For The Bible Tells Me So: Religion and Homosexuality


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My first encounter with For The Bible Tells Me So, a new documentary about homosexuality and the Bible, was at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. My husband and I had taken a group of students to the festival, and we waited in line for three hours hoping to get into a midnight screening. We got in, but just barely, sitting in the very front row of the theater, watching the film at an extreme angle. Even in the “worst” seats in the house, the film moved us all.

Trailer for the new documentary For The Bible Tells Me So

It was a bit of an odd paradigm. Here we were in the middle of a secular film festival, the crown jewel of an industry not exactly known for its overly kind portrayal of “religious folk,” and we were watching one of the most spiritual films any of us had ever seen. This film took religion and scripture seriously. This film didn’t want to simply toss out Christianity for its intolerance and storied past of scripturally-sanctioned abuse towards gays. This film wasn’t an angry screed. Instead it was a heartfelt and passionate plea for a new attitude, one in which gays didn’t have to deny themselves or their religion. This film proposed reconciliation, to bridge the chasm between what people often think their beloved Bible says—that gays are an “abomination”, and their children who don’t seem like abominations.

Early that morning after our students had kept us up for hours discussing the film (it was crystal clear to me how to keep our youth in the church after this wee-hours-of-the-morning conversation—address real issues honestly), I wrote a blog entry about my experience with this film for the Progressive Adventism site. The ensuing outpour of responses (from a wide variety of perspectives) made it clear to me that it’s not just college students who want to discuss this issue. (To read that post with all 198 comments, click here. )

After a second screening here in San Francisco (and a thorough read of Rev.Jack Rogers'Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church), I’m even more convinced that this is the issue of our time. The Bible has been used repeatedly throughout history to rationalize all sorts of oppression and injustice (slavery and the subjugation of women most recently), and now it’s being used again to excuse discrimination and intolerance against gays.

This issue is looming large in our society and our church. An Adventist LGBT advocate recently pointed out that a newly voted document “Safeguarding Mission in Changing Social Environments,” moves the church even further in its stance against gays and is now extending its condemnation towards those who advocate for homosexual rights. “The Church does not accept the idea of same-sex marriages nor does it condone homosexual practices or advocacy.”

To start (or for some of you continue) this important conversation, I’ve asked three people to review the film. David R. Larson is a Seventh-day Adventist minister and professor of Christian ethics at Loma Linda University; Obed Vasquez is a professor of sociology at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA and has been a member of SDA Kinship International since 1978; and Jacqueline Hegarty is a partnered Seventh-day Adventist lesbian mom living in the San Francisco Bay Area who is also a member of SDA Kinship.

To find a screening near you (and please do), visit http://www.forthebibletellsmeso.org/screening.htm

David R. Larson Reviews For The Bible Tells Me So

Getting started too late, my wife and I sped the 51.8 miles from our condominium in Loma Linda to the Camelot Theater in Palm Springs. Things were going well until we got lost in that California oasis because our Internet directions told us to turn right when we should have turned left. When we finally arrived at our destination, the previews of coming attractions had begun to roll. But For The Bible Tells Me So had not yet started. We are happy that we did not miss a single frame! I encourage as many as possible to see this movie during its preliminary screening. For locations and further information about where it is showing, please visit www.forthebibletellsmeso.org. If you cannot see it now, watch for it on the Sundance Channel and on DVD in early 2008. Buy it!View it! Discuss it!

Robert Greenbaum, one of movie’s executive producers, said in the question and answer period after the film screening that the film’s purpose is “to open up conversations” about those who say they wish their church loved them as much as they love it. These would be our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ.

I misspoke. This movie is not about them. It is about the rest of us. It is about how we straight—or pretending-to-be-straight—Christians often treat them. It is about why homosexual men and women commit suicide at three times the rate of others. It is about sin, not theirs but ours.

The film shows in a compelling way (those who know more about making movies can explain) a collage of snippets from the actual lives of at least five groups of people. These bits of film seem to have been thrown into a hat, stirred up and then pulled out and rearranged topically without a booming voice that proclaims, “Now we turn to the issue of ………….” Everything just flows together in what I experienced as a zigzagging but smoothly running cinematic stream.

One of these groups is a small number of well-educated Christian homosexuals. As I now recall it, three are women, two are men. Four are white and one is black. Four of them are alive and well today. One is not. She was found dead, dangling in her home closet from a rope with a dog chain around her neck. She had kicked a chair out from under her.

