Creative Conversations: The Arts and Religious Differences Series

“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war?!”

Tradition says that when President Abraham Lincoln was introduced to Harriet Beecher Stowe, he greeted her with these words, acknowledging that Uncle Tom’s Cabin had strongly shaped people’s attitudes toward slavery. Whether or not the quote is apocryphal, it reminds us that art has the potential to result in social change.

That is the case with not only literature but also all other kinds of artistic media, including television and music. In the 1970s, the popular television show All in the Family made people laugh but also brought the country to reflect more deeply on issues relating to racism, homosexuality, women’s liberation, and the Vietnam War. Wednesday morning water-cooler conversations at work took on a new tenor. More recently, Childish Gambino’s 2018 song This Is America won Grammy awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Best Music Video. Within the first minute of the video, Gambino takes a handgun and shoots a man in the back of the head. Nobody who sees the video or listens to the song can ignore issues of gun violence in the United States.

Art allows us to reflect on tough issues in a non-confrontational manner. It does so in part because it taps into our emotions and it creates an alternate space for discussion. Rarely do logic and facts drive us to change our attitudes and actions. Music, theatre, film, art exhibitions, and literature can frame complicated issues in personal ways that touch us on an emotional level and inspire us to take action when we otherwise may not do so.

Last semester at the Center, we focused on the importance of crucial conversations, emphasizing that both outrage and silence are unhealthy responses to conflict. During the semester, we conducted four training sessions, each of which provided skills for improving contentious relationships and transforming heated debate into meaningful dialogue. Over 110 individuals participated.

This semester, we have no less need for crucial conversations. Yet as we celebrate the opening of the Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center, we are pleased to highlight ways in which the arts inspire these kinds of conversations.

“The arts and humanities teach us who we are and what we can be,” Ronald Reagan noted, “They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part.” Norman Mailer went a step further, claiming, “The final purpose of art is to intensify, even, if necessary, to exacerbate, the moral consciousness of people.”

How do we create conversations about important issues that matter? Join us this semester as we look at religion, social change, and civil rights through the lens of the arts.

Rhythm & Blues Tore Down the Walls of Segregation

Date: Monday, September 16, 2019
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Location: Greer Environmental Sciences Center, Room 155
Speaker: Steve Buckingham, Four time Grammy winner, veteran music producer, record company executive, and studio musician

This presentation explores the effect that music, particularly blues, jazz, rhythm & blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and soul music, had on integration in the United States. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement music played a significant role in bringing many people together in a common cause. As former UN Ambassador and Civil Rights activist, Andrew Young, stated, “You could say that music played a bigger part in the movement than the courts.” Steve Buckingham explores this subject through archival films and photos, interviews, and extensive use of music.

Forced Organ Harvesting and Religious Persecution in China: A Time for Questions

Date: Thursday, October 17, 2019
Time: 7:00 – 8:50 p.m.
Location: Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center
Speakers: Dr. Ann Corson, Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH), and David Matas, Human Rights Lawyer

There is huge money to be made in China from organ transplants. Prices charged to foreigners range from $30,000 for corneas to $180,000 for a liver-kidney combination. And while everywhere else in the world, people need to wait months or years for an organ transplant, waiting times in China are incredibly short, a matter of days. All of this happens in a country that has a strong cultural aversion to organ donation. So where do the organs come from?

Some point to practitioners of Falun Gong. Falun Gong is the name of a spiritual practice that combines exercises with meditation. Those of us in Coastal Virginia are familiar with Shen Yun, a traditional Chinese dance troupe that performs frequently at Chrysler Hall and which was founded by a group of expatriate Falun Gong practitioners who now live in the United States. Because China banned Falun Gong in 1999, referring to it as an “anti-society cult” and a “cancer in the body of society,” the Chinese government has routinely rounded up Falun Gong practitioners and sentenced them to “reform” camps. In those camps they experience systematic blood tests. Some are tortured to death. Some simply disappear. The mutilated corpses of others have been returned to families who have said that organs have been removed. Questions surround all of this.

In the Peabody Award-winning documentary Human Harvest, Nobel Peace Prize nominees David Matas and David Kilgour investigate the organ harvesting trade in China, and present research that—if accurate—points to one of the world’s worst crimes against humanity.

After a viewing of the film, David Matas who is also a renowned human rights lawyer, Dr. Ann Corson from Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH), and a local Falun Gong practitioner speak and answer questions. In 2016, DAFOH was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for its decade-long efforts to raise awareness and inform the medical community about unethical organ harvesting. Please join us for a deep discussion about a controversial issue.

When Prayer Goes to the Movies

Date: Monday, October 21, 2019
Time: 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Blocker Hall Auditorium  
Speaker: Dr. Terry Lindvall, C.S. Lewis Endowed Chair in Communication and Christian Thought, Virginia Wesleyan University

Sometimes the arts serve religion; the work of Bach and Michelangelo stand out. Other times religion seems to serve the arts; movies portray religion in a variety of ways. God on the Big Screen, the latest book from Dr. Terry Lindvall, focuses on how movies use prayer in a variety of ways, ranging from the silly to the irreverent to the deeply profound. Join Lindvall as he travels from classic silent-screen films to Will Ferrell‘s Talladega Nights and the recent Bad Times at the El Royale. See how prayer is portrayed Hollywood-style and why that matters. Dr. Lindvall teaches Christian history and the relationship between religion and arts. God on the Big Screen: A History of Hollywood Prayer from the Silent Era to Today (NYU Press, 2019) is his ninth published book in the last nine years.

