Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

DOES GOD HATE FAGS?

 

For The Bible Tells Me SoFilm Review

by John Topping

published October 17, 2007

 

For The Bible Tells Me So

produced and directed by Daniel Karslake

 

now playing in select cities and expanding weekly

check for your city at http://www.forthebibletellsmeso.org/screening.htm

 

The clash between Christianity and homosexuality is neither a random nor recently developed calamity.  Christianity and other religions have arguably invented and inarguably promoted homophobia for hundreds of years.  It is almost amazing that the excellent new film For The Bible Tells Me So is, to my recollection, the first and, so far, only documentary feature film to make this conflict its sole subject.

 

For The Bible Tells Me So is by no means an indictment against the church, Christianity or the Bible itself.  Its own wellspring is Christian and it barely advocates homosexuality beyond two persons of the same sex in a life-long, monogamous and committed relationship.  What it does take issue with is the use of the Bible as a weapon and a tool of ignorance and intolerance, making it instantly join such important Christian works as John Shelby Spong's Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism in rejecting predominating fallacies of scripture that incite hatred and violence and instead embracing the message of love and acceptance that, after all, is what Jesus was all about. 

 

Perhaps I should point out that, while not an atheist, I consider myself to be what I've coined "areligious."  That is, I have what I believe to be a deep spiritual connection with [the power of the universe that many people prefer to call a name which starts with the seventh letter of the alphabet], but, in my eyes, you don't have to look too far in either history or today’s world to conclude that religion is the problem, not the solution.  After all, you're taking an all-encompassing entity that is by its very nature mysterious and whose workings are by definition unknowable – and something that most of us have an innate instinct to believe in – and letting it be organized and indoctrinated by human beings, who are creatures that have a few consistent traits that raise the proverbial red flag: 
- we think that whatever we believe is what is indisputably correct;
- we're quick to attack opposing viewpoints (and often viciously);
- we can't be trusted to relay a message accurately; and
- we can't avoid abusing absolute power and falling into corruption. 
And you want me to believe … what was that again?

 

Most of the subjects in the film, on the other hand, are Christians who are struggling (or, more often than not, who once struggled) with reconciling the Bible's widespread interpretations of what it says about homosexuality against what is profoundly and utterly natural within them; or, in the case of parents of gays, reconciling it with the simple, profound love of their children.  They have no inclination to reject the Bible or their church; instead, willingly or not, they have taken up the spiritual challenge of unconditional love and acceptance of oneself or another in the face of what they were brought up to believe was wrong;  and not just wrong as in against the law of man, but wrong as in God has thus spake, and He shall smite whosoever goeth against His almighty will. 

 

Stocked with stock footage (opening with Anita Bryant's legendary pie-in-the-face at a press conference), interviews with Christian families and their stories of how they confronted the issue and commentary from Biblical scholars and notable figures (including Archbishop Desmond Tutu), the filmmakers embark on their crusade.  It may initially take some effort to sort out which relations belong to which, but sooner or later the crisscrossing between families becomes manageable enough to keep track of everyone.

 

Also thrown in for good measure is an intentionally silly piece of animation in the mode of an elementary school educational film.  Presumably made simple enough for a child to understand, but with information and statistics thrown too fast and furiously to absorb or digest, we are given a lot of visual shorthand to carry us through the mini-school day.  Whether or not you want to accuse the animated segment of perpetuating stereotypes – for instance, the prototypical gay man is a muscle-bound, steroid-pumped gym bunny (not the kind with whiskers) – is your call.  At least it’s a change from heterosexuals’ favorite stereotype of gays.

 

The central argument – or perhaps instead I should say point of discussion, if we look at this film as the beginning of a constructive conversation – of the documentary’s subjects is that the Bible is not being properly read in the context of the time in which it was written.  Back then, they inform us, a man was prohibited from sleeping with another man – or for not depositing his seed into a woman for any other reason – because it was a time when the population was immensely in need of growth, and any missed opportunity to make a baby was thought of as a sin ... hardly a problem today on our overpopulated globe.   Further, and perhaps more importantly, the mention of man not sleeping with another man was but one piece of an extensive list of forbidden temptations;  yet most Christians choose to focus on this one solitary item on the checklist, whereas eating shrimp (something in close proximity on the sin scale) is conveniently overlooked, along with all the rest of the transgressions.  (It also tends to be frowned upon these days to sell one’s daughter into slavery, and no one I’ve ever heard of seems to care what the Bible has to say about that topic.)

 

The film’s secondary point of discussion concerns the translations and meaning of the words.  The Bible was originally written in Greek, for starters, and there are countless instances where the words chosen in translation might have missed capturing what the authors meant.  One such example (which is not mentioned in the film, incidentally) concerns the interpretation that Moses had horns coming out of his head.  Consequently, there are hundreds of years worth of religious paintings that illustrate Moses with horns like a devil.  Finally someone went back to the original text and – oops! – it should have read that he had light coming out of his head.  It's a mistake anyone could have made; and, in fact, countless such errors have doubtless been made without yet being corrected – or perhaps I should say reinterpreted. 

