Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Addendum #2: Video/DVD: For the Bible Tells Them So

I promised to write the next installment on my GLBT series, tonight.  I will, but it won’t be the post I hoped to get to, my second on Romans 1.  That’s because I just saw the film, For The Bible Tells Me So and my reactions are too personal to simply engage in exegesis at this time–maybe tomorrow.

To recap: I am arguing that the traditional teaching of the church(es) that ALL same-sex relationships are sinful has been mistaken–a misuse of a handful of biblical passages taken out of literary and historical context. I hope to argue for a single standard of sexual morality for all people–either voluntary celibacy (which Scripture specifically describes as a spiritual gift not given to all people) or monogamy. This would replace the double-standard currently held by most churches which allows celibacy or monogamy for heterosexuals, but demands that gay people either be celibate (whether or not they have the gift necessary) or to be “changed” into heterosexuals and hide themselves in heterosexual marriages–with devastating effects on their spouses, children, and themselves.  I have wanted to argue for this in a careful, step-by-step fashion.

As always, I urge new readers to this discussion to read the previous installments before commenting on the latest installment.  To date, there have been seven (7) major posts and an addendum. See: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, addendum on pro-GLBT “over reading,” 6, & 7.  This is addenum 2: Reaction to For the Bible Tells Me So.

For the Bible Tells Me So is a 2007 documentary about Christian families, raised with the traditional teaching that all same-sex genital intimacy is sinful (in many cases being taught that it is the MOST sinful act possible), dealing with family members who are gay or lesbian and their struggles with their children “coming out.” It is directed from a pro-inclusion viewpoint, but not all of the families come to a fully accepting perspective–some are stuck in a “love the sinner, hate the sin” viewpoint.  The biblical passages which are used to justify the traditional perspective are examined by a number of biblical scholars and theologians, most, but not all, of whom have come to a perspective of full inclusion. Those who disagree with full inclusion are mostly treated with respect. (For instance, I thought the section interviewing Dr. Richard Mouw, Christian philosopher and President of Fuller Theological Seminary [and, thus, briefly, a former boss of mine when I was Visiting Professor at Fuller in 1999 and 2000], who adopts a “welcoming but NOT affirming position” based on his reading of Romans 1, was done very well. I do not think Mouw would consider himself distorted or parodied at all.)

The only ministers who are treated more negatively in the film are those who actively promote hate and/or legal discrimination against GLBT persons. For instance, televangelist Jimmy Swaggert (who has frequented prostitutes!), does not come across well.  Nor does Focus on the Family founder, James Dobson, Ph.D., a child psychologist and leader of the Religious Right–and one of the major leaders of both conservative Christian activism for anti-gay legislation and a leader in so-called “ex-gay” ministries of “reparative therapy.” Yet, Dobson was treated with more respect in the film than I could have managed. Even Dr. Mel White, a former member of the Religious Right (ghost writing books and films for the likes of the late Jerry Falwell) and, since coming out of the closet, an ordained minister in the pro-gay Metropolitan Community Churches and founder of the pro-GLBT activist group, Soulforce, gives Dobson more credit than I think I could. Because White and others basically claim that when Dobson stuck to his roots of giving Christian families advice on parenting, he was a positive force for good. I disagree. I think much of his parenting advice is very harmful, and was even before he became obsessed with the supposed evils of “the gay agenda.”

The film synopsis gives this description of For the Bible Tells Me So:

Can the love between two people ever be an abomination? Is the chasm separating gays and lesbians and Christianity too wide to cross? Is the Bible an excuse to hate?

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival, Dan Karslake’s provocative, entertaining documentary brilliantly reconciles homosexuality and Biblical scripture, and in the process reveals that Church-sanctioned anti-gay bias is based almost solely upon a significant (and often malicious) misinterpretation of the Bible. As the film notes, most Christians live their lives today without feeling obliged to kill anyone who works on the Sabbath or eats shrimp (as a literal reading of scripture dictates).

Through the experiences of five very normal, very Christian, very American families — including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson — we discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. Informed by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard’s Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO offers healing, clarity and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual identity.

