Christian Theater Major Needs Advice

A while back, I wrote a post entitled Christian Actors, in which I discussed Christian actors and the roles that they played. “Is it all right for a Christian actor to play a role in which he has sex outside of marriage?” was one question I asked. Today, someone posted the following response:

“… So I am a Christian in college, and right now I’m a theater-major. I’ve really been struggling with this issue! Is there a line to draw in what we portray in plays? Are there words that we aren’t supposed to say? There’s so many things that pull me both ways; if I am acting, then technically it’s not really me, but at the same time, I want to glorify God through the skills He’s given me. And then at the same time I feel selfish and feel like I’m being held back from whatever talent I have because I can’t accept certain roles, even if they would focus on my acting strengths. AHHH! What to do? I’ve prayed about it, but I haven’t felt like I’m getting any answer. If all the Christians were to never do acting, then who would be a light in the darker areas of acting? Does anyone have any thoughts or clarity on this? Thanks.”

What advice would you give to the Christian theater major in this dilemma? Feel free to chime in, whatever your religious affiliation or lack thereof.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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37 Responses to Christian Theater Major Needs Advice

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always felt Denzel Washington to be a good example of a Christian who is also an actor–he portrays a lot of different types of characters, but in his private life is very family oriented and faithful to his religious beliefs.


  2. Izgad says:

    A major factor is what sort of religious value you put on theater. If you believe that theater is more than just entertainment and has real value to it than it makes sense to allow the actor to “cut” certain corners that one would not for allow normal Christians.
    Coming from the Jewish perspective, Orthodox Judaism has proven very willing to allow doctors a lot of leeway in terms of the Shabbath. The reason for this is that we recognize that we need doctors. So what happens if one applies the same logic to actors.


  3. Byker Bob says:

    This is a very interesting topic. Most of us probably did act in school plays and productions, but that is a totally different world. There were no nude scenes in high school plays, and very rarely any swearing.

    I believe that the best answers to your question would probably come from Christian actors themselves. In many cases, they were or are where you aspire to be. I watch TBN quite frequently. As a result, I’ve come to know and respect some of the fine Christian actors and actresses, such as Randy Travis, Dyan Cannon, Chad Everett, Stephen Baldwin, Gavin McCleod, and others. They do have personal Christ-like standards from which they will not deviate. This, in some cases does narrow the selection of roles which they will consider.

    Also on TBN is a wonderful series called “7th Street Theatre”. It follows a group of young people who evangelize through their Christian theatre group. The weekly dialogue often treats this question which you’ve posed.

    Basically, it becomes a matter of conscience. Some might consider me to be a kind of an actor. I’m a salesman. But, I’m a different kind of salesman. I’m honest and sincere with my prospects, will not lie to them, won’t cuss with them, even if they do first, and generally try to do the best possible job of meeting their needs with my products, never being loyal to my billfold or putting commissions first. I know that I often need to approach each sales opportunity prayerfully, to make sure that I have the right attitude. I consider it a calling to get to the prospects first before some of my unscrupulous competitors do. Doing it the way I do, I may never become rich, but frankly, I don’t care about that. My methodology puts me on what I call the “direct blessings program”. I make the sales that God wants me to, and everything works together for the ultimate good of all who are involved.

    I know I rambled, but hope that helps.



  4. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Is the answer the same if the character was a murderer? If not, why not?


  5. James Pate says:

    That question’s actually gone through my mind today, Stephen. I was watching Desperate Housewives, Season 3, in which Dixie Carter plays a murderer. Dixie Carter is a big time Republican, yet here she is playing a murderer! But I wouldn’t mind that as much as her playing a person who has non-marital sex because I know in real life she wouldn’t believe in murder. But playing someone who has non-marital sex gives sanction to that sort of lifestyle, unless there are bad consequences in the story from that activity.

    BTW, I have the Waltons episode, the Fawn, taped, but I haven’t watched it yet.


  6. Russell Miller says:

    I think the bigger question is…

    If you’re a Christian, why are you acting at all? Isn’t that bearing false witness? Maybe that’s why you’re not getting your answer… you’re sinning either way.


  7. Anonymous says:

    Check out this blog. There are lots of good postings for Christians in theater.