The parents of these gay and straight people make up a second group. Those who use Scripture to make life miserable for homosexuals are a third. Others who read the Old and New Testament more responsibly constitute the fourth. The fifth is made up of animated characters that summarize recent scientific answers to the endless questions such as: “Why are they like that?” Well, why are we like this?

I think it generous that those who produced For The Bible Tells Me So say nothing about the leading Christian gay bashers who have recently displayed their hypocrisy by being caught in homosexual activities themselves. In some deep way did they want to be discovered so as it bring their big lies to an end? In their own fashion were they also “coming out of the closet?” Is this why the movie spares them? I don’t know but I do wonder.

For fear of dissuading some from seeing it, I hesitate to mention anything that I think this movie might have done more effectively; nevertheless, I hazard the following. First, I think it would have been helpful to have devoted more footage to thoughtful Christian leaders who are perplexed or even troubled by some things some homosexual men and women say and do. I understand that this movie’s producers tried but failed to find such people who were willing to be interviewed on camera. Only Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, agreed to be interviewed. Regrettably, as I know from my own attempts to get people involved in this topic, this is par for the course. No wonder most of those in this movie with more conservative views are unlettered and uncouth bigots!

I also think that this movie could have done more to emphasize that there is no such thing “as the homosexual life style” even though this expression has long been a menacing mantra. Just like straight people, gays and lesbians arranges their lives in many different ways. Many are healthy, others are deadly. To treat this subject by putting all heterosexuals in one moral category and all homosexuals in the opposite is false no matter which one we favor. The line between good and evil falls within us, not between.

A third issue is more strictly theological. The movie effectively shows how silly it can be to select some portions of Scripture and apply them to our own lives today without reference to their original contexts. But to some extent this still leaves unanswered the questions as to how we should pick and choose, as certainly we must.

I share the view that the life, teachings, death, resurrection and continuing ministry of Jesus Christ make up the criterion by which we should measure everything we find in Scripture and elsewhere. As Charles Scriven has written so well on this site and in Spectrum, we need to think of Scripture as a moving narrative with a discernible plot, one that moves to and from our Lord and Savior.

I like the language of “trajectory” because for me it connotes more strongly that this story advances into our time and beyond and that it does so in a certain direction, the one to which the ancient plot propels us! Being a Christian today is not to do in our time what the ancients did in theirs. It is to continue the struggle. It is to go further in the same direction. It is to remember that “His truth keeps marching on!” and to get in step.

One way to do this is to see and discuss For The Bible Tells Me So

David R. Larson is a Seventh-day Adventist minister who has taught Christian ethics at Loma Linda University since 1974. He, David Ferguson, and Fritz Guy are editing a book titled "Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives." It should be available by Christmas.

Obed Vazquez and Jacqueline Hegarty Review For The Bible Tells Me So

On Sunday, October 14, 2007, a group of Kinship members from the San Francisco Bay area joined many of our straight friends at the Lumiere Theater to attend the San Francisco screening of the new 99-minute film documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So, produced and directed by first-time filmmaker, Daniel Karslake.

The film follows the journeys of five American families, each of whom discover that they have a gay or lesbian child. Two of the featured families were Gephardt family, with Chrissy Gephardt, lesbian daughter; and Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop, elected Bishop of New Hampshire in 2004. The other families were ordinary, Christian, “typical” American families who faced reconciling the issue of homosexuality with what they had always believed the Bible said on the subject.

Each of the five families dealt with the issue differently; yet, they had a commonality, their literalist understanding of what the Bible says about homosexuality. The families are all confronted by a big challenge—the apparent attack on their belief in the Bible as the written word of God that gives them ultimate truth. But more than a challenge, it feels like an assault that threatens the very core of their relationship with their God. For most of the families, their love for their children and knowing that their children are good, sincere, and God-fearing, propels them to seek a way of understanding this “condition.”

The stories of these struggles stir the emotions, reach out to the heart, and resonate with the familiar. Each story is poignant, from the story of Mary Lou Wallner, a mother who has to live each day with the suicide of her daughter because of her own rejection, to the Poteats who are portrayed as loving and accepting their lesbian daughter but still resistant towards accepting her “lifestyle.”

This is the strength of the documentary, the joining of home and the altar. Home is where the young homosexual feels the pressures of the ultimate sacrifice of coming out. Will they be rejected by their parents as they acknowledge this “truth” about themselves, and will God side with their parents? What is their God really like? The message from both home and church seems clear: we are an abomination. But are we?

