In his recent book, A New Kind of Christianity, Christian theologian and writer Brian McLaren states that “for a new kind of Christianity to emerge, we need a new approach to the Bible.” He claims that most Christians treat the Bible as a kind of constitution; in other words, it is a set of immutable laws that Christians are expected to live by. At the core of this constitutional metaphor is the idea of authority—not so much the authority of the Bible itself but “the authority of the people interpreting the Bible.” McLaren cites a pre-Civil War novel as an extreme example of where this exploitation of the Bible-as-constitution metaphor can border on the extreme.
“Nellie Norton was a novel to celebrate the greatness of slavery, and the subtitle was basically something like this: How the Bible is a pro-slavery Bible and God is a pro-slavery God. Now, that turns your stomach to hear that now but we haven’t had any scrutiny about the way we read the Bible. We’re still using it the same way.”
We are indeed still using the Bible the same way. In fact, many claim today that the Bible is an anti-gay Bible and God is an anti-gay God.
For the Bible Tells Me So is a moving documentary that came out a few years ago and made the rounds of the film festivals; I’m not sure whether it ever found its way into general release. The film is about Christian parents with gay children.
The documentary looks at five families, including Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop elected in the Episcopal Church, and his parents, and former U.S. presidential candidate Richard Gephardt and his wife and their lesbian daughter Chrissy. In the film we learn of the struggle of the parents to come to terms, in the context of their own religious upbringing and beliefs, with the sexual orientation of their children and with their own prejudices and their fears for their children’s safety and well-being. The film also examines the fears and misgivings faced by gay and lesbian children in religious families as they hear the condemnations of homosexuality in their churches and as they consider coming out to their parents.
The Bible is a major character in this documentary as it is quoted by pastors and laypeople alike in order to condemn homosexuality and homosexuals. There are numerous clips of preachers railing against homosexuality; the most common word that is used is “abomination.” One preacher, Jimmy Swaggart, says to his congregation: “I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. If one ever looks at me like that, I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died.” He goes on to say—with no awareness of the irony of his statement—that “God calls homosexuality an abomination. It’s an abomination! It’s an abomination!”
A parent of a lesbian daughter and husband of a Christian minister, says, “I’ve learned enough about the Bible now to understand God. I understand how God works, how Jesus works.” A little later, when talking about his two children, he has this to say: “When my kids were growing up, I said, ‘God, please don’t let my son grow up to be a faggot and my daughter a slut’. And he did not…he did not do that. He reversed it (laughs).”
Gene Robinson, who was a model Christian boy in his childhood church, says, “From ten to eleven on Sunday morning everyone was in Sunday school class, [which] was always and only focused on the Bible. So we were absolutely steeped in scripture.” From the seventh grade, Robinson knew that he was different from the other boys his age and he immediately realized that he must keep this difference to himself. “I was always familiar with what the Bible said: Anyone who is thought to be ‘that way’ was an abomination before God.”
All of the stories in For the Bible Tells Me So are compelling. The senior Robinsons, southerners and members their whole lives (they are in their late seventies when the film is shot) of the Church of the Disciples of Christ, deeply and unconditionally love their son. The Gephardts are willing to forego Richard’s quest for the presidency if their daughter feels the campaign—and Gephardt believes her being a lesbian will be an issue in the campaign—is in any way going to be painful for her.
For me, the most powerful story in the film is that of Mary Lou Wallner and her daughter Anna. Mary Lou was raised in a family of fundamentalist believers and attended “a conservative, Bible-believing church” every Sunday of her childhood and her adult life. In her Christian community, “everything in the Bible was taken literally and there were rules about everything.”
The church that Mary Lou was attending taught that homosexuality was a sin—and not just a sin but the sin of all sins. “I didn’t really study the Bible at all about [homosexuality], but I did pull out those passages and read them and certainly used them against Anna, later.”
To be continued….
If you have not seen For the Bible Tells Me So, I highly recommend it. You can watch it on YouTube in nine parts. This is the trailer….
“Pride Bigots Get Police Protection” Gay Liberation Network @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“Laramie: Probably the best moment of this entire production was during the cast party. Someone had brought these two signs to the party and around midnight most of the cast and crew walked down to the beach with them. We stood in a circle and lit both of the signs on fire…” Arbron @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.