in Secular Venues
I am considered a Christian performer. I volunteer on a weekly basis to go to Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis which is a publicly funded hospital. I visit patients, clinics, waiting rooms, and any place people are gathering. This is part of a "Humor Therapy" program by the Volunteer Services Department. I have also done other hospitals and burn centers. I also do shows in schools, libraries and other secular venues. I have done show for groups of other faiths. This discussion covers some of my personal observations on performing for these venues. While this is written from the standpoint of the Christian entertainer, many of the points would apply to those of other faiths.
The question of how a Christian entertainer should work with secular venues is a very complex one. Much depends on the goals of the entertainer, and restrictions of the venue. In this discussion I am presenting my own ideas. Some may agree with them, some may disagree, and some may have their own ideas. What I hope is that this will give you a starting point, and maybe give you some ideas in this area.
First we need to look at the goals of the entertainer. Does the entertainer want to give a show that is compatible with Christian audiences, that is, that it has nothing objectionable that families of all ages would not enjoy? On the other hand, the Christian entertainer may want this to be a salvation message, actually preaching the gospel through their show. Probably for most people it will be someplace in between.
There is nothing wrong with just simply wanting to have a fun show that can be enjoyed by all kinds of people. Actually we need a lot more of these shows in this day and age. This is an area that a Christian entertainer can certainly work in without any undo concern. On the other hand if the entertainer wants to make a salvation message that has a strong Gospel message, then we need to look at the venue.
Even if the venue is a religious institution or a church there is some cause for
concern. Different denominations and faiths' have their own way of doing things. Some
denominations are very conservative about who can do certain things. For example,
some performers like to do on altar call as a part of their show. Not all denominations
have altar calls, or do it very often. Other denominations use alter calls all the
time, and that is a common way of doing things in those churches. My personal policy
is that the host church best does altar calls, baptisms, re-
Secular events can present a real problem for evangelical performers. Some secular events such as schools are very strict on what can and cannot be done. You must follow those restrictions. If you do not, you not only will not ever be allowed to perform their again, but you also ruin it for other performers who may be tarred with the same brush. These venues must be able to trust you.
I performed for the Billy Graham's organization in public schools. I was able to do that because I was able to strike a balance between the Christian message and the restrictions that school placed upon me, plus the trust that the school and the Billy Graham's organization had in me.
Other secular venues range from been very tolerant to being very strict. Generally venues sponsored with public money will be strict. If you are doing street performance, assuming that you have any necessary permits to perform, you probably have pretty much free speech to say what you will. Libraries are public money. Librarians tend to be free speech advocates but still it is public money and you must be careful. Church sponsored hospitals may be pretty open to gospel messages however if you're not familiar with the way things are done in that particular hospital you need to be pretty conservative and not have a hard hitting gospel and salvation message. Discuss with your host to find what the policies are, and follow them. If it is a public funded hospital then you need to be a little more careful. I'll talk more about that later.
Nursing homes and retirement facilities tend to be a little bit more tolerant especially if they are religiously sponsored. Again the same basic rules as when performing in the church apply. Stay within what that particular denomination approves of. If you're going to do an evangelistic or salvation oriented performance make sure that your host knows what you're going to do and agrees. Because the patients or residents of these facilities are there for a long period of time, the host usually is receptive to providing these kind of messages, especially if attendance is not mandatory.
For private homes for shows like birthday parties etc. you need to make sure your host knows and approves of what you want to do.
Back to publicly funded hospitals. Each week I perform in such a hospital, Wishard Hospital here in Indianapolis. Most of these hospitals have chaplains. These chaplains may be of different faiths but they are clearly marked. However these chaplains are also very careful in watching for signs of faiths other than their own, and responding appropriately. A performer, like myself, would not be considered a chaplain or religious person per se. That does not mean that I am totally prohibited from talking about my Christian faith. I generally find that if there are Christian things in a patient’s room, for example; a cross, Bible, pictures, whatever, that I can give a Christian message. If I don't see that, I'm much more careful. Perhaps I can say something like, "Since I am a Christian I .……"
There is generally nothing wrong with wearing religious jewelry, perhaps a bracelet, pin, necklace, etc. It should be conservative and the in keeping with the normal way you're dressed. As a ventriloquist, my character Drango Dragon wears a WWJD bracelet on his wrist. Even in schools this is acceptable. He often gets questions from kids about what is. Usually another kid will say "I know what that is" and Drango tells him to explain it to the child. All Drango will say is that it is very important to him and helps him to make good decisions. This has always been acceptable in any venue that I've performed in.
Once you have determined what is appropriate for the venue you're working in, I can't stress enough to stay within those bounds. Once you get outside them, not only do you ruin it for yourself, but for other entertainers that may want to perform in the same venue. You can't do anything if you're not allowed to perform. If you do go out of bounds, think about the message that you're sending, that Christians can't be trusted. That certainly is not a good evangelical message.
You may not be able to do as strong an evangelical message as you would like, but there's always some degree of message that you can give, if you stay with in the bounds. Some years ago when I was performing on the cruise ship “The Love Boat”, I was helping out with the church services on Sunday. A man came up to me afterwards and shook my hand and said, "I've been watching you, and I knew you were Christian." I had not done overtly evangelicals messages in my performances but subtly had gotten the point across that I was a Christian. It can be done, and it can be effective.
You must respect the venue you are performing for. If the venue is such that you don't feel you can perform for with respect, you are better off turning down the booking rather than doing something that will antagonize the audience or frustrate you. That accomplishes nothing productive. You need to perform in a professional manner or not at all.