Commercialization of Christ? Church Puts On Lavish Production

A Florida megachurch has garnered national attention with its annual Christmas pageant. The First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale's production is filled with extensive pyrotechnics, live stock and a bevy of actors.

"We're having to compete against many theatrical things around the country, whether it's MTV or the Rockettes or any show you might see on Broadway," said Jeff Crevier, minister of the creative arts for the First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale. "We have made a conscious decision to pull out all the stops."

The play rivals some Las Vegas-style productions, and Broadway producers choreographed the show.

In fact, more than 600 actors dance through the aisles during the play. The church's pageant is a lot more extravagant than the more traditional productions many have become accustomed to, where bed sheets act as shepherd costumes and tinfoil serves as an angel's halo.

According to the church's senior pastor and show's executive producer, Larry Thompson, the production pales in comparison to the actual events.

"I really believe it is such a great story. I'm sure we couldn't actually compete with what really happened 2,000 years ago," he said on "Good Morning America Weekend Edition" today.

The pageant has used the same story outline since it began in 1984, but organizers have spruced up its special effects and production values during the years. For example, the play now uses live camels to escort the three kings during their nativity scene ride.

Thompson said ticket prices range for free for the poor to between $5 and $35 for others. He added that 20 percent of the tickets are giveaways.

And while the first act deals more with the fun and spectacle of modern-day Christmas, Thompson said the second act focuses on the history of Jesus and his life.

''I think Jesus would come to the show [and say], 'Authentically you got it right,'" Thompson said.

Some visitors said they truly enjoy the vast production, but others believe the $1.3 million price tag of the pageant would be better spent on charity.

"A million dollars could feed a lot of folks," said the Rev. Bill Talen, who is against the consumerism of Christmas. "I mean, we have hunger now in the United States."

Talen said the bright lights of the production might outshine the point it's trying to get across.

"I don't think of faith as something you pay money for and then sit in the audience to be entertained. That's consumerism," Talen said.

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