By Dana Casadei
ROYAL OAK – Authors often speak about what inspired them to write their book or play, ranging from family to a place that they once lived, but Bill Barnwell’s motivation is quite different.
“What I’m really trying to do is challenge the prejudice on all sides, mainly taking the prejudice towards gays and lesbians and what happens when you toss people in the closest,” Barnwell said. Next week, June 1-3, Barnwell’s play “Masks” will premiere at the Royal Oak Missionary Church. The play’s focus on closeted issues, such as sexuality, monogamy and faithfulness, will be nothing like the conservative church has seen before. “I really wanted to do something completely different that would challenge a lot of people and hopefully make a lot of people think,” Barnwell said.
Barnwell, who is the lead pastor at Royal Oak Missionary Church, wanted to write a play that would stimulate discussion within the church while at the same time be able to help save lives. “I’m trying to motivate other people in my position to try to do something like this,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of folks that would like to do something like this, but are scared to.
“Being a pastor I have to first and foremost call out my own and say it’s time to change the course, change the tone, end the bad blood and have a more adult, constructive dialogue on these issues,” Barnwell said.
Not only has “Masks” already begun discussion at the church, but it has helped raise $6,000 for The Trevor Project, which is the nation’s leading organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention among LGBT and questioning youth.
Even though Barnwell has gotten some flak for working with this organization because of celebrity endorsements and “liberal media,” he is still a true believer in what they are doing. “If the church says that it’s pro life, I’d like to think that that includes the most vulnerable amongst us,” Barnwell said. “To me this isn’t about conservative or liberal; it’s about doing the right thing.”
Luckily for Barnwell he has had a church that has been behind him since the beginning, which he says is the most important thing. “When I wrote the script, I didn’t think my leadership was going to be behind me to be honest,” Barnwell said. “I thought that this might be too much for them.”
Barnwell gave copies of the script to the 10 very conservative male and female voting members of the board and asked them to look it over. If one member voted against it, he was wasn’t going to move forward with the show. After some time thinking and praying about it, a unanimous vote came back to do the show.
Next was bringing it to the general congregation, which did have some concerns and questions, but most of it was positive feedback. In fact four people from the congregation are in the show, which is a very diverse cast in every way.
“It’s been really exciting to bring all of these people together that want to be a part of something that is new and different in the Detroit area,” he said. “They all want to be part of saving lives, and that’s something that my church has really grabbed on to that vision, which is why the fundraising has been so good.”
“To me it’s a Christian virtue to stand up and speak on their behalf and say enough of the bullying, enough of the harassment, enough of the very bitter rhetoric on both sides,” Barnwell said.
Royal Oak Missionary Church, 411 E. 11 Mile Road, Royal Oak. 7 p.m. June 1-3. $5. Suggested for ages 13 and above. 248-541-6606 http://www.maskstheplay.org