For The Bible Tells Me So

First Run Features,

Daniel G. Karslake

Daniel G. Karslake, Helen R. Mendoza

Gene Robinson, Imogene and Victor Robinson, Isabella 'Boo' McDaniel, Richard and Jane Gephardt, Chrissy Gephardt, Brenda and David Poteat, Tonia Poteat, Jake Reitan, Randi and Phil Reitan, Richard and Jane Gephardt, Chrissy Gephardt, Mary Lou Wallner, Mel White, Laurence C. Keene, Peter J. Gomes, Steve Kindle, Brian Zachary Mayer, Susan Sparks, Richard Holloway, Irene Monroe, Joan Brown Campbell, Desmond Tutu, Steven Greenberg, Richard J. Mouw, Jimmy Creech, Steven Baines

Unrated, 98 minutes

Ain't Necessarily So
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, January, 2009

"Now [the Bible] is being used, misused, to condemn gay people. It's an old trick. Fundamentalist Christians have been using it throughout the ages, and now they're doing it again."
-Revered Mel White, Soulforce

"There are about 6 or 7 verses in all of Scripture that speak even remotely to what we might call homosexual activity or homosexual conduct."
-Reverend Peter Gomes, Harvard

"There's nothing wrong with a fifth grade understanding of God, as long as you're in the fifth grade."
-Reverend Dr. Laurence Keene, Disciples of Christ

The Bible tells us many things. It tells us that we should love our neighbor but try telling this to religious zealots who are looking for a reason to justify their hatred of homosexuals. These fanatics insist that every word in the Bible is absolute and they enjoy citing a passage in the Book of Leviticus that states that a man shall not lay with another man for it is an abomination and both shall be put to death. They fail to note that another verse in the same chapter calls for the execution of children who curse their parents. While we're at it, how about all those Kosher laws outlined in Leviticus that are still part of Jewish tradition but totally ignored by Christians? And does anybody obey those pesky edicts that we should give all of our money away to the poor?

For The Bible Tells Me So, directed by Daniel G. Karslake, is a very thoughtful documentary that explores the inherent dangers, and the devastating consequences, of interpreting the Bible too literally. Too often, throughout history, passages in the Bible have been used to justify slavery, to deny the rights of women, and to condone institutionalized homophobia. The film employs numerous theologians who place these controversial passages into the context of their times, and their scholarship is juxtaposed with the stories of modern families who share the unique personal journeys that each took in order to accept their gay children. The film is not a diatribe; its tone is conciliatory in the hopes of opening a dialogue which can speak to everyone.

Director Karslake has assembled an amazing cast. The families include the openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson and his parents; Missouri Representative (and 2004 Presidential candidate) Dick Gephardt, his wife, and their daughter Chrissy - whose coming out was featured in both The Advocate and People Magazine; Fundamentalist ministers Brenda & David Poteat and their lesbian daughter, Tonia; gay activist Jake Reitan who, along with his parents, was arrested while attempting to deliver a letter to the Reverend James Dobson at his Focus On The Family headquarters: and Mary Lou Wallner, the founder of Teach Ministries. Finally, the many Biblical scholars and commentators include Robinson, Rev. Mel White of Soulforce, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
The meat of the movie, to most viewers, will be the families who agreed to participate and their stories are compelling. Gene Robinson talks about the death threats he received when he was elected as Bishop. Dick Gephardt discusses how they refused to let their daughter's sexuality become an issue during his Presidential campaign. David Poteat laughs as he remembers praying "God, please don't let my son grow up to be a faggot and my daughter a slut. And He did not. He reversed it." Mary Lou Wallner describes the guilt she feels because she followed the child rearing teachings of Dobson. The result of her blind faith was that her lesbian daughter Anna was so devastated by her mother's rejection that she committed suicide. Each tale is a story about love, acceptance and healing - valuable lessons for those willing to listen.

