Movie Review: For the Bible Tells Me So
By Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
"For the Bible Tells Me So" tells the stories of five God-fearing, churchgoing families of various Christian denominations coming to terms with a gay or lesbian child, and in the process it highlights a poisonous division in American society. On one side: subscribers to the theory that sexuality is innate and cannot be changed. They face off against those who believe that sexual preference is a choice, and that gay people can be "saved" from their deviant choice through zealous prayer, divine intervention and a whole lot of willpower.
It's fascinating to hear parents tell the stories of how they met (usually at church), fell in love, got married and had kids. Like most parents, they fully expected their children's lives would follow that same happily predictable path, and when it becomes clear their sons or daughters aren't interested in the whole boy-meets-girl scenario, the reactions range from warm, unconditional acceptance to outright ostracism. Generally, love wins out over fear, but most families find their structure is irrevocably altered by the revelation.
In Minnesota, Jake Reitan's parents, both devout Lutherans, are devastated by their son's announcement that he's gay.
"It hit me so hard. It felt like a death," his father says. "I had so many dreams for Jake that were instantly shattered in my mind." For the Reitans, as for most of the parents in the film, the greatest fear - beyond anything the church can threaten - is that their child will suffer because he is gay.
Some kids, like Jake, come out to their parents in high school, but sometimes, as in the case of Gene Robinson, who broke all kinds of sacred ground when he was ordained as the first openly gay bishop of New Hampshire's Episcopal Diocese, the "kids" are well into middle age, married with kids of their own, before they can be honest with themselves, let alone their parents. Robinson's parents are initially horrified by their son's declaration, but, as his mother puts it, "God made him that way, and if anyone's going to heaven, it's him."
Like the other mothers and fathers who eventually embrace their gay children, the Robinsons make a concerted effort to educate themselves about what it means to be gay - an attempt to make sense of and make peace with a foreign, frightening concept.
More often than not, accepting a gay child means abandoning a literal reading of the Bible - one that plucks passages, verbatim, from the scriptures, to suit one's personal perspective - and that can be hugely disorienting in itself. Religious homophobes most often toss out a verse from Leviticus, which describes the act of one man lying down with another as an abomination (an adjective also used to describe the mixing of different fabrics, such as wool and linen). Various religious scholars, including Desmond Tutu and Rev. Peter Gomes, wryly note that Christians aren't quite as literal when it comes to passages advocating the stoning of who aren't virgins on their wedding day or the wholesale donation of all one's worldly goods.
"For the Bible Tells Me So" doesn't shy from heart-tugging opportunities, and there's a five-minute cartoon embedded in the movie that should have been excised, but beyond those problems and some stylistic dead air, this is a compelling, thought-provoking portrait of a quiet challenge rising within America's churches. Some stories, like those of Chrissy Gephardt (yes, that Gephardt), Reitan and Robinson are ultimately a celebration of family and of the elastic, accommodating nature of love. Others, like that of Anna Louise Wakefield, who committed suicide soon after coming out to her hostile mother, are tragic reminders of the dangers of blind faith.
"For the Bible Tells Me So"
Directed by Daniel Karslake; written by Karslake and Helen Mendoza; edited by Nancy Kennedy; music by Scott Anderson and Scott Suozzo; produced by Karslake and Kennedy. A First Run Features release; opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre. Running time: 1:37. No MPAA rating; parents cautioned for conversations and language best suited to adults and kids older than 12.