Being fair to the Hamilton cast

I have always thought highly of Vice President-Elect Mike Pence and appreciated his composed and even-tempered approach to leadership.  And so I’m not surprised that I find myself agreeing with him about his recent interaction with the cast of Hamilton: An American Musical – it just wasn’t and isn’t a big deal.

I think it’s really important before coming to any opinion on the situation to actually read or listen to Brandon Dixon’s remarks to Pence.  Speaking with the blessing of the show’s creator, Dixon confronted Pence on behalf of the entire cast, a group that previously reported that they were so distraught over the results of the election results that they almost couldn’t take the stage the following day. 

That kind of emotional investment in the outcome of elections is unreasonable and unhealthy and could easily lead to an unproductive, unnecessarily divisive, and irrational outburst.  That is not what happened.  I found Dixon’s words measured, respectful, and reasonable.  He expressed gratitude to Pence for coming to their show.  He made no accusations.  From reports, he chastised the crowd for booing Pence.  He referred to Pence as “sir.”  He then plainly stated the truth that many of the cast members are fearful of what is coming in a new Trump administration.  Whether any of us thinks those fears are rational or justified is irrelevant.

Some have suggested that it wasn’t so much the words Dixon spoke that were inappropriate as it was the time and place.  Even liberal anti-Trumper Stevie Van Zandt, member of the notoriously left-wing band of socialist sympathizer Bruce Springsteen, took to Twitter to criticize the cast for “bullying” Pence.  “You don’t single out an audience member and embarrass him from the stage,” Van Zandt wrote.  “A terrible precedent to set.”

I get that, and I can see why several would agree.  I just don’t.  I tend to agree with Mike Pence himself, who after complimenting the cast and show told Fox News Sunday that what happened to him at the play is “what freedom sounds like.”  Actually, sometimes freedom sounds a lot more shrill, ignorant, harsh, and mean-spirited than what Pence experienced. 

I don’t have to agree with the cast member’s politics to acknowledge that he felt he had been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak directly to a very powerful individual.  If he is sincere about his fears and concerns, can I or should I honestly expect him to not take advantage of that moment?

The truth?  I can’t fault Brandon Dixon for doing what he did because I would have done the exact same thing.  I speak in a lot of churches.  And I can tell you without question that if sometime in the last eight years I had been informed 30 minutes before I spoke that Barack Obama or Joe Biden would be in attendance, I guarantee you that I would have taken advantage of what I would have regarded as a Divine appointment to speak biblical truth to men who don’t hear it often, if ever.  I would have prayed for discernment, for the Holy Spirit to do His work of conviction, and then I would have respectfully spoken truth to power – much as Ben Carson did at the presidential prayer breakfast a few years ago, catapulting him into the status of conservative icon.

Of course, people would have been free to disagree with my timing, my tactics, my venue, or my words.  People could have demanded an apology, but one would not have been forthcoming.  Every responsible human being seeks influence.  Sometimes that influence comes to us in the home, and the impact on little lives and the shaping of young minds.  Sometimes that influence is in a classroom, in an office building, or in a boardroom.  Sometimes that influence is granted to us at a pulpit, at a lectern, or in the Oval Office.  For Brandon Dixon, it was on a stage with an extremely influential man as a captive audience for a few brief moments.

I can’t and won’t criticize a man who sought to use that moment to express his deeply held convictions without malice or insult.  And I’m not sure why anyone would.  As Pence said, “That’s what freedom sounds like.”

Peter Heck is a speaker, author, and teacher.  Follow him @peterheck, email peter@peterheck.com, or visit www.peterheck.com.