For The Bible Tells Me So is an entertaining mix of talking heads, home movies and archival footage. The film opens with the famous 1977 press conference where anti-gay bigot Anita Bryant gets a pie shoved in her face. Other choice clips include Mike Wallace in the notorious 1967 CBS documentary "The Homosexuals" and one from The West Wing where President Bartlet confronts a televangelist by asking what price he should command when he sells his daughter into slavery - as is his right according to Exodus 21:7.

Accompanying Brenda Proteat's anecdote about when her eyes were opened about homosexual couples is a clip from the television program she was watching at the time: The Phil Donahue Show with guests Bob Paris and Rod Jackson when they were still the most famous gay couple in America. The footage of the Reitans being taken away in handcuffs for trespassing at the Focus On The Family compound speaks for itself without any commentary. Newsreels showing angry protesters with Nazi-like signs sporting slogans that misuse scripture for their own ends and examples of hate violence, including the murder of Matthew Shepard, are also included. This, and similar footage, is not used to beat the audience over the head, and the director knows when to let the many Biblical experts speak for themselves.
The theologians employed have much to say, especially emphasizing how these "6 or 7" passages that supposedly condemn homosexuality in The Bible have to be placed in their correct cultural and historical contexts. One scholar comments on how the Hebrew word for abomination was used to indicate those things that were "against tradition" and another explains the verse from Leviticus as being about "saving seed" and not wasting it when there was a Nation that needed to grow. Another reminds us that eating shrimp is an abomination too. As for the Sodom and Gomorrah story, the sin was not homosexuality; it was the refusal to help strangers (and Sodom was a notoriously stingy city). Let me be clear that this film does not attack the Bible; it simply points out how people pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to follow and how ignorant interpretations of scripture - written for a world that hardly resembles our own anymore - can be dangerous tools in the wrong hands.
Some folks are impatient with documentaries and so, to interject a bit of humor for those who might be nodding off, there is also a very funny Michael Moore-style animated sequence, at the film's midpoint, entitled "Is It A Choice?" featuring a gay man, a lesbian and a dense nerd named Christian who rolls his eyes and says, "Oh, that!" when the narrator announces "Let's hear what science has to say." An ex-gay ministry is depicted as an assembly line conveyor belt straight out of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall" and the cartoon ends by announcing that "The information in this educational cartoon is based on studies than can be found in any university library - With the possible exception of The Bob Jones University in South Carolina." The cartoon is a bit simplistic and obvious but it makes a great satiric point, as does a hilariously cheesy Sunday School film about Sodom and Gomorrah. The use of songs such as George and Ira Gershwin's classic "Ain't Necessarily So" also help to reinforce the film's central thesis.
There is only so much information you can feed an audience at one time and the Biblical scholarship in For The Bible Tells Me So, while admirable, only scratches the surface. My life partner Andy, whose education includes Rabbinical studies (and fluency in Hebrew, Latin and Greek), has pointed out a number of things in The Torah that he felt should have been included. I, too, would have liked to have seen the scholars go into more detail than they did but this would have run the risk of boring a general audience that will, undoubtedly, respond more to the personal stories of the families profiled in the film. There is much food for thought in For The Bible Tells Me So and, by its conclusion, most viewers will certainly have enjoyed a meal. By not belaboring its point, it has the potential of opening some closed minds.

Even so, I'm not being delusional. The film preaches to the choir; the Pat Robertsons of this world have already made up their minds and will not entertain a single notion that doesn't fit into the bubbles in which they have cocooned themselves. But consider Mary Lou Wallner's story. "My daughter is dead," Wallner orates from a pulpit, "because of the untruths I was taught by the church." It is heartbreaking that it took her child's suicide to make her reject a lifetime of rigid beliefs, but now she has dedicated her life to helping others not make the same mistake. If For The Bible Tells Me So helps even one parent make the leap beyond selective church teachings to accept his or her gay child, then the film will have achieved its purpose.

The DVD also includes biographies of all the principles involved, as well as a revealing interview with director Karslake and Bishop Robinson about the genesis of the film.


See also:
Sole Journey
Fish Out Of Water



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