By Obed Vazquez and Jacqueline Hegarty
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 (www.sdakinship.org).
The authors would also like to recommend an Adventist-produced video entitled, “Open Heart, Open Hand,” featuring three Adventist families and their experiences with their gay/lesbian children. It shows similar journeys, similar struggles, familiar pain, and it is our families. (More information about the video is available from Carrol Grady’s website, www.someone-to-talk-to.net.)
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4079