For the Bible Tells Me So, a film by Daniel Karslake, chronicles the story of six Christian families who have all wrestled with having gay or lesbian children. As the film’s marketing material says, it questions why the Bible is used to justify hate.
Can the love between two people ever be an abomination? Is the chasm separating homosexuals and Christianity too wide to cross? How can the Bible be used to justify hate? These are the questions at the heart of Daniel Karslake’s For the Bible Tells Me So.
As such, at first glance it seems to “preach to the converted” since the film is often screened in more “liberal” or progressive environments. However, after viewing this film, I’m convinced that its audience should be much larger.
One of the greatest strengths of For the Bible Tells Me So is its singular focus on the families that are chronicled. Through the interviews and events of these Christian families with their Christian gay children, the film addresses religious intolerance. A friend of mine who is a pastor has told me several times that he believes that the Church (any time I use the word “Church” with a capital C, it refers to the whole collection of Christian churches, not one denomination in particular) has treated the gay community very poorly.
On the flip side, he also believes (and teaches) that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. No matter how much two people love each other, then unless they’re actually married (read heterosexuals), they are living in sin.
While this would seem to be a contradiction, it’s actually considered progressive by many. While he and I disagree over the “sinfulness” of a loving, committed, same-sex relationship, the Church has indeed been very hostile toward the gay and lesbian community.
It’s this hostility that led the film’s director, Daniel Karslake to make this film, especially after he realized that well-edited documentaries can provide compelling stories that actually influence the audience to a positive change.
Karslake had been working on similar projects for several years. His background is profoundly Christian, including working as a fundraiser for New York’s Riverside Church. His first segment as a television producer was a 1998 segment of “In the Life” about Reverend Irene Monroe, who was a theologian at Harvard at the time. She is an out lesbian. “In the Life” was a TV newsmagazine which was made for a national gay and lesbian audience.
Karslake reflected on that segment and the letters which followed, including one from a boy in Iowa:
“Last week I bought the gun. Yesterday I wrote the note. But last night I happened to turn on your show and just knowing that someday I might be able to go back into my church, I threw the gun in the river. My mom never has to know.”
This email indicates just why a film like this is so important. Karslake also said:
“Ironically gay kids, especially guys — I think because of how we’re made and who we are — many gay kids grow up really involved in their church and tend to be very much a part of that church family. So when the condemnation happens and the rejection, it’s like another family rejection. It’s very strong. So when that first piece aired, it sort of became what I was all about.”
This is the same kind of condemnation that Maya Marcel-Keyes, lesbian daughter of 2004 Presidential candidate Alan Keyes, met with when she was disowned by her parents. In fact, the film also focuses on Mary Lou Wallner, who once wrote to her lesbian daughter that she “would never accept” her homosexuality. Anna, who was both lesbian and Christian, later killed herself. Wallner is now an activist member of Soulforce, a leading organization for GLBT spiritual equality. She writes:
“No matter what else happens in my life, I will always acknowledge the pain and tragedy of Anna’s suicide. However, her death has also brought me face-to-face with the untruth I have been taught throughout my life by the church. My transformation has occurred through a wonderful gift given to me by God: getting to know, understand, and love GLBTA (Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders, and Allies).
One element that I think is actually a weakness is that most (if not all) of the families have become activists. In fact, several of the focus families are members of Soulforce. Many of them were interviewed during a protest at Focus on the Family’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, CO, where Jake Reitan and his parents, Randi & Phil Reitan, attempted to hand-deliver a letter to James Dobson.
In what is a classic example of Christian “love,” the Reitans were arrested for trespassing after simply crossing over the sidewalk. Their letter was a passionate request to Dobson to stop attacking their families.
Before anyone gets the idea that the Reitans and other Soulforce members were just “a bunch of screaming activist whackos,” keep in mind that Soulforce has at its core philosophy the teachings of Ghandi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, who both taught that protests should be nonviolent and fully organized. Rev. Mel White has emphasized over and over again that their message is one of love, not hate.
The film recounts an interview that Rev. White had with Larry King:
“When I was on Larry King Live, somebody called in and said, ‘What do you guys do in bed?’ Larry hung up on him and said, ‘that’s none of your business.’ And I said, ‘We’ve been together in the same bed for 24 years – we’re like everybody else, we sleep in bed. And King said: ‘Once they find out you’re as boring as we are, it’s all over.’”
This brings me to the film’s one great weakness. Like many other films before it, most of the people interviewed are activists.
Let me be perfectly clear. I’ve been an activist for equality for a few years, and I’ve worked in various capacities, including organizing two local gay Pride festivals. I do think, though, that it’s as inappropriate as it is unlikely to presume that to be fully accepting of one’s GLBT family member MUST mean that they become activists.
Those of us who are more activist-minded might say, “well, if you don’t do anything, then your rights will be trampled upon.” Perhaps. But what would happen if we gave our full support to each other, without having sexual orientation be even a remote issue?
Imagine a conversation like this:
“Mom, I’m gay.”
“That’s great, dear. What do you want for breakfast?”
“But I’m gay!”
“And you’re hungry. Now sit down and eat. Does being gay mean you don’t eat breakfast anymore?”
“You don’t get it.”
“No, I get it, son. I know you’re gay. I’ve always known. I’m your mother, now eat. You can tell me all about your boyfriend — over breakfast.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend yet.”
“Well then, I’ll give you some tips. Boys are animals.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I just came out to you. I want quiche.”
“Oh, cut the queer-eye crap. Eat your raisin bran.”
Now that’s something worth hoping for.
The reality is that most families just want to be left alone. Parents have dreams for their children. And as the preceding dialog shows, parents know their children. For the Bible Tells Me So shows us some of those families. They’re great stories, and they’re worth telling. I was hoping for at least one family whose child wasn’t an activist, but was just as boring as the rest of us are.
Then again, ‘boring’ doesn’t sell tickets.
In all, For the Bible Tells Me So is a compelling film that asks the viewer to look beyond a few verses of oft-quoted Scripture and consider the people that are affected. Every one of these families are unquestionably Christian. They’ve all dealt head-on with the issue directly, and they dealt with them differently.
We have a long way to go before one’s sexual orientation is no longer an issue. Until then, we can view signposts like the ones seen in For the Bible Tells Me So to help chip away at some long-held biases and begin to realize that those of us who are in Christ have the grace to persevere, no matter what. The Reitans, Gephardts, Robinsons, Poteats, Wallners, and Whites (all families who are interviewed in the film) have all dealt with it, just as countless tens of thousands of families across the country have had to deal with reconciling their faith with their child’s sexuality.
Scripture states that when everything has faded away, there’ll still be faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13). These are stories of love that show just how hard — and how much of a blessing — the choice of love can be.