This past Wednesday, a friend and I headed down to the Portland Lesbian & Gay Film Festival to see a new documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So, an examination of the effect conservative Christian teaching on homosexuality has on families with a gay member and the basis for those beliefs.
It's a wonderful, moving, painful yet entertaining 90 minutes, but it fails almost completely in its anointed mission to "reconcile homosexuality and Biblical scripture." True, the roughly six Biblical passages used to condemn gay people are each pointed out, but they are rather casually dismissed. The two nearly identical passages from Leviticus where homosexual activity is labeled an "abomination" are made to seem silly, like the prohibitions on eating shrimp or wearing linen and wool together, which are similarly called "abominations."
It's a starting point, of course, to highlight other Hebrew laws we ignore, but the reason that dog won't hunt is that restrictions on food and clothing aren't seen as significant moral issues; they're not in the same arena with sexual behavior. The bans on eating certain foods were also explicitly overturned by Jesus and Peter. The better strategy is to look at passages of Biblical law dealing with moral issues that even self-proclaimed literalists today would be forced to concede are not moral. (Examples here and here.) The answer to the conservative insistence on trotting out Leviticus is not to say, "Hey, here are some other passages we ignore," but rather, "Here are some passages we both reject." I'd be interested in James Dobson's explanation for why a rape victim is bound by God's law to marry her assailant. Even his strict guidelines for parenting don't go this far.
Paul's letter to the Romans is similarly mishandled, with a lame claim that the original Greek that has been translated as "unnatural" really just means "uncustomary." The filmmakers ignore the crucial context that Paul's letter is a specific response to an inquiry from the Roman Christian community about some of the worship practices of the popular cult of Cybele. Like the conservatives who use the passage as a cudgel, the filmmakers, too, fail to turn the page to Chapter 2, where Paul makes it explicitly clear that there is no hierarchy of sin; sexual immorality is no worse than gossip. (Or, to put it another way, gossip is as bad as sexual immorality.)
As to the question of whether homosexuality could possibly be seen as Biblically compatible, somehow they manage to not point out a single gay-affirming passage. (Here, here, here, here, and here, for starters.) The scant effort at exegesis in the film was so glaring that even my non-religious friend who accompanied me remarked, "They didn't really talk about the Bible all that much."
That's not to say the film is bad or even remotely disappointing, just that the marketing's main claim is grossly exaggerated. Its value lies in the power of the honesty and naked emotion of the families it portrays and the stories of their journeys toward reconciliation. Whether it's the Reitans - a classically amiable, blond, all-American Pepsi and Wonderbread sort of Lutheran family from Minnesota, who go from trying to get their son Jacob in to "reparative" therapy to being arrested, arm in arm, for civil disobedience on the grounds of Focus on the Family's headquarters - or the Robinsons - an evangelical family from rural Kentucky who end up attending the consecration of their son Gene as the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop (to roars of approval from the crowd in attendance, amid death threats to Gene and his partner) - one gets a profound sense of what Bp. Robinson meant when he told Beliefnet a few years ago that God is doing "a new thing." It's not that God has changed His mind on sexuality, but rather that, having confronted us with our historical failures with regard to race and gender, the Spirit is still at work in our religious communities, continuing to inspire us to heed the radical welcome of Jesus' teachings and to throw open the doors and hearts of our churches to all whom God calls.