Discusson Guide

The Gospel of Eureka: Discussion Guide

Background Information

Eureka Springs

Eureka Springs, Arkansas, was founded in the Victorian era as a spa town and named for its healing waters. Today, the town of 2100 is a destination for over 1.5 million tourists a year from all over the world. It has long been a destination for two types of pilgrims: evangelical Christians and members of the LGBTQ community.

Many know Eureka Springs for Christ of the Ozarks, a seven-story-tall white statue of Jesus that peers down over the Ozark mountains. The statue stands on the site where The Great Passion Play, an elaborately produced reenactment of Jesus’s life and crucifixion, is performed.

Eureka Springs is also a haven for LGBTQ+ people and is known throughout the region as the “gay capital of the Ozarks.” During the town’s three annual diversity festivals, rainbow flag parades fill the streets; couples kiss at the Public Display of Affection celebration. The Eureka Live Underground, the gay-friendly bar owned by the film subjects Walter Burrell and Lee Keating, hosts regular drag queen performances. In 2007, before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, the city created a domestic partnership registry that allowed gay couples to affirm their partnerships publicly.

Eureka Springs reaffirmed its commitment to inclusivity in 2015, when the city council unanimously passed an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The ordinance was a response to Senate Bill 202 (now Act 137) a statewide law that had just passed in the Arkansas legislature and was designed to prevent cities from passing their own anti-discrimination policies. Although the state law’s backers claimed it was intended to render non-discrimination rules uniform in an effort to help businesses, in practice the bill voided laws designed to protect LGBTQ residents like those in Eureka Springs and limited the authority of local municipalities.

Tensions have occasionally flared between Eureka’s gay community and the town's conservative Christians. In 2015, the annual Easter parade coincided with the LGTBQ-led Diversity Weekend; the Easter parade organizers barred an LGBTQ-friendly Methodist congregation from participating. Some conservative organizers campaigned to overturn the town’s anti-discrimination policy, but when it was put to a referendum vote, Eureka’s residents voted to uphold the ordinance with 72% of voters supporting the ordinance.

Sources

Arkansas General Assembly, Senate Bill 202. An Act To Amend The Law Concerning Ordinances of Cities And Counties By Creating the Intrastate 11 Commerce Improvement Act; To Declare An Emergency; and for Other Purposes. http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2015/2015R/Bills/SB202.pdf

“Arkansas Senate Bill 202 (2015).” Ballotpedia. https://ballotpedia.org/Arkansas_Senate_Bill_202_(2015)

Dart, Tom. “Welcome to Eureka Springs, Arkansas: a 'desirable homosexual destination.'” The Guardian, Apr. 5, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/05/arkansas-religious-gay-discrimination-eureka-springs

Fausset, Richard. “In Arkansas, Gay Rights Ordinance Highlights Clash Between Two Faces of Tourism.” The New York Times, Apr. 19, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/20/us/gays-and-christians-two-faces-of-tourism-are-clashing-in-arkansas.html
Meyers, Jessica. “Arkansas Towns Reveal a More Nuanced Divide Over Religious Liberty and Gay Marriage.” The Boston Globe, Apr. 21, 2015. https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2015/04/21/arkansas-towns-reveal-more-nuanced-divide-over-religious-liberty-and-gay-marriage/otWwPCn12iyZqgbkzUyI7N/story.html

Christ of the Ozarks and the Passion Play

Christ of the Ozarks is a 66-foot mortar statue that was built in 1967 by Gerald L.K. Smith, an evangelical Christian preacher and politician who was also a vocal anti-Semite and white supremacist. Smith commissioned the statue as part of a Christian theme park to be called Sacred Projects. The park was never fully developed, but the statue was completed by Emmet Sullivan, a sculptor who helped carve Mount Rushmore.

On the site of the statue, Smith organized the first performances of The Great Passion Play, inspired by a Passion Play performed every ten years in Oberammergau, Germany. In the show, period-costumed performers reenact the life of Jesus of Nazareth in an amphitheater that seats 4,100. The Great Passion Play is still performed on the site, although it closed briefly due to financial problems in 2012; Randall Christy, a Baptist minister and founder of a Christian radio network, eventually revived the play. According to Christy, the play attracts 50,000 visitors every year.

Sources

Dart, Tom. “Welcome to Eureka Springs, Arkansas: a 'desirable homosexual destination.'” The Guardian, Apr. 5, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/05/arkansas-religious-gay-discrimination-eureka-springs

Fausset, Richard. “In Arkansas, Gay Rights Ordinance Highlights Clash Between Two Faces of Tourism.” The New York Times, Apr. 19, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/20/us/gays-and-christians-two-faces-of-tourism-are-clashing-in-arkansas.html

"Gerald Lyman Kenneth Smith (1898–1976)", The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1767