The strength of homosexuality is its ability to bring the committed, sincere, and honest Christian to face to face with the possibility that what he or she has been taught is perhaps wrong. That the Bible they cherish and rely on may not mean quite what they have always taken for granted. That the God they have come to know may not be the “right” or only version of God. And this is the other strength of the film—it validates the sincerity of these Christian families without attacking them. This film takes the Bible seriously and wants to reconcile gays and lesbians with the scripture they love. The film interviews Biblical scholars and ministers who help explain the context of the Bible’s few verses about homosexuality. Much of this scholarship is not new to us “out” LGBTI Christians, but we appreciated how compassionately it is presented throughout the film.

One of the scholars interviewed, Dr. Lawrence Keene of the Disciples of Christ, talks about how he responds to Biblical literalists who frequently assert, “This is what the Bible says” by countering,“…No, that’s what the Bible reads...” He challenges fundamentalists to consider the context, the language, the culture, and the customs that helps us to understand the meaning of what the Bible is saying. For example, the Bible does not offer much advice for modern marriage because marriage as we know it today (between one man and one woman with both parties considered equal) simply did not exist. Likewise it does not say anything about committed homosexual relationships today—homosexuality as we know it today did not exist when the Bible was being written.

The producer has chosen not to address the parents that decide to send their children to conversion camps or reparative therapy programs. It doesn’t show the emotional and spiritual damage this has caused many gay and lesbians, denying them a path towards developing a relationship with the God of their childhood. In fact, the relationship is impossible because the God they read about condemns them, and there is no negotiation with “abomination.”

One of the film’s highlights that we found especially moving was the story of Bishop Gene Robinson. His story is at first a story we have all heard—he follows cultural tradition, marries, and has children. Then what has been denied within him begins to clash, putting pressures on his relationship with his wife, his ministry, and his values. His decision to come out and to continue in his ministry, however, can not be taken lightly; this is not the easy path. The courage to continue in the ministry is what makes this such an incredible story.

The film tells the highlights of his nomination to become bishop through the testimony of members of the nominating committee who were looking for the best spiritual leader they could find. The fact that he happened to be gay was not taken lightly but recognized as an additional quality that he was bringing to the office. Seeing his consecration at the General Convention with the accompanying pageantry, pomp and circumstance, and thunderous applause was a powerful testimony of the dedication of a gay man, a gay minister, and the faith of a congregation who accepted the impossible: that a gay man can be a spiritual leader.

Another highlight for us came towards the end of the story of the Poteat family. Here we have a couple who are obviously dedicated to their beliefs, but also dedicated to their children. Their prayer for their children is answered, but not how they expected. God has a sense of humor. Their inability to accept the “lifestyle” of their daughter was admittedly frustrating in many ways. They functioned on the “love the sinner, but hate the sin” mentality, a conflicting duality that is painful and an impossible reality.

Which brings us to the good question of what indeed is the “gay lifestyle"? Mel White addresses this by sharing a moment he had while on Larry King Live. A caller asked what Mel and his partner did in bed. Even though Larry King hung up on the caller for being rude, White answered, “What do we do in bed? We’ve been together for 24 years—we sleep in bed.” Indeed, many of us lead very boring lives of working long hours, taking care of children, cooking, cleaning the house, and doing the laundry. We go to church, sit on boards, lead Sabbath school, and fall exhausted into our beds at the end of the day to sleep: the “gay lifestyle”?

Showing families on their journeys to reconciliation and unconditional love is powerful; it is the heart of society, and none are excluded. In a way, the Poteats can be seen as representative of many Americans (at least, we hope)—they admit to not having settled issues of sex; they admit they might need to read the Bible again; they admit to not being able to accept the “lifestyle”; and yet they still want to love their daughter. They want to see her as a child of God. There is still pain because they can’t offer her complete acceptance yet. “We’re not there yet.” But, there is hope that they will be there soon.

Obed Vazquez is a professor of sociology at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California. He is a partnered Seventh-day Adventist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been a member of SDA Kinship International since 1978 and serves as a regional coordinator for SDA Kinship International.

Jacqueline Hegarty is a partnered Seventh-day Adventist lesbian mom living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is active in SDA Kinship’s Region 8 (northern California), serving as editor of the region’s electronic newsletter, Region 8 News & Views. She also serves as Public Relations Coordinator for SDA Kinship International.

Note: These reviews were previously published on the original Spectrum blog. To read past comments, click here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/109