Eric D. Snider

For the Bible Tells Me So (documentary)

Movie Review

For the Bible Tells Me So (documentary)

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: B+

Released: October 5, 2007


Directed by:

Many Christians say they believe homosexuality is sinful because the Bible teaches it, but the truth in most cases is that they believe it because it's what their churches have taught them. Just reading the Bible, with no preconceived notions and no outside coaching, you'd be hard-pressed to remember it referring to homosexuality at all. Only a few verses mention it -- and mostly in the all-but-disregarded Old Testament -- so it's hardly a major theme in the Good Book.

To hear some people go on about it, though, you'd think it was on every page! "For the Bible Tells Me So," a heartbreaking and uplifting documentary, follows the stories of several religious young people whose relationships with God and their families were disrupted when they realized they were gay. The film offers proof that religion and homosexuality need not be mutually exclusive: Good Christians can love and accept their gay brothers and sisters, and gay people can still be religious. Neither concept gets much airtime these days.

We meet Gene Robinson, now the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, and the son of an adorable old church-going couple from Kentucky. The Robinsons have been married since 1946, and the Bethany Christian Church has always been part of their lives. Are they proud of their son? You bet.

We meet the Poteats, a Baptist family from North Carolina with a gay son and daughter. Then there are the Reitans, from Minnesota, whose son Jake comes from a long line of Lutheran pastors. When Jake came out of the closet, some of the locals threw a brick through their windshield and wrote "fag" in chalk outside the house. This was in the 21st century, in a civilized nation.

There's Mary Lou Wallner, a Christian fundamentalist who rejected her lesbian daughter and whose story will break your heart. Finally, there's Dick Gephardt, the Democratic congressman from Missouri (and a Catholic) whose gay daughter helped him campaign for the presidency in 2004.

Director Daniel G. Karslake lets these families tell their stories, interspersing them with comments from outside sources: theologians, biblical scholars, and even Desmond Tutu. The point is made repeatedly that the Bible simply doesn't have much to say about homosexuality -- and when it does seem to address the topic, it's far from crystal-clear what its meaning is.

The Rev. Dr. Laurence C. Keene, a wise, soft-spoken theologian, gently points out that there's a difference between what the Bible reads (i.e., the words on the page) and what it says (i.e., what it means). This notion of biblical literalism -- where you take the Bible at face value and don't consider the context, the original manuscripts, or anything else -- is a 20th century phenomenon. Before that, it was understood that you had to do some work to get at the Bible's meaning.

Several people point out the silliness of discarding the entire book of Leviticus -- which is what most Christians do -- but retaining the two verses that refer to homosexuality. If you keep those, shouldn't you have to keep the verses in the same book that talk about the "abomination" (or "abomb-nation," as Jimmy Swaggert keeps saying) of eating shellfish and having sex with a woman who's on her period?

Biblical literalism is just as selectively applied. Plenty of people say, "Well, the Bible says a man lying with a man is sinful, so that's all there is to it." But do those people also sell everything they have and give it to the poor, as Jesus instructed in Matthew, Mark, and Luke? Well, no. Why not? "Well, you have to take into account who he was talking to, and the society of the time" -- and literalism is replaced with the more reasonable contextualism.

But most people, even Christians, don't read the Bible extensively at all, let alone work on interpreting and understanding it. They're content merely to repeat what their pastors tell them, which may or may not be based on careful study of the Bible's history, doctrines, and origins. This shouldn't be. As Keene says in the movie's most quotable moment, "There's nothing wrong with a fifth-grade understanding of God -- as long as you're in the fifth grade."

The idea of the Bible NOT being as anti-homosexuality as generally believed sounds heretical because it's been repeated constantly for decades. As the film points out, however, the Bible has been used throughout the ages to justify racism, slavery, subjugation of women, and persecution of the Jews. People who clung to those beliefs probably had a hard time accepting that the Bible didn't really endorse those things after all, too.

But here I am telling you what the movie says instead of telling you whether I agree with it, or whether it's a good movie. It is a good movie. Karslake (who wrote the narration with Helen R. Mendoza) maintains an even mix of reason and emotion. The talking heads give us the former, while the individuals whose stories are told provide the latter. Their faith is inspiring, as is the love demonstrated between the parents and their children. It seems like a very sharp line has been drawn -- either you can be gay, or you can be religious -- and these brave souls show the wrongness of that thinking.

Grade: B+

Not rated, probably PG-13 for some heavy thematic elements

1 hr., 36 min.