  8. steph says:

    I worked in theatre for ten years. If you have to act a character like yourself, you can’t act. If you can’t perform a variety of characters, you can’t act. If you can’t be both a goodie and a baddie, you can’t act. If you can’t be both a nun and a whore, you can’t act. If you’re going to be so fussy picking your roles – don’t bother going into the theatre. If a Christian is asking this question they shouldn’t be going into the theatre. If an atheist asked this question (‘should I play a baddie because being a baddie is wrong?’) they shouldn’t comtemplate a career in acting either. They obviously aren’t cut out for the job. Perhaps a squeamish Christian could justify their performance of a nymphomaniac by suggesting it is a moral lesson to their audience. On the other hand perhaps they shouldn’t bother. I just hope they don’t watch any stuff on TV that has extra-marital sex because that would not be glorifying God.


  9. steph says:

    Sorry that was a bit harsh. I just think it’s not the career for your friend perhaps


  10. James Pate says:

    Yeah, Russell, wasn’t that the lesson of the movie Galaxy Quest? The actors on the Star Trek show were lying because they were playing a part?


  11. Byker Bob says:

    Wow. This “lying” thing would really affect all of the arts. You really couldn’t, as an example, do an impressionistic painting, where the obvious is distorted, because that would not be a true representation of the scenery or object depicted. No Van Gogh, no Salvador Dali.

    No fiction, either, because fiction is by definition not true. Most of rock music wouldn’t exist, because amplifiers are used to electronically distort the true sound of the guitar.

    Seems like this applies a whole new layer of legalism to all of the arts, if you think it through to obvious conclusion.

    In the early decades of the movie industry, there were moral principles applied to the story lines. If, as an example, characters committed adultery, then penalties for their act were written into the plot line, as a moral lesson to the viewing audience. One character might die, there might be some VD involved, or an out of wedlock pregnancy might result. Penalties for immorality very rarely occur in television or film drama any more.

    This is a complex issue. I don’t believe that scuttling the arts is the solution. Certainly there can be balance, as there are many very uplifting movies, works of art, and musical pieces.



  12. Russell Miller says:

    “No fiction, either, because fiction is by definition not true. Most of rock music wouldn’t exist, because amplifiers are used to electronically distort the true sound of the guitar.

    Seems like this applies a whole new layer of legalism to all of the arts, if you think it through to obvious conclusion.”

    Reducto ad absurdum, and not the best one I’ve seen either. A guitar can’t lie, and running it through an amplifier isn’t lying. However, pretending to be someone you’re not and saying things you don’t believe is.

    It’s not like I care. I’m just saying that if you’re a Christian, you can’t pick and choose which commandments you want to follow. Either all, or none.

    James, I’ve never seen the movie.


  13. Byker Bob says:

    Well we’ve covered a lot of ground, and might have even lost the original intent of the question. My thoughts would be that a Christian should generally play roles which would accomplish some good, teach a lesson, or at least do no harm. It may even be ok to play a pimp or ho, if the general lesson of the production is uplifting and positive. All parts in getting the lesson across are important. No nude or sex scenes, though.



  14. steph says:

    Perhaps we should have theatre of the arts and theatre of Christians. The latter couldn’t have real life drama because there is evil in life, no fiction because fiction is lies but the actors could constantly play themselves. A type cast actor, can’t act.

    What on earth is wrong with nudity? God created us nude. Clothes protect us from the elements. Society conditions us to wear them. Hatred of our own nakedness is fear of our own bodies. I’ve modelled for a highly respected and successful painter here – sometimes in period costume, sometimes draped, sometime nude. I feel greatly honoured he asks me. He is a gentle sweet man. He and his wife are devout Christians and thank goodness it doesn’t prevent him creating great art.

    I’ve never seen live sex on stage. I hope I never will. I doubt it somehow.


  15. Izgad says:

    There is not a problem per se with nudity it is just that if you are trying to create a society in which sex is taken down a level or two and is not the end all or be all than it makes sense to have some sort of taboo on nudity.
    I believe it is possible to view nudity outside the context of sexuality and just as art which, so it would seem, is what your Christian friend is doing. That being said this is not something that applies to most people. So for the time being nudity should not be something generally accepted.


  16. Russell Miller says:

    I certainly don’t understand the “logic” being expressed here.

    Sex/nudity bad, lying good?

    The only commandment regarding sex is not to have it with someone else’s wife. And even that is because at that point in time, wives were property.

    Of course, I’m not a Christian, so maybe it’s no wonder I don’t understand it. I guess you have to be better at rationalizing than I am.


