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For The Bible Tells Me So
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Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Seattle Interntional Film Festival, Dan Karslake's provocative, entertaining documentary brilliantly reconciles homosexuality and Biblical scripture, and in the process reveals that Church-sanctioned anti-gay bias is based solely upon a significant (and often malicious) misinterpretation of the Bible. As the film notes, most Christians live their lives today without feeling obliged to kil anyone who works on the Sabbath or eats shrimp.
Through the experience of five very normal, very Christian , very American families - including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson - we discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. With commentary by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard's Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech, For The Bible Tells Me So offers healing, clarity and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual identity.
For the Bible Tells Me So is a compassionate and insightful documentary about the contemporary face of an old conflict between Christian fundamentalists and gay and lesbian people. The film looks deep into the hearts of several families--a few of them quite famous--that have struggled with making sense of having a homosexual son or daughter in the fold. At the same time, For the Bible Tells Me So is a deconstruction of thin arguments that the Bible actually condemns homosexuality in a few passages and through the story of Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction. A number of clerics and scholars explain the cultural and historical context for Old Testament quotes routinely referenced as arguments against homosexuality, and point out translation confusion about the real meaning of the Sodom story. Unquestionably, the most compelling part of the film is its focus on various families, including that of former U.S. presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, who has a lesbian daughter for whose safety he worries. Also among the interviewees is Gene Robinson, a gay man who became bishop of New Hampshires Episcopal church in 2004, and his parents, as well as a gay teen whose folks joined him on the front line in protest of their churchs negative stance on gays. Not every story is affirmative: there are tragedies within these tales, too, as well as an indictment of so-called cures that supposedly banish the gay drive from homosexual men and women. --Tom Keogh
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Finally, early this month, I came to terms with it: I'm gay and I didn't know what that meant about my faith. My family was fortunately very understanding, and my sister's husband suggested I check out this documentary, especially after a respected church member sent me some rather disturbing and condemning messages.
I watched it alone, and it was really difficult to sit through in many places. I feel the producers were quite varied in their responses and selection of footage: we had the radical Bible-thumping Christians, while also looking at five Christian families who had gay children.
In the stories, I felt I met kindred spirits in them. A lot of their thoughts and fears mirrored my own, so it was wonderful to know that I was not alone in these feelings and wondering if being a gay Christian was even possible.
However, a downside to the even-handedness is that I didn't feel the question was answered clearly. Many interpretations of the Bible's few references to homosexuality are presented, no one interpretation being favored. Overall, I got the message that a passionate love for someone of your own gender is not evil, but the question of intimacy was certainly left ambiguous.
So, while it did help answer some of my questions and let me know I am not alone, I think I'll have to look elsewhere for more answers. A great starting point, I suppose.
The film begins with Anita Bryant, back in the 1970s denouncing the "gay agenda." Interspersed through the film are angry denouncements of homosexuality on the part of Christians, like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Dobson, and the ubiquitous folk from Topeka's Westborough Baptist Church.
But that is not the essence of the film. Instead it is the stories of real families who struggle with their children's sexual identity and their own religious formation. Five families are interviewed - including the family of Bishop Robinson, whose own spiritual foundations are not Episcopal, but Disciples of Christ. His parents still members of the same Kentucky Disciple church that he grew up in share their pride in their son and the journey they took to embrace him as he is, despite their earlier formation. Another famous family is that of former Congressman Richard Gephardt, whose daughter Chrissie is a lesbian. Some of the stories, like those of the Gephardts and the Robinsons are happy, but not all are. Mary Lou Wallner tells the story of her estrangement from her lesbian daughter Anna, largely on the basis of her faith formation and understanding of the Bible - an understanding she got largely from Focus on the Family. That story ends tragically in the suicide death of her daughter. But out of that tragedy came hope, for Mary Lou began to study and found that her previous understandings had been wrong. Now she speaks out on behalf of the gay and lesbian community. There is another family that is conflicted - they love their daughter and welcome her, but they can't accept who she is. That's a work in progress. Finally there's the story of Jake Reitan, a young gay man who grew up in a solid - Lutheran - Christian family. It took time for his family to embrace him as he is, but in the long run they became advocates, standing with him as Soul Force demonstrated at the Focus on the Family headquarters.
The powerful statement these stories make is that this is a personal issue. Whatever your views of homosexuality or of the Bible, things change when it affects your family. How you read the Bible is influenced by your own experiences. That is true of me - I'm a graduate of a leading evangelical seminary, whose president is featured in the film (unfortunately affirming traditional interpretations of these texts that excluded), but when my brother came out, things changed. Our hang up is with sex, but when we realize that this is my brother, or my sister, or my son or my daughter, what do we do? Dick Gephardt says it well - when Chrissie came out, fearing that she might be disowned, he declared a parent's unconditional love. Love won out. As Mel White put it: "Once they realize who we are up close and personal that fear goes away."
The film deals with the families, but it also deals with the texts. A series of speakers, ranging from Mel White, Peter Gomes, Desmond Tutu to Rabbi Stephen Greenberg, Disciples pastors Larry Keene and Steve Kindle, and an American Baptist woman pastor Sandra Sparks. Each of these speakers takes on our cultural presuppositions, formed by our faith traditions, and the Biblical texts - of which there are only about six, few of which even apply today in any real way. We hear that Leviticus declares a man lying with a man to be an abomination, but then it also says the same about eating shrimp. As Larry Keene, a Disciple pastor and former Pepperdine professor points out, the question isn't so much what the Bible seems to say, but how we read it and use it today.
At the heart of the debate is the question of choice - is it a choice or not? The film takes on this question creatively, through the use of a brief, at times humorous, but pointed cartoon. This piece sits in the middle of the film, providing both comic relief and movement forward on the discussion. And as most reputable science states, this isn't a choice, it is one's identity. If so, then we must ask: what next for our society?
We live at a time when the vast numbers of people are biblically illiterate and read the Bible in bits and pieces, influenced largely by their own upbringing. This reading is combined with great amounts of fear. It is true that our society's greatest fear is of male homosexuals - a fear of a feminization of a man. To be gay is to be - in the eyes of many - feminine. Gay men, such as White and Robinson, make it clear that this isn't true. But the fear is still there, and it's a fear we must address. Our fear leads us to plead with gays and lesbians to stay in the closet, but as Mel White points out, the "closet is a place of death." Young gays, feeling suppressed and forced into a closet, with no one to talk with, too often and very tragically, take their own lives. And why? Because our society is permeated by fear of the other and formed by outmoded interpretations of the Bible.
Is this film biased? Of course it is. It is a strongly stated, but not in your face, statement of the dignity and equality and the humanity of our gay and lesbian friends, neighbors, and family members. It is a film that must be seen. At this point it is in fairly restricted distribution, but hopefully this will change - for the church must change so that the world might change.
If the film begins (with the exception of the Anita Bryant outburst) with an introduction of the Robinson family, it appropriately ends with his joyous and yes controversial consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire. The world will never be the same - and that's a good thing.
It was also a treat hearing various clergy people discussing and analyzing the bible's statements about homosexuality. As someone who has spent several years studying the Hebrew Bible, I cannot stress enough the importance of studying the Hebrew Bible in conjunction with Jewish oral tradition and various other teachings. I cannot think of anything in the Hebrew Bible that is meant to be taken literally.