I think this is a powerful film for introducing this topic into churches or contexts where either the subject is never discussed (the “don’t ask, don’t tell” de facto policy that rules so many congregations, silently ignoring the barely-closeted individuals and couples in their midst) or where ONLY the traditional teaching has been heard and no serious airing of other perspectives has been given.  The film, by itself, will probably change few minds. But it could begin some true dialogue.

The most powerful piece of the film for me was the testimony of one elderly woman who, when her daughter came out as lesbian in college (by writing a letter home), reacted very negatively.  She eventually came to an inclusive viewpoint–but only after her daughter committed suicide. (Because of family, church, and social rejection, GLBT persons attempt suicide at much higher rates than the national average–especially LGBT teens).  All I could think was, “Thank God, I went through her journey BEFORE any child of mine came out and contemplated suicide. Thank God, it did not take such a horror to begin my journey to full inclusion.”

This is not an area where I feel proud of myself. On no other matter of controversy have I hesitated to wade into things. But here I was a moral coward. I waited until I was married (not until 28!) before I even went into a library and checked out materials on the subject–other than the standard, pre-approved evangelical books with the standard, pre-packaged answers. (I flashed my wedding ring around at the check out desk so that anyone noticing the books I was checking out did not think I was gay!) And I have said and written so little about this because I know that championing an inclusive position could prevent my ever getting another church-related position or a teaching position in a church-related institution. As Peggy Campolo says, there is more than one closet in the church and more of us than gays and lesbians need to decide to come out of our closets.

But I am glad that people like Rich Mouw were treated so well in this film. Because I know that not all traditionalists in this matter are ignorant or filled with hatred or biblically or theologically illiterate, etc. I know that from the inside, too. I am sure that part of the reason it took me so long to come to a welcoming and affirming position of LGBT folk is residual homophobia from church and society (not family–my parents were inclusive before I was and wondered what took me so long!), but those weren’t the ONLY reasons. 

I am a Christian social activist. But I have a deep loyalty to Scripture as the Word of God in and through human words, the living witness to the Word Made Flesh in Jesus Christ.  My usual complaint about American fundamentalism is how unbiblical it is.  So, I know I came to this “issue” (and GLBT persons hate being an “issue” as one might well imagine) not wanting to jump on some politically correct bandwagon.  I think that is a strong feature of such welcoming-but-not-affirming Christian leaders as Rich Mouw, Tony Campolo, the late Stanley Grenz (taken from us all too soon), N.T. scholar, Dr. Richard B. Hays, theologian Marva Dawn, the evangelical feminist Catherine Clark Kroeger, my friend and former colleague, Dr. David P. Gushee, and others. I think it is a strong component in the way some of my readers who reject my conclusions do so. I understand because I was once where you are–and my having changed my mind does NOT make you wrong or me right. After all, I have met many who were pacifists but changed their minds after 9/11–and I think they were right before and are now wrong.  Being willing to change one’s mind is a sign of maturity–but no particular change of mind is guaranteed to be a change for the better. That applies to me as well.

So, seeing this film should open discussion, not close it.  It does not “make the case” for full inclusion of GLBT persons–but only exposes folk to that viewpoint in a powerful way.

I would hope that everyone viewing this film would come away agreeing that gay bashing is wrong, that holding up signs saying “God hates fags” is wrong, that people who give death threats to gay people or inclusive churches (as they have to Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson) are sick and need treatment, and that civil laws which discriminate should be ended. Beyond that, the film itself only raises the issues about full inclusion in the church–it does not and cannot answer them definitively.

But the “issues” are placed in the right context–in the midst of discussions in families and churches about how best to love children, aunts, uncles, parents, etc. who are gay. If, in viewing the film, the option of hate is ruled out and the only remaining debate is over whether love is best expressed in welcoming but NOT affirming, or in welcoming AND affirming (as my church teaches and I have concluded), then it will have accomplished a great good. I hope many of my Gentle Readers will order For the Bible Tells Me So at the link and watch it in churches and homes with friends and begin open and honest–even painful and tearful–discussions.


January 20, 2011 - Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, blog series, ethics, GLBT issues

1 Comment »

  1. […] Addendum 2: DVD Review of For the Bible Tells Me So. […]

    Pingback by GLBT Persons in the Church: Index « Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People | January 20, 2011 | Reply

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