  17. Izgad says:


    There is a major ethical problem with sex in that it involves physically taking someone and using them as a means to your own pleasure. This violates the Kantian notion that one most always treat people as an ends in of themselves and never simply use them as a means.
    The fact that the other person is using you at the same time does not help matters. It simply means that now you have two unethical people using eachother for their own purposes.
    The solution to this problem is to limit sex to situations where the sex becomes part of the building of a relationship. This makes the sex an act of giving and not just of using. This would, for all intents and purposes, ban teenagers from having sex. One cannot count on them to be mature enough to seriously engage in a giving relationship and not simply use the other person.
    Marriage is simply a way to make this type of relationship building formal. As such it makes sense for any religion or ethical society to insist that people should only have sex within some form of marriage and treat those who do not as unethical and cast them out.
    Notice that nothing that I have said has anything to do with religion. Though it applies to religion because most religions to demand that people be ethical. But this applies to atheists with equal force.


  18. steph says:

    “That being said this is not something that applies to most people.” Do you think most people are perverts? Or just Christians? “So for the time being nudity should not be something generally accepted” Until when? When Christians learn not to fear their bodies?


  19. Izgad says:

    I do not think this has to do with people being perverts, Christians or fearing of their bodies.
    This has to do with trying to not be controlled by sex. Note that I have not called you or the artist sinners. I have also not suggested that we spend our days preaching about the evils of sex. I have not even said that sex is a bad thing or that it should be banned. I recognize that by going to the other extreme, going crazy if a woman shows their pinky, is granting the same power to sex as having women going around naked.


  20. steph says:

    You are implying that “most people” in that case, are obsessed by sex. I wonder if you are perhaps just thinking of yourself. The fact remains that if an ‘actor’ can’t play anything other than a ‘good’ role, they cannot act.


  21. Izgad says:


    I do not know if it is most people, just enough that certain actions should be taken. Any society in which it becomes a major news item when a famous actress appears in a magazine wearing just a necktie has got a problem. (I am not saying she did anything wrong.) I would like to live in a society in which I am not always running into billboards and magazines that seem to be focused on sex. I have no intention of using the government for this. But I do reserve the right to use my position as a member of this capititalist society and my ethical voice to try to overturn our sex focused society. I do this not out of any religious concerns per se but simply as a child of the Enlightenment who believes in the authority of reason.


  22. steph says:

    You blame a whole society for a few smutty magazines and billboards? I think you read to much into things and perhaps you should try not to focus on sex and exert your energies into more productive and rational things.


  23. James Pate says:

    No, we’re pretty over-sexed here. I’m sure you’ve seen our shows, Steph. Well, maybe it’s not on Monk a lot, but our attitude towards sex is evident on a lot of other programs.


  24. Izgad says:

    You are engaging in ad hominum attacks. What have I said that indicates that I am focused on sex? Read my blog and you will see that yes I put my energy into a lot of other things. For example I just passed my orals. Ask James. That is a very big deal. Not the sort of thing you can do if your mind is always on sex.
    I wish it was just a matter of a few smutty magazines and billboards. I am not the sort of person who would engage in a search and destroy mission to find smut in any nook and corner; I am too much the libertarian to do that. What is so wrong in thinking that sex plays to big a role in our public sphere and wanting to take just a little bit of out?


  25. James Pate says:

    That’s right, Izgad has a lot of other interests, such as the Whig narrative of history. Speaking of which, Izgad, you should check out Looney Fundamentalist’s web site. He also touches on distortions of history that make Christians look bad.


  26. James Pate says:

    “You blame a whole society for a few smutty magazines and billboards?”

    I out to be able to drive my family around town without having a 70 foot p***s on every commercial establishment.

    As Izgad suggested, our society is too much too focused on Hollywood sex and not on the hard news issues of the day.

    Certain civilized limits are needed for sex displays on the movies, tv and elsewhere.

    John Birch

    December 17, 2008 2:31 AM

    steph said…
    A 70 foot p***s on every commercial establishment? My, my, your society is very strange indeed. Perhaps America is very smutty. I didn’t realise.


  27. Russell Miller says:

    Izgad: I don’t see that as an ethical problem at all, as long as both parties consent.


  28. Izgad says:

    Why does it make it better if two people use each other instead of one person using someone else? Now we have two unethical people instead of just one. The intention here is the problem. This Kantian stance is important for anyone who is a part of the liberal tradition. This Kantian imperative is the reason why tyranny and slavery are inherently unethical. We cannot accept any system that sees people as means and not as an ends. How can I say that people being used by tyrannical governments like North Korea is wrong when I am willing to turn around and use the people in my life simply to suit my own pleasure


  29. steph says:

    James: I don’t watch alot of American TV. All the good programmes are British, Ozzie and Kiwi. There isn’t alot of explicit sex on Monk, The Simpsons or Star Trek. We have things like Sex in the City but I’ve never watched that and we have alot of American cop shows and FBI chasing ‘terrorist’ shows which I never watch. I thought you had more violence than sex on TV. Now violence to the degree it is shown is something I think is unnecessary and unhelpful to society.