When Christians Clash: A Play (The Christians by Lucas Hnath) and Talkbacks

Show times: Thursday, October 31 (11:00 a.m.); Friday and Saturday, November 1 and 2 (7:30 p.m.); and Sunday, November 3 (2:00 p.m.)

What happens when a pastor’s sincere revelations and theological convictions put him at odds with his staff? His congregation? His wife? Lucas Hnath’s play The Christians takes religious faith seriously and, in an evenhanded manner, invites the audience to reflect on what happens when people of good intent disagree on matters of ultimate importance.

The Virginia Wesleyan Theatre Department’s production of The Christians is presented this fall under the direction of Batten Professor of Theatre Sally Shedd. The Center for the Study of Religious Freedom is pleased to host two “talkback sessions” immediately following the October 31 and November 3 performances. These sessions offer a safe space for discussing issues raised in the play.

Date: Thursday, October 31, 2019
Time: 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.
Location: Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center
Talkback Facilitators: Dr. Sally Shedd, Batten Professor of Theatre, and Dr. Craig Wansink, Joan P. and Macon F. Brock, Jr. Director of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom

Immediately following the show, Dr. Craig Wansink and Dr. Sally Shedd lead a discussion focused on the major points of tension in the play.

Date: Sunday, November 3, 2019
Time: 2:00 – 4:30 p.m.
Location: Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center
Talkback Facilitators: A panel of clergy

Immediately after the matinee performance, a panel of three clergy discuss the challenges of dealing with theological divisions among congregants. And they reflect on “keeping the peace” while remaining true to their personal convictions and beliefs. Panelists include: Rev. Kim Hodges, Pastor of Lynnhaven Colony United Church of Christ in Virginia Beach; and Rev. Greg West, VWU Chaplain and an ordained United Methodist Minister

Sponsored in partnership with the Virginia Wesleyan Theatre and Music Departments, with support from The Lighthouse.

Tickets: $5-10 public. Free to VWU community with ID. Discounted tickets (two tickets for $5) for the Saturday, November 2, performance may be purchased during the One Love Festival on November 2. Reservations: 757.455.3381, or online at, and by email at

The Christians Trailer

Interview with The Christians playwright Lucas Hnath

Good Trouble: Lessons from the Civil Rights Playbook

Date: Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Time: 11:00 – 11:50 a.m.
Location: Blocker Hall Auditorium
Speaker: Christopher Noxon, Journalist and Illustrator

In his new book Good Trouble, illustrator and journalist Christopher Noxon uses words and vivid pen-and-watercolor illustrations torevisit episodes from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. He dives into the real stories behind the front lines of the Montgomery bus boycott and the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins and notable figures such as Rosa Parks and Bayard Rustin, all while exploring the parallels between the civil rights movement era and the present moment. Join Noxon as he shares essential lessons that modern-day activists and the civically minded can extract and embrace in order to move forward and create change. Christopher Noxon has written for the “New Yorker,” the “Atlantic,” “Salon,” and the “New York Times Magazine.”

Sponsored in partnership with the Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, the Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Books Festival of the Simon Family JCC, through the Jewish Book Council.

Healing and Hope: An Exhibition at the Neil Britton Art Gallery

Opening Awards Reception: Thursday, November 21, 2019
Time: 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Henry Clay Hofheimer II Library, Neil Britton Gallery
Exhibition: November 21 to December 13, 2019

An angry city employee fatally shot twelve people and wounded four others on May 31, 2019, on what many now see as the darkest day in the history of Virginia Beach. Words fail in adequately responding to something so dark and chilling. 

In talking about trauma in general, Christopher Stowe, who teaches glassblowing as a means of therapeutic art, says, “Art itself is meant to stimulate conversation and take on difficult social topics and I can think of no nobler mission for art than that of healing.”

From November 21 to December 13 the Neil Britton Art Gallery at VWU is hosting a juried exhibition of artwork on the theme of “Healing and Hope.” The exhibition–hosted by Professor John Rudel—is featuring artwork from area high school age students who--through art--creatively respond to tragedy, fear, and loss in an age of gun violence, lockdown drills, and a media landscape of perpetual violence.

On Thursday, November 21 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., please join us for the opening awards reception at the Neil Britton Gallery in the Henry Clay Hofheimer II Library.

Freedom Songs: Soundtrack for the Civil Rights Movement

Date: Thursday, December 5, 2019
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Location: Greer Environmental Sciences Center, Room 155
Speaker: Steve Buckingham, Four time Grammy winner, veteran music producer, record company executive, and studio musician

Grammy award-winning producer Steve Buckingham returns to showcase his film Freedom Songs, with never released original footage. Beginning with performances by the great Jackie Wilson, known as “The Black Elvis,” Buckingham uses film clips to discuss the artists and key figures who broke down racial barriers in the 1960s.