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This item has 26 comments

  1. Speeding Slowly says:

    I have heard of this movie, and while these ideas should be explored and I'm all for tolerance and what not, it is important to note that there is NO ground for 'accepting' homosexuality as a non-sinful way of life for a Christian. You're probably saying I should see the movie- I've already seen it a million times before in real life, even with my own family. I've heard this same argument thousands of times from different people, but it has no real basis. That does NOT mean that homosexuals should be persecuted and hated in society, or that the Bible advocates such things for a Christian to do. Quite on the contrary, they should be loved. However, It does mean that it is not pleasing to God and is in fact a sin. Why? I'll tell you why.
    The Levitical laws are their own matter, of course there are many very strict laws and people brush it off... but it does say one thing about homosexuality and other sexual sins (specifically man-man relationships) that makes it slightly different than many of the other Jewish religious laws of the time: it says God finds it detestable (Levitivus 18:22 I think). That passage is in the same breath with incest and bestiality- these things are still considered detestable..why has homosexuality
    changed? If we throw out that then we have to say that God changed his mind on bestiality and incest too, which our society for the most part still finds unacceptable. God does not change, that is something the Bible states clearly. Though the old laws have been 'completed' by a Christian point of view so there's not any casting out disobedient children or etc...If something is known as abomination or detestable- chances are pretty darn good that He still does not smile on it. So by taking that into account and Paul's reference to the 'unnatural lusts' and 'homosexual offenders' saying they will not inherit the kingdom of God, it just doesn't fit. People can try to make it a completely warm and fuzzy religion all they want. Jesus did preach love and all the good stuff, but He also admitted He brought the sword- not just the warm fuzzness. He will divide families and following Him may one day cost you your life. Not all will be able to swallow it nor will they want to follow the straight and narrow- I'm not necessarily advocating predestination, I'm talking statistics. God loves the homosexuals despite what Westboro Baptist says, I do too, but there is a line that shouldn't be crossed in the realm of holiness in the eyes of God.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant! The B+ means it was probably very well done- so good for them.

  2. Steve Zimmerman says:

    "it is important to note that there is NO ground for 'accepting' homosexuality as a non-sinful way of life for a Christian"

    IN YOUR OPINION. Do you not see the irony in saying "so there's not any casting out disobedient children" anymore in the same paragraph as saying that God does not change? If there really is a God, I'm fine with the notion that he/she does not change. But you cannot possibly suggest with a straight face that the precepts of modern Christianity bear any resemblence whatsoever to any number of the absolutely horrific things which the God of the Old Testament supposedly sanctioned.

    My opinion is that, like racism and sexism in years past, the anti-homosexual sentiment within the Christian community will fade and eventually become just as laughably indefensible as those other things have become.

  3. Ken Kirk says:

    Speeding Slowly,

    Why do we continue to pull arcane passages out of the old testament and run through our Jeramiah begat Jedadiah decoder rings? The warrants in your argument are pathetic (e.g. because homosexuality appears in the same passage as incest and bestiality somehow they are equally destable). Is this what passes for debate with fundamentalists these days?

  4. Turkey says:

    I think there's a difference to be seen in the laws and commandments of God and how those people who sin or transgress God's laws are punished in this life and the next. While we do not cast out disobedient children anymore (a puishment in this life), it is still widely accepted that God supports children obeying their parents and does not condone disobedience except in the rarest of cases (abuse/incest/other immoral acts/etc.). In a similar vein, simply because we do not put homosexuals to death anymore (a punishment in this life), that does not mean that God is any more accepting of the act of homosexuality. We also do not put adulterers to death either; does this mean that God has suddenly changed his stance on this and decided that it is acceptable to have relations with people other than your spouse? Simply because society does not punish in the same fashion as old does not imply that the act is more acceptable in the sight of God than in times past. Society changes; God does not.

  5. Slash says:

    They didn't cast the children out. They hit them with stones until they died.

    The tone of the new testament is dramatically different from the old testament. The versions (of which there are [i]many[/i]) of christianity practiced today are quite different from those practiced 2000 years ago.

    So, you can [i]say[/i] society changes and god doesn't, but that is a statement without any supporting evidence.

  6. Puffy Treat says:

    So Eric (you probably knew this question was coming), does the film address those Christian religions that believe in additional scripture and revelation besides the Bible?

  7. Eric D. Snider says:

    Puffy, you probably mean "the Christian religion that believes in additional scripture and revelation besides the Bible" not "those Christian religions," and anyway, no.

  8. James N says:

    You knew the comments for this film didn't have a prayer of remaining on the topic of the film itself, naturally?