    Izgad: ad hominen attacks? I don’t think so. No personal attacks or changing the subject. That you see 70 foot p’s on ‘every’ commercial establishment, is something I cannot believe and even that you are always running into smutty magazines and billboards. I cannot believe our societies are so different. You would have to hunt out sex if you wanted it. But that you are so (over) aware of it suggests you are on the look out (not literally for sex, but for an object to criticise). I’ve seen American documentaries and news items and plenty of unsexy billboards and commercial establishments. In fact I can’t remember seeing any sexy ones. Sure you have another life, but focus less on sex and you won’t always find it perhaps.


  30. Russell Miller says:

    Izgad: Because it’s none of my business.


  31. James Pate says:

    I think a lot of it depends on intent. For example, if I think Natalie on Monk is hot, then that’s because of my focus on sex. The show isn’t exactly sexually-oriented. But I think a lot of advertisements try to appeal to sex to advertise. That’s where the billboards come in. I don’t think they show hot women by sheer accident!


  32. Izgad says:

    At what point is it fair to assume that something like a magazine is about sex and it is not just me being a puritanical Fraudian. Is it enough to find the word “sex” on the cover? What about if there is a woman on the cover wearing less clothing than what would be allowed at a normal beach?

    As an ethical person I have to make judgement calls as to whether someone is being ethical or not. For example if people are making nasty comments about gays or other disadvantaged groups than it is my duty to speak out and rebuke them for being unethical. That is the point of having values; values are meant to be put into practice.


  33. steph says:

    I really don’t see the point of your question. Playboy exists, it’s repulsive but it isn’t in my face – I don’t even know where to buy it. I would have to hunt it down. Other magazine covers might have celebrities in skimpy swimwear sometimes – I don’t really know, because I don’t really look. But as porn doesn’t have anything to do with acting, I don’t think this is what the acting student is worrying about. They are worried about playing a role which has extra marital sex. Actors aren’t asked to do porn. I still find it odd that you see sex everywhere – on ‘every commercial establishment’. We all have values, and mine are respecting individual freedom as long as it doesn’t restrict the freedom of others. If Sex on the City is on TV I switch the channel. If people buy Playboy, I don’t have to look at it. If others indulge in pre marital sex, it’s none of my business. The only sex which is and should be condemned by the state, is rape and sex with children. If an actor is asked to perform a role as a rapist, they are hardly expected to be playing a role the audience will think is moral. There seems to be more violence on TV than sex and violence where not only the baddies, but the goodies also have guns. That, I think, is harmful.


  34. steph says:

    James: I see nothing wrong with attractive men and women being used to sell products. They are easier to look at and listen to when being told the advantages of the product. I think Natalie is pretty hot too – and I’m not attracted to her. I’d just like to be like her. She’s a bit mean to Monk sometimes though. Monk is incredibly sweet – and I can really relate to him. I’m struggling to think of any gorgeous actors – although I love Gregory Peck when he was young. He is so dreamy and romantic. But what’s immoral about that?


  35. Izgad says:

    Not everything in society is about sex. I do not claim that. Just that there is a lot of it even if you are not being a puritanical Fraudian.
    I am speaking as someone who tends to walk around in public with his to the ground. When I look I up I usually get a quick reminder of why. Could we have a world were at the checkout aisle most of the magazines would not be about the newest celebrity romance or women in bathing suits? Maybe we could have more magazines about science.


  36. steph says:

    You certainly imply that – “every commercial building”. I think you have a tendency to exaggerate. People are always going to be interested in the lives of famous people. Our checkouts are surrounded by a selection of magazines from celebrities to science – no bare boobs though. It will always be like that unless we become like the Amish people, which we can go and do if we like.


  37. Russell Miller says:

    You may feel that is your duty. And it is their privilege to listen to you or not.

    I wouldn’t listen.

    And in a right and good world, that’s as far as it goes. You said your peace, I nodded politely and told you to go to hell, and that’s the end of it.

    When government starts to legislate morality – when your idea of sexual ethics (as long as both partners are consenting) becomes law – it’s a problem, and a big one.

    Your rebuke may have its desired effect. More likely it’ll make you feel good for a moment, and then you’ll have two people who will never speak to you again. If you think that’s an acceptable price, congratulations! You’re an evangelist.


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