In the spirit of my Thursday post, I want to share with you Daniel Karslake’s outstanding documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007. I’d heard of it before, and I’d seen some selected clips on YouTube, but this past week I found the entire thing online and sat down to watch it all the way through.
In addition to a fair amount of description of various issues related to Christianity and homosexuality, the film includes interviews with several families (including the Gephardts and the Robinsons) in which religious parents had to come to terms with one of their children being gay. I found their stories very moving, and I think it’s worth making time for.
(Note: To watch the full video, you’ll need to install their player software. Otherwise, this is just a 5-minute preview.)
It was frustrating for me to watch, because so many of the stories recounted in the film are about finding a way to reconcile Christianity with acceptance of homosexuality. It’s about pointing out that the Old Testament God considers eating shellfish to be an equally heinous offense as being gay, studying the historical context of the Bible and understanding what homosexual intercourse symbolized during those times — it’s about learning that the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally, word by word. For me, the natural conclusion of those studies is the realization that the Bible itself is not a reliable source of moral teachings, and not a document one should trust to be true. But to the people in this documentary, God is still just as real as ever, and the Bible is still just as true as ever. They’ve only changed their mind about what the Bible tells them to be so.
I was floored by this statement from one of the people interviewed, which begins at 1:15:32.
The Bible is an incredibly powerful weapon. People use it as a weapon, justifying violence and justifying torture, justifying death. We have to be terribly careful about this scripture that people hold tight to, and be clear that it is about compassion and love, because what it otherwise will do is wreak havoc and torture and death.
How can anyone be sure of any message they extract from the Bible, if it may be used just as well to justify love as to justify torture? Why do “we have to be terribly careful” to make sure the Bible is interpreted as a lesson of compassion? This seems to concede the fact the Bible is terrifically ambiguous on this matter, and that there are plenty of hateful, violent verses in the Bible that a hateful, violent person could easily fixate on and use to justify their behavior. What, then, is the point of looking to the Bible at all? We know how to behave, we know how to be good to one another. The Bible clearly isn’t helping.
However, I’m practicing being patient with religious people. I’m trying to remember that Christians who are tolerant of gay and lesbian people are way preferable to Christians who are not. And I’m trying to remember that, as more and more people conclude that the way to live the best life is to refrain from taking the Bible literally, things are moving in the right direction. The norm will increasingly be a more liberal Christianity, and then that will be what gets questioned by the independent thinkers, and progress will continue.
I’m trying to be happy about the small steps. It’s a challenge, but real practice always is.