    Homosexuality is such a needlessly divisive topic; for some reason, homosexual tendencies are treated dramatically different by Christianity in general (and its critics) than other predilections towards other things Christians (typically) consider sins: violence, substance abuse, heterosexual deviance (as mentioned above), profaning divinity, etc.

    The question "Can you be a practicing homosexual and still a religious person" is irrelevant, because you can do ANYTHING you want and still be religious, depending on which religion you pick. Substituting "Christian" for "religious person" barely changes things, because there is such a breathtaking array of belief systems which describe themselves thus.

    This film sounds like it charmingly portrays the particular faith/social/life balance some individuals have found, in a way which is surprising to certain mainstream viewpoints, but I doubt it presents anything more novel than the fact that some people believe some things are acceptable that other people don't. Also that people sometimes change their minds.

    Additionally, it's way too easy to make fun of the shaky justifications people give their beliefs. Seriously, why even bother? Unless it's funny -- then it's usually worth it.

  9. Karen says:

    I've always found it interesting that the most rabid Bible thumpers are often the ones who haven't spent much time reading it. I had a discussion once with a girl about the Second Coming and I mentioned that He would come as a thief in the night. She got so angry at me for suggesting that Jesus was in any way like a thief. I tried to explain that analogy came straight from the Bible, but she would have none of it.

    I also think it's interesting how the same people who foam at the mouth over homosexuality rarely have a problem with, and often engage in, fornication, which is decried far more often in the Bible.

    I'm looking forward to this movie for the reassurance that there are more than a handful of people who believe people can live harmoniously, no matter what their beliefs or orientations may be.

  10. whome says:

    All this kind of depends on your definition of "homosexual". It seems to me that people are using the term differently in these posts and also in the movie. If a man is attracted to another man, is he a homosexual? I think many people would say "yes" while others would say, "only if he acts on it." And which of these is sin? That's not very clear. "Unnatural lusts" seems to imply just being attracted is sin, but does that seem fair to punish someone for temptation? There are just so many ways to interpret the Bible. Moreover, Peter said the Bible is not for private interpretation. That makes everyone's opinion rather unauthorized, unless there is an individual or body of people with authority from God to give an authorized interpretation.

  11. David Manning says:

    Sold. I must see this movie.

  12. Kyralessa says:

    "I also think it's interesting how the same people who foam at the mouth over homosexuality rarely have a problem with, and often engage in, fornication, which is decried far more often in the Bible."

    Sorry, I think you're making those people up.

  13. kevith says:

    I agree with David Manning.

  14. Clumpy says:

    Kyralessa said: ""I also think it's interesting how the same people who foam at the mouth over homosexuality rarely have a problem with, and often engage in, fornication, which is decried far more often in the Bible."

    Sorry, I think you're making those people up."

    Nope. Do Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart ring a bell?

    If I wasn't LDS I'd definitely be among the (pretty rational) group saying that those who take those verses out of context should follow every other obscure rule in the Mosaic law. Using a BIble verse to justify hatred is pretty blasphemic, pure and simple.

    That said, the LDS Church is incredibly tolerant on this subject. Though we don't budge on the "sin" aspect of actual, acted-out gay relations, one with inclinations is no more of a "sinner" than a man with a terrible temper, or a kleptomaniac. Still, I reserve judgement as judging others puts myself into a position to be condemned for other weaknesses or tendencies.

    I prefer my position - being tolerant by nature and tempered by my religion - rather than the alternative - using my religion merely to jusify my pre-existing hatreds.

    And I concur with Karen that those who trumpet the infallibility of the BIble the loudest are the least familiar with it.

  15. Martin says:

    Clumpy, that's probably the official position of most churches -- being tempted is ok; just don't act on it. The hard part is getting the actual church members not to be judgemental or bigoted. In that department, I'm not sure the LDS church members are any better than members of other churches.

  16. Niall says:

    Great review, Eric. I look forward to seeing this much-needed film.

  17. whome says:

    Kyralessa says (quoting Karen):
    "I also think it's interesting how the same people who foam at the mouth over homosexuality rarely have a problem with, and often engage in, fornication, which is decried far more often in the Bible."

    Sorry, I think you're making those people up.

    Get rid of the "often engage in" part and I'd agree wholeheartedly with Karen. How many Christian groups got upset with Titanic for the main characters fogging up the windows? Or the irresponsible reproductive behavior of characters in You've Got Mail, or practically any other romantic comedy? How many conservative Christians who bashed on Brokeback Mountain failed to bat an eye at Austin Powers?

