The reading—or mis-reading—of the Bible, in terms of its teaching on homosexuality and the attitudes it encourages among believers toward gays and lesbians, is treated by Daniel Karslake in this documentary. “For The Bible Tells Me So” could hardly be called even-handed, and it’s certainly repetitive, but despite its failings it’s still worth seeing—as so often, especially by those who probably won’t. The film will find an audience, but unfortunately it will probably be made up of those who already agree with its point of view and become just another case of preaching to the choir. Still, though one-sided, it presents its argument in an effective and emotionally powerful way.
The argument is simply that those who interpret the few passages in Scripture that can be seen as referring to homosexuality (including the famous story of Sodom) as unequivocally condemnatory have oversimplified matters and fostered hostility and even violence against gays. The notion that “the Bible tells us that homosexuality is an abomination” is shown basically through distinctly unflattering radio and TV clips of protestors, preachers like Jimmy Swaggart and harsh commentators like James Dobson, and it’s answered by excerpts from interviews with Christian and Jewish religious figures (including Desmond Tutu) and theologians suggesting that such people fail to place the Biblical passages in proper historical and cultural context and so essentially distort their message.
By far the greater amount of footage, however, is devoted to the personal stories of families who are confronted by the revelation that one of their children is gay, focusing on how parents who may initially be surprised, or even appalled, by the fact struggle and deal with it. There’s former Missouri Democratic Congressman Richard Gephardt and his wife, who are supportive of their daughter Chrissy and even showcase her during his unsuccessful presidential run, and a devout Lutheran couple from Minnesota, Randi and Phil Reitan, who are initially concerned about their son Jake’s coming out but ultimately become activists along with him, going so far as to be arrested in a protest in front of Dobson’s Focus on the Family headquarters. And there’s the ministerial couple Brenda and David Poteat, who find it difficult to accept the lifestyle of their daughter Tonia. The most painful tale of all, though, is certainly told by Mary Lou Wallner, whose stern rebuke to her daughter Anna led to a rapture between them before Anna’s suicide, and who afterwards became an anti-homophobe activist in her daughter’s memory.
The most footage, however, is devoted to the life and career of Gene Robinson, the Episcopalian priest who, in a watershed case that still threatens to split the American church, overcame strenuous opposition to win election and confirmation as bishop. The picture offers what amounts to a triumphal mini-biography of his groundbreaking achievement, in which his aged—and traditionalist—Kentucky parents play a major role.
The message that “For The Bible Tells Me So” conveys is not just that it’s intellectually simplistic to see Scripture as merely condemning homosexuality, but that the emotional toll of such a view in real-life terms can be needlessly devastating. It’s a powerful message, delivered with obvious commitment. Whether the film will carry it to many viewers who don’t already embrace it is questionable.
But of course that doesn’t make it any less worth delivering.