Of course, I knew I would back track on my list of 2007’s most spiritually significant films and inevitably watch a film on DVD that I missed in theaters that should have made the cut. Like Michael Moore’s Sicko, but for the religious set, Daniel Karslake’s documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So, deals with one of the most pressing, divisive issues facing the Christian church today. The church’s stance(s) on gays and lesbians is a point of contention between believers that is not likely to settle down any time soon. Moreover, Karslake gets at the heart of the debate, the argument over Biblical inerrancy that fuels so much of this controversy. Here is a trailer…read on for the review.
In this documentary, Karslake definitely has an agenda, to reveal the hypocrisy of conservative, evangelicals’ belief in Biblical inerrancy and the hatred for homosexuals that it fuels. However, he balances this agenda by focusing his film on five families who, at different points in their life, had decidedly opposite agendas. Karslake examines families who were all staunchly opposed to homosexuality quite simply because the Bible told them so. However, each family had this faith shaken by a child who announced his or her homosexuality.
Far from presenting monolithic responses in any direction, Karslake reveals a variety of reactions from a mother who rejected her daughter outright to parents that soon became champions for civil rights for homosexuals. Karslake draws from average American families from across the country with the Richard Gephardt and Gene Robinson families being the notable celebrities of the documentary.
Karslake loads his documentary with news and church footage of ministers condemning homosexuality as an abomination before God. He laces these clips with interviews with the families about their religious views on homosexuality before their children came out of the closet. He then interviews ministers and scholars who take a different scriptural interpretation. Here, Karslake turns on the celebrity status, at least as far as religious folk are concerned. The likes of Bishop Desmond Tutu, Peter Gomes, and Robinson offer their readings of Scripture.
Of course, the most disturbing portions of the film are scenes of verbal and physical abuse of gays and lesbians. These tirades are all fueled by the oppressors’ interpretation of Scripture. Citing six or seven verses of Scripture, they mount a crusade, largely championed by Dr. James Dobson and politically purchased by the Republican party. However, it is hard to take these readings seriously when respected ministers and scholars so deftly, and occasionally humorously, refute them, citing the necessity of considering the social context of their creation.
The gay and lesbian issue just happens to be the paramount symptom of the argument surrounding Biblical inerrancy. If some readers are willing to outlaw homosexuality and make a constitutional amendment protecting marriage, in what form will they protect it? Will it be a marriage between a man and a piece of chattel property, the accepted view of women in Biblical times? Will it be between one man and multiple women, a common practice in those days? So, in the end, we are left with no true Biblical inerrantists, but rather a horde of readers who pick and choose Scriptural passages to suit their social location and to protect them from their worst, irrational fears.
No matter what side of the argument you choose, For the Bible Tells Me So should be required viewing for all people of faith or no particular faith at all. We Christians are portrayed in the film as the diverse, conflicted lot that we are. Of course, an open mind might make the viewing less frustrating…and that goes for more liberal audiences as well.
For the Bible Tells Me So (97 mins) was a limited theatrical release and will be available on DVD on February 19th.