  18. ED says:

    Well done Eric. Anytime we can better understand that the Bible is a complex, rich source of enlightenment we're better off.

    Short version: loves wins over hate and intolerance anytime!

  19. B says:

    Well, riding the red tide is gross, but shellfish are delicious, and as John Travolta put it in Pulp Fiction, Pork chops taste good, bacon tastes good, so I guess I'll be ok with homosexuality, too.

  20. Oh Good Lord! says:

    Leave Britney alone!!!! For the love of God, Leave Britney alone!! Hasn't she suffered enought?

    Oh, yeah, and the homosexual thing, too. Leave them alone. They aren't bothering you. Worry about something else.

    Jesus = the Easter Bunny = Santa Claus = the Tooth Fairy. How much longer is civilization going to have to put up with this nonsense? Religion - all religion - is an obstacle to human development and progress, based on the humano-centric notion that we must be "special", or God wouldn't have singled us out. Here's the news - we aren't special, and if we don't straighten out our mess, we are going to be as extinct as the dodo in a couple of thousand years.

    Man, will you Bible thumpers get a life?

  21. John Doe says:

    Oh Good Lord! says: "we aren't special"

    The problem with that idea (that we aren't special, but are just bags of meat and water)is that prejudice is ok. Animals kill each other over land, food, mates, or just for the heck of it. If we are just animals and aren't special, then hating and killing is just an extension of instincts provided by evolution. It's an argument for survival of the fittest. Belief in God, despite what most people will tell you, is actually the motivating force behind a great deal of charity and tolerance in history as well as progress.

    "if we don't straighten out our mess, we are going to be as extinct as the dodo in a couple of thousand years."
    How does one "straighten out our mess" then? One way is have a tyrant kill off all human except a select few. It saves natural resources and there need by no poor if they are dead. If there is nothing special about human life in general, then this is a perfectly rational method. Science itself values having no values or ideas of right or wrong. Heterosexuals outnumber homosexuals in any form, thus by the laws of survival of the fittest, they can and should use their powers over the minority group even to their extinction if it helps out the group with the power. No doubt you would prescribe a less violent, more humane method brought about by a belief in equity and sanctity of life (which there is no empirical to prove these ideals exist in nature, or are even a positive influence on society). Or do you still believe we are just animals?

  22. Joshua Thompson says:

    I seen the movie on Saturday and wow. I learned alot from this movie and it helped me out alot. I cant wait until my mom accepts me for who I am instead of who I am. My (hope to be) boyfriend seen the movie also and he was in tears at the end of the movie. I have tried many times to end my life over the last 10 years but with alot of prayers Im still alive today. I am a Christian and know where Im going (my soul) when I die. Its just a belief right? Oh yeah, did you know the bible says that we shouldnt eat shrimp when people do anyways. It also said that we have to be fully clothed. Look at Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, both of then dont ware any undies... Both of them are whores. I love my boyfriend and would die if something ever happened to him. If stright marrages cant be happy then how come gay marriages cant be happy either.


  23. Teresa says:

    Excellent review, I never heard of this movie before and am glad I did. I only wish there was some way to get my sister (Born again Baptist) and all her church friends to watch it. She is one of those 'every word means what it means' Christians, yet she does do things like eat shellfish *coughhypocritecough*

  24. kevith says:

    True to my comment above (#13), we rented this movie from Blockbuster tonight (we're so old-fashioned) and really enjoyed it. The most disturbing thing about this movie is all of the hate. All of the death threats and profanity-laced messages to the gay people is just sickening. The fact that Gene Robinson had to wear a bullet-proof vest under his robes during the ceremony making him a bishop is ridiculous.

    I just don't think it's our place to be judging, hating, and/or condemning people, especially for something that we don't understand very well. When in doubt, why don't we err on the side of love?

  25. Beck says:

    I don't think the Poteats' son is gay, only Tonia the daughter. Tonia Poteat was my favourite character from the documentary, by the way.

    I also think it's about time Islam (the religion I was born into, so I am not a Muslim by choice) also re-examines its view on homosexuality, in a less judgmental and more compassionate light.

  26. Drew says:

    It is so sad that all these "christan" people do not even excersize their religion. If you feel such a need to make other peopel feel bad because of some thing you read in a book (bible) then your own personal belief in god isnt as strong as you would have all of us think. The world accepted homosexualtiy untill the birth of the catholic church. They do not believe in contraception or homosexualtiy because both promote sex without reproduction, which the church needed in order to make the church money (a business) Do some research about the bible not nessasarly its content.

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