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Film Club Discussion: For the Bible Tells Me…What?

For the Bible Tells Me So provides intimate accounts of the struggle to reconcile homosexuality with religion. With interviews from Gene Robinson (the first openly gay Episcopal bishop), Desmond Tutu, and Chrissy Gephardt (LGBT activist and daughter of Congressman Dick Gephardt), For the Bible Tells Me So illustrates that though the names, faces, and religions may be different, the plight for reconciliation and acceptance is universal.

At the heart of the film is the apparent misuse of the Bible to condemn, ostracize, and alienate homosexuals. Openly challenging the views of right-wingers like James Dobson, the film provides alternative interpretations to texts such as Leviticus 20:13 that have been essential to anti-gay rhetoric. The film also debunks prevailing myths and misconceptions about homosexuality such as homosexuality being both a mental disorder and an anomaly that does not occur in nature. Even with its criticism of traditional biblical interpretations, the film steers clear of didacticism. Rather, it notes the dangers of selective and literalist readings of scripture and advocates a more holistic reading of the Bible, one that takes into consideration cultural and historical context.

View the trailer of For the Bible Tells Me So

One of the most moving moments in the film for me was when Brenda Poteat, mother of a lesbian daughter, shared a moment in which she had an epiphany. While watching a popular daytime television talk show, which just so happened to be featuring homosexual couples, Poteat found herself troubled at the fact that the audience members’ questions focused the couples’ sex lives, namely the anatomical particulars of how the couples had sex. She realized that part of the problem she was having with her daughter’s lifestyle was due to a visceral reaction of disgust: she was thinking about how her daughter was having sex.

Recently one of my best friends came out to me, and I am embarrassed to admit that initially my own thoughts centered on the “anatomical particulars” rather than emotional support. As a heterosexual female, I never thought that homosexuality pertained to me. I considered it their problem, their situation, and their struggle. However, I have come to realize that the emotive reaction that I was having—the reaction society has and religion influences—is the root of the problem. Sure, it might be their problem, but it is because of me and my reaction that any “problem” exists.

In my high school history course, my teacher would conduct an exercise to teach us a lesson on perspective. The exercise would go something like this: my teacher would be up front seeming to conduct class as usual when all of a sudden our school principal would come in and proceed to disrupt the class. He would knock books off of the shelves, tousle a student’s hair, and hum a tune—all while eating something messy like popcorn. He would then leave, and my history teacher would stop and say, “Now, I want you each to record what just happened.” Even though we were in the same classroom (and a small one at that) our accounts varied. Some students’ accounts were detailed, noting what color suspenders our principal was wearing and how he appeared to be walking with a limp. Others were creative and decided to try their hands at fiction, portraying our principal as Agent 007. My teacher would do this year after year, and the lesson was always the same: each person will have a different account the same event because we have different perspectives. This colorful lesson was for high school history students, but I think it is relevant to Bible reading as well. We each bring our own level of meaning to each biblical passage because we each have different points of view and are at different places in our spiritual and personal lives. I admit that this type of approach to the Bible makes perfect sense to me probably because I am an English grad student and use this method when engaging with texts. I am not advocating a “whatever-you-think-is-right” type of scripture reading, but I think it is important to be cognizant of what we, as readers, Christians, and individuals bring to scripture reading.

The most powerful piece of information that I gathered from this film is how the Bible is used as a weapon. “The Word of God,” as we often call it, is used to save, redeem, and convert, but it is also used to justify the stigmatization of homosexuals. There seems to be something oxymoronic about this dual function of scripture. I find it puzzling that when tragedy strikes, we are quick to regurgitate axioms like “For the Lord giveth and He taketh away” or “It was God’s will.” We can admit that we do not always understand the complexities of God’s plan, but for some reason—whether it is political or personal—we are not always so candid about our lack of knowledge when it comes to scriptural interpretations. Before we get too adamant about what we believe “the Bible says,” it is important to remember that biblical interpretations have been wrong before. In the past, Christians have used the Bible to subordinate women and to justify the enslavement of Africans. Also, the hostility toward homosexuals is not the first time that society and religion have been at odds with “alternative” forms of love. It was only about forty years ago in June 1967 that interracial couples were allowed to marry. Then, many religious leaders argued that such “unequally yolked” couples were behaving against God’s will.

I highly recommend For the Bible Tells Me So to anyone who is ready to think critically about the intersections between homosexuality and religion. This film moved me to tears, and I am not one who cries easily in films. (I was once told that I had no soul because I did not shed a tear while watching The Notebook). Regardless of your political and religious affiliations, this film will certainly prompt you to ask questions, and perhaps the next time you hear someone say the words “The Bible tells us,” you might do your own investigative work.

Carlyn Ferrari recently graduated from Pacific Union College and is now a graduate student at San Francisco State University who writes from Novato, CA.

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