DOES THE BIBLE condemn gays and lesbians? What about when one of those gays or lesbians is your own child?
This theological debate, in the news for causing rifts within religious denominations and local congregations, becomes personal for religious people when a family member reveals his or her homosexuality.
The personal side of this question is at the heart of For the Bible Tells Me So, a documentary released in 2007 and screening in Savannah Jan. 6. The film tells the stories of five Christian families with gay or lesbian family members. Among the stories are former U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri) a Baptist whose daughter Chrissy is a lesbian; and, the ex-wife and parents of Gene Robinson, the first acknowledged gay man to be ordained as bishop in the Episcopal church in the United States.
Two local organizations, Reel Savannah Film Group and Stand Out Youth, are joining forces to sponsor the film and a post-screening panel discussion.
Family acceptance is an issue faced by many members of Stand Out Youth, described by board member Dan Watson as a nonprofit organization for gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender and “questioning” teens and young adults. Stand Out Youth holds weekly facilitated meetings attended by young people and occasionally by parents of first-time attendees.
“I think for most people the struggles do come down to belief systems—what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s acceptable and what’s not,” says Watson. “One of the things the film does is provide context to those passages in the Bible that deal specifically with sexuality, providing context from various theologians in various religions.” Although all families featured in the film are Christian, two rabbis are among the many clergy who are interviewed.
Daniel Karslake, the film’s producer, director, and writer, will be one of four speakers on the follow-up panel. Other panelists are Rev. David Poteat and Mary Lou Wallner, whose family stories are featured in the film.
Poteat and his wife, parents of a lesbian daughter, are pastors of an evangelical independent Christian church in North Carolina. Wallner’s lesbian daughter’s suicide after being estranged from her family was the catalyst for Wallner’s TEACH Ministry, which preaches unconditional love for homosexuals, to refute “the untruth I have been taught throughout my life by the church,” Wallner writes on her website. “This new awareness has been supported through intense study of biblical passages, as well as continued dialogue with individuals on both sides of the issue,” she writes.
Reverend Billy Hester, senior minister of Savannah’s Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church is another panelist. “One of our church members asked me to participate in the panel. He’s gay and knows that we are an inclusive church,” says Hester.
Hester describes the United Methodists as divided on the issue. “There are two major books we have in Methodist church doctrine. One of the books speaks out against homosexuality; the other basically affirms that homosexuals are people of value and worth. You have this tension going on. The issue is tearing up congregations and families.”
Hester has counseled “many, many, many families” on homosexuality during his pastoral career, and is candid about his own path toward acceptance. “Growing up I used to condemn gay people. It’s been a long journey for me, getting to know people who were Christian and homosexual,” he says. “It’s another one of those fear issues we need to be talking about. It’s something I had to go through and I’m glad I am past that, becoming a more inclusive and accepting minister.”
One of Hester’s first pastoral positions was on the staff of Marble Collegiate Church in New York, the church of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. While Hester served there, Marble Collegiate established a gay and lesbian fellowship group that “helped me come to terms with it. At first it was ironic, so many leaders of the church were gay but nobody talked about it,” Hester says. “Finally we said, ‘this is ridiculous, these people are leading the church, why aren’t we talking?’ ”
Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard’s Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech are also interviewed in the film. In November, For the Bible Tells Me So was selected as one of fifteen semifinalists for Documentary Feature Academy Award.
Watson describes the film as “presenting all sides, generally fair and balanced. Not everybody in the movie, not every family, is in the same place. That’s a good thing. It more accurately reflects where people are. If they have a gay child and they are a family of faith then how do they deal with that?”
“This showing of the movie is not really the end point. In many regards it’s the beginning,” says Watson. “Our expectation is to take the DVD (coming out in early 2008) and meet with church groups and have further discussion. To use the movie and the panel discussion as a catalyst for further conversations, opportunities to continue the dialogue.”
For The Bible Tells Me So is presented by Reel Savannah and Stand Out Youth on Sun., Jan. 6, 7 p.m. Victory Square Stadium 9 Theaters
Tickets: $8.00. Contact Dan Watson: firstname.lastname@example.org.