What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Well, that’s where we have trouble, isn’t it? There are those who point to a handful of texts and use them prove that lesbians and gay men are terrible people who should be condemned. There are others who look at those same verses and find nothing in them that would prevent them from loving, welcoming, and affirming lesbians and gay men in every aspect of life—including the Church. Gays often find the Church a hostile environment. But it need not be so.
For the Bible Tells Me So is not an unbiased film. It shows us the struggle that gays and their families have had because of the negative message that the Church often conveys. This film is clearly from the perspective that gays should be accepted within the Church as they are. There will be some who will dismiss the film completely because of that. But for many people, both gay and straight, who continue to struggle with how the Church should engage gays, this film may well be a great blessing.
Much of the film deals with five families that all have a Christian background and all have a gay or lesbian child. They all had struggles over the issue—some still do.
The first family we meet is the Robinson family, Imogene and Victor, the parents of Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church. We also meet Brenda and David Poteat, African American ministers in what may be a Pentecostal church, and their daughter Tonia. Randi and Phil Reitan are Midwest Lutherans whose son Jake came out to them when he was 16. Dick Gephardt was the House Minority Leader and a candidate for President. His daughter Chrissy helped campaign for her father and was open about her sexuality. Perhaps the most poignant family is one of which we only meet one person. When Mary Lou Wallner’s daughter Anna came out to her, she wrote back a scathing letter back that effectively ended all communications between them.
The film uses these families and their experiences to approach the way the Church’s teachings have affected the way they view their gay family members. Some responded immediately in accepting and loving ways. Some tried to change their son or daughter. Some were condemning. Some have grown to new understandings. Some continue to struggle.
The film touches upon the main scriptures used to condemn homosexuality. For many people, reading those texts ends the discussion. In the film, though, that is only the beginning of the discussion. Various ministers, rabbis, and scholars speak about those texts and how they need to be understood in light of their cultural setting. It takes more than just reading Scripture for it to have meaning; it also requires some interpretation. The methods we use to interpret Scripture can make a great deal of difference.
The film also shows us, through these families, ways in which the Church has been welcoming and affirming of gay people and ways it has done harm. Mary Lou Wallner tells a church group, “My daughter is dead because of the untruth taught to me by the Church.” The Reitans have become activists confronting their own denomination for its stance on homosexuality and also parachurch groups such as Focus on the Family for their homophobic teachings. Scenes from Bishop Robinson’s consecration show both the ugliness that can be found in the Church and the great love and acceptance that the Church can attain.
I know that some people will see this film as another example of all that is wrong with the world today. They will speak of a homosexual agenda and of taking the Bible seriously. Some may be so bold as to see it as the work of Satan. If one comes to the film with a mind already made up, there won’t be much to come away with.
For others, this is preaching to the choir. My denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is well represented in the film. Although not all Disciples would be fully behind what this film says, it is something I think many in my denomination and many other churches will find to be a refreshing spiritual breeze that should bring new life to the Church and its ministry to all people.
But I expect that the majority of people are somewhere between these two camps. People have heard from the very vocal conservative church how evil homosexuality is. They have heard that is called an abomination in the Bible. They think of gays as “other.” Gays who have heard this may well believe that they are not welcome in the church. Church people may think the same thing. For these people, people who still are unclear about the kind of relationship that should exist between gays and the Church, this film is an important source of information, understanding and vision that can lead to opening the church to new possibilities.