"For the Bible tells me so" are words much loved by well-meaning Christians who use the teachings of the Bible to back up their own half-baked beliefs, particularly when it comes to their prejudices. In the past, the Bible has been used to justify slavery, apartheid and the subjugation of women, but here filmmaker Daniel Karslake takes aim at the ways in which Scripture has been used to discriminate against gay men and women, and reveals the ways in which literal — and often grossly inaccurate — readings of the Bible have damaged countless lives.
After footage of singer, orange-juice spokesperson and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant getting a pie in the face at a press conference, and a clip of the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart promising his TV congregation that he'll kill any man who looks at him funny, Karslake introduces a wide variety of people — mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, wives and husbands — all of whom have felt the strain of trying to reconcile their understanding of the Bible with the simple facts of homosexuality in their lives. The stories of the Reitans, a God-fearing Minnesota family whose youngest son boldly comes out at the age of 15; the ministering Poteats of North Carolina, whose daughter comes out to them as a lesbian while at Yale; and Chrissy Gephardt, daughter of presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, who goes public with her homosexuality while her father is on the campaign trail are intercut and unfold with mounting suspense. Some stories end in tragedy, others in triumph and a few in a bittersweet combination of both. All are surprising. Gene Robinson, the married canon with two kids, turns out to be the first openly gay bishop ordained by the Episcopal Church; the Reitans become activists who take on evangelical conservative James Dobson and his Focus on the Family organization; and Brenda Poteats, who could never accept her daughter's "lifestyle," may make the longest journey of them all.
Through the hard-won experiences of these families, Karslake shows that Scripture and homosexuality are not mutually exclusive, and with the help of a number of academics and theologians, shows how the Bible has been misread, particularly during the 20th century. We must be aware of "Biblical Literalism," we are told, which seeks to take every word and letter of the Bible at face value, and instead try to understand the cultural and historical context in which they were written. Thus the term "abomination," which appears in the oft-quoted Leviticus 20:13, and which we take to mean a particularly extreme form of immorality, refers instead to a violation of a ritual that had often been imposed for the spiritual health of the community (other "abominations" include eating shrimp and rabbit, wearing wool and linen together, and commingling seeds). A man "lying" with a man as one would a woman is not the same as "living" with a man, and may be a prohibition against wasteful sex, not homosexual feelings. As Reverend Laurence Keene puts it, it's not a matter of what the Bible "says," but what it "reads." These and other insights will surprise even the most liberal-minded, and hopefully help change a few others about what it means to live with the Bible and not through it. leave a comment --Ken Fox