 

The example used most prominently in the film is of the word “abomination.”  The subjects of the film put forth that in the context of the times, abomination meant (and this might not be verbatim) “against ritual” or “contrary to tradition.”  Certainly a Biblically-stated abomination is something to get worked-up about for inflexible ritualists and traditionalists, but it was not meant to intrinsically deem something as immoral for the whole of eternity.  An entire film unto itself deserves to be explored on this topic.

 

Also touched on in the film are the Bible-thumping literalists: those who take the Bible as the literal word of God, not to be challenged, not to be questioned, not to be seen as parable, not to be looked at in context, but as the absolute last word on the topic.  Yet the literalists have somehow overlooked the rather strong scriptural suggestion of giving all of one’s money to the poor.  One also wonders at a literalist's excuse for not being hospitable to strangers and welcoming them into your house.  Closer scrutiny shows that this latter offense was the actual reason in the Bible for God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, not the act of sodomy, the subsequential namesake of one of the cities. Furthermore, if taken literally, the Bible would promote racism, the inferiority of women as possessions, and, again, slavery.  And the sad truth is that it has indeed been used through the ages to justify such bigotry. 

 

It's actually a bit surprising that there is no mention of the challenge that the Bible says nothing whatsoever against homosexuals.  For more on that subject – and also from a completely Christian point of view – visit http://www.GodMadeMeGay.com.

 

But it is, of course, the people – the families – depicted in the film that move us the most.  Undeniably the most heartbreaking sequence is the story of Mary Lou Wallner, who lost her daughter to suicide, largely because of her own insensitive lack of acceptance.  The story is brought to gripping reality as Mrs. Wallner courageously reads their exchange of letters:  daughter comes out to mother; mother rejects lesbianism with harsh pronouncements; daughter rejects mother entirely (paraphrasing, “you are my mother in biological terms only”).  Then daughter rejects her own life.

 

Wallner was forced to confront her beliefs and how they influenced her daughter’s tragedy.  Not wanting her child’s death to be in vain, she became an activist for the gay cause, particularly in opposition to James Dobson’s “professional” encouragement not to accept your children unconditionally if they announce that they are gay.  Along with another family (the Reitans), the film makes a fairly strong indictment against Dobson’s influential organization Focus on the Family.  Though probably well-intentioned, Dobson and Focus on the Family seem to be clueless about how much their influence actually divides and tears families apart, sometimes causing irreparable damage to individuals with its message of intolerance.  In the film, the Reitans want nothing more than to meet Dobson and read him a letter that states their point of view on the issue.  Too cowardly to face them, the organization closes down its headquarters for the day, covers up all the signs that bear its moniker, and has them arrested for trespassing (the family is given fair warning upon arrival but opts for civil disobedience).

 

After hearing Wallner’s devastating story, the contrast of an entirely different outcome – one of total acceptance – is illustrated in the story of former Democratic presidential candidate Richard Gephardt.  We are taken on his lesbian daughter’s journey from hiding who she is and withdrawing into endless jags of depression to being openly out – at her father’s own suggestion – on the national stage during his presidential run.  Being openly lesbian with her friends and family has already transformed her into a happy, well-functioning individual; but none of them knew what the outcome would be for a candidate during his campaign.  Happily, Gephardt reports that the consistent refrain from others was “we love your daughter.”

 

Almost any gay person who is told that the very essence of their being is wrong according to the Bible will eventually conclude that it must be the Bible that is wrong.  But the more you research and study it, the clearer and clearer it becomes that – whether you believe in the word of the Bible or not – the arguments and misinterpretations that use it as a tool for condemnation and bigotry are what is fundamentally bogus.  For The Bible Tells Me So gently and lovingly begins the imperative and long-overdue dialogue with Christians that this subject matter demands.  In fact, part of its inherent compassion is to foster understanding of the condemners and why they have come to their conclusions.  It is not likely to affect many hearts and minds in its current limited runs in art houses and film festivals, but once it airs on television and becomes available on DVD, its real value will begin.  It is a film that ought to be seen by everyone, and the place it needs to be seen most of all, of course, is inside churches.  That may initially appear to be a provocative suggestion – and indeed the subject will likely remain a divisive issue for generations to come – but it needs to be discussed at length and in depth.  Not to do so is arguably akin to being complicit in the hate crimes that result from the continuation of institutionalized ignorance and misunderstanding.  In a way, there is no more perfect place to start the process than by sharing this film with the Christian community.  It is an important step toward progress for both groups because, like it or not, neither Christianity nor homosexuality is going away anytime soon.

 

johntopping @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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