First Run Features // 2007 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // February 19th, 2008
Does God really condemn loving homosexual relationships?
For the Bible Tells Me So is a sad and moving documentary about the views of Christianity and Christians towards homosexuals in contemporary America. The film strikes a largely emotional tone by profiling religious families and how they cope with their gay children. Not surprisingly, there are varying levels of tolerance: some families, such as former congressman Dick Gephardt and his wife Jane, adapt with relative ease, not only accepting their children's sexuality, but embracing it. Others seem to have set up a sort of detente with their child: they will continue loving their child, but disapprove of what they consider a sinful lifestyle. And then there is the singularly tragic case of the mother whose strong approbation led to her daughter's suicide.
Obviously, For the Bible Tells Me So advocates a tolerant attitude towards homosexuality. But the film does not appeal for this on merely emotional grounds -- though seeing the pain that intolerance has caused these families should certainly be enough to make individuals reconsider their homophobic views. (Alas, I doubt many holding such beliefs will voluntarily watch this film.) Director Daniel G. Karslake employs biblical scholars and liberal members of the clergy (as well as a rabbi) to explain how conservative Christians are misinterpreting The Bible when they denounce homosexuality. Much of the misplaced judgment, these individuals claim, is due to mistranslations and incorrect interpretations of biblical stories. While these individuals certainly make reasoned arguments, I wonder what possible chance they might have to break through the cacophony with this logic. That is to say, I have my doubts whether those who are strongly against homosexuality (or those who advocate for "family values," as the odd, inaccurate euphemism goes) really do receive their guidance on this issue from The Bible.
There is a telling scene in the film of the Pentecostal preacher Jimmy Swaggert, he of the "I have sinned against you, my Lord" fame, bragging to his congregation that he would kill any man who ever hit on him. The claim itself, and the amused affirmation it received from the audience, certainly seem disproportionate to the few mentions of homosexuality in The Bible. As such, this sort of hatred seems instead to come from old-fashioned prejudice, a fear of the other. As such, I don't think learned individuals soberly discussing Aramaic linguistics are going to stem the level of intolerance on display here.
In his film, Karslake uses additional methods to argue his case for homosexuality as part of the human condition. But unfortunately, the most effective and reasoned argument, one based on science, is the weakest segment of the film. Though For the Bible Tells Me So is almost entirely an effective, sober portrayal of the clashing between Christianity and homosexuality, Karslake unwisely uses a crudely drawn, and jarringly glib, animation sequence to discuss the science of homosexuality. I'm not sure this setup would ever be appropriate (maybe for elementary school students?), but it seems sorely out of place here. In fact, it undermines what is otherwise a very cogent and persuasive argument. Thankfully, it is not substantial enough to undermine what is still a powerful film.
Of the scant extras on the disc the most interesting is the extended interview with Gene Robinson. Robinson is a man who only acknowledged his homosexuality after getting married and having two children. He gained a fair amount of notoriety in 2003 when he became the first openly gay man to become a bishop in the Episcopal Church. Like most trailblazers, Robinson seems like a remarkable individual, and could probably support a feature-length documentary all by himself.
As a whole, For the Bible Tells Me So does an effective job of portraying how intolerance of homosexuals tears families apart, exposing the irony of those who make the inexplicable claim that only through marginalizing homosexuals can the American family unit be saved. I hope it receives a large audience, especially from critical-thinking Bible readers. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* New Interviews with Bishop Gene Robinson and Director Daniel Karslake
* Film Notes
* Resource Guides
* Official Site