Jesus left the 99 for the one”- Jesus didn’t actively harm the 99 before heading out to find the 1- Jesus didn’t lie or cheat or steal to get the one.

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