For the Bible Tells Me So is a documentary from 2007 exploring how people interpret The Bible in relation to homosexuality. It is an excellent introduction to the religious arguments from both sides but it does have a bias in favor of the gay community. What it really shows is how as society evolves, religion must keep up or expire due to lack of relevancy. And this documentary continues to be relevant into the current conversation on gay marriage.
People bring themselves to The Bible when they read it, as was most notably pointed out by a black lesbian woman in the film. If you’re black you may be disgusted by the references to slavery or ignore those scriptures with a preference towards scripture on spiritual freedom (which translates to physical freedom or a social gospel similar to what was put forth by the civil rights movement). If you’re a woman, you may be offended by the overwhelming male patriarchy present in the Old Testament or you may find the intended subservient role of Eve to suit you as a domesticated housewife. If you’re a white capitalist male you may read about Jesus and imagine him as a powerful figure capable of violence but restraining from it until the appropriate time (the end times), all the while ignoring any feminine characteristics or passing over verses that suggest you give all your money to the poor.
It explains why we have so many denominations. The people who have a better grasp on Biblical meanings are usually experts like Biblical Archaeologists and Theologians, but they don’t regularly command the pulpit. Pastors are introduced to these fields of study when they get their degrees, after that their focus is to connect with their audience. If you don’t relate to your audience, you have no audience, thus being a pastor is not so much about God as about the people you speak to. If your audience is right-wing Republican you’re not going to get too far with hinting that Jesus was more of a socialist.
What is poignant about For the Bible Tells Me So is that it focuses on several different families who did not immediately accept their son or daughter’s coming out of the closet (with possibly the exception of the Gephardts). They accepted their kids, but not their homosexuality. It took time and many parents actually buckled down and studied the issue and found themselves overturning their prejudices simply because they were fed assumptions (like being gay is unnatural when you can find “gay” all over the place in nature). Sadly, for one mother, it took the suicide of her lesbian daughter to wake her up to her misconceptions. While she fights for change now, she did lose her daughter as a result of alienating her.
What conservative Christians don’t ever seem to get is that sexuality is a part of us–a big part of us! Therefore, when it is dismissed as just sexual deviancy, gay people feel like you’ve dismissed them as a whole. And sexuality is more than just banging your lover. It includes attraction, how you act in a crowd of friends or strangers, your responses to color and scent…the list is long. The easiest way to explain it is if you took a heterosexual woman and stripped away her sexuality–she would lose her identity. That’s what Christianity does to a gay man or woman when it tries to “fix” them.
The main pro-gay argument in For the Bible Tells Me So is that you have to interpret The Bible using cultural context. As an atheist I agree to a certain point. The problem is that if God was overseeing the Israelites and speaking through his earthly representatives and he didn’t correct people when they advocated stoning homosexuals then there’s still something wrong. This is supposed to be God’s book written by God with human scribes. If the book is full of bigotry due to cultural context then where is this God we worship today? God, again, just becomes ourselves and therefore there is no god at all.
The scripture most often quoted is from the book of Leviticus. Leviticus 18:22 says -“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” Then in Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lie with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” The problem with quoting from the book of Leviticus is there is more to it than just punishing gay sex acts. If children curse their parents they are to be put to death. If a man has sex with his wife while she is menstruating they are to banished. There is no punishment for owning slaves, it actually approved of in Leviticus.
The other prime example used by literalist Christians is Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s said that these two kingdoms were destroyed because of homosexuality, or at least that’s what we are led to believe. Another interpretation is that because hospitality was so highly regarded at that time period that S & D were destroyed because of their unwillingness to provide rest and food for traveling strangers. You might think it extreme to rain down fire on a city that is inhospitable but so is stoning a couple for adultery or killing your kid when they talk back to you.
However, people want to interpret The Bible to keep in step with society’s more reasonable morality is fine with me, I just don’t see it being necessary. If God is there he watched as Matthew Shepherd was beat senseless and left to die and a host of other gay-related beatings and murders. It is the gay community that has worked diligently to prevent such tragedies–human effort!–against religious bigotry. Religion is now adapting to the reality of homosexuality not being a choice, but The Bible certainly didn’t help in this transition. The Bible is an outdated book that should be left to historians and mythologists. Our society’s new morality, while imperfect, is far superior to the prejudices of that “ol’ time religion.”
SIDENOTE: You’ll notice that the one family that still could not accept their daughter’s lesbian lifestyle was the African American family. They made progress, but not in comparison to their white counterparts. Homophobia is rampant in the black community.