Monday, January 26, 2009

"For The Bible Tells Me So" Redux

The Sundance Channel was showing For The Bible Tells Me So today, and I watched it again & felt the same things I felt when I saw the movie originally, and I cried again. Seeing this wonderful film again reminded me of the first (and probably only) movie review I have ever written, and I wanted to include it on my blog today. Fair warning: the review is long & winding (something new for me, right???) & can never really describe just how I really feel. Suffice it to say, I was deeply moved. Below is a trailer for the movie:

Started off with Anita Bryant getting a “fruit pie” in her face during a press conference & then a press conference prayer for perpetrator to be delivered from his “demon lifestyle.” Childish as it seems, I never get enough of the guilty pleasure of Anita's banana cream pie facial!

Next I saw Jimmy Swaggart proudly stating, "I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry, and I'm going to be blunt and plain: If one ever looks at me like that, I'm going to kill him and tell God he died.” The congregation’s response? Laughter and applause. For some reason, I personally don't believe that the good reverend will ever need to worry about such a thing ever happening to him.

Never heard anything about Billy Graham but I did from Franklin Graham who proudly stated that God loves us homosexuals, but he will still judge us on our damnable sin & is still not happy with us.

There was the husband-and-wife preaching team Brenda and David Poteat from North Carolina, whose daughter, Tonia, is lesbian. Mr. Poteat explains that God loves you but you have to love Him back. Where being gay is concerned, I guess loving God back just isn’t enough.

Mrs. Poteat said how ashamed she was that, after her daughter came out to her, she would instinctively think of how her daughter performed sexual acts with another woman, instead of seeing her as her own flesh-and-blood. She says that while she has overcome that misconception, she still has problems with her daughter’s “lifestyle,” but she does accept that the woman her daughter has chosen as her life partner has made her daughter so very happy & Mrs. Poteat is at least happy for both of them in that respect. The Poteats still apparently don’t agree with their daughter’s “lifestyle” but they still love her. I guess a small victory is better than none at all.

Chrissy Gephardt (daughter of former US House Majority Leader, Dick Gephardt) & even Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, were married for a while to people of the opposite sex but each eventually comes to the conclusion that they could not wish their God-given sexual orientation away and they couldn’t simply act str8 to “fix” their lives & that they couldn’t go on lying not only to themselves but to their wonderful spouses, who also deserved to live with & love someone who could love them the way a spouse should. I didn’t know before the film, but I found out that, at his consecration as Bishop, Robinson had to wear a bullet-proof vest due to death threats. I guess “God’s work” can be such a messy affair sometimes.

The film covered the favorite word of the Religious Right where homosexuality is concerned: “abomination”. They said that, according to the Bible, it is also an abomination to eat anything that comes out of a pig & certain kinds of seafood.

In the film, they interviewed Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer, the chief rabbi of Los Angeles-based Religion-Outside-The-Box said, "A few verses above and below it says you shouldn't plant two different seeds in the same hole, you shouldn't co-mingle your crops ... There is other text that says you shouldn't wear linen and wool together. To just pick out, this is the one that we're going to follow ... the Bible doesn't come that way -- it's selective reading ..."

I discovered a few more abominations in Proverbs, Chapter 6:

16 These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

Many Christians who do not know me and do not want to know me may see my very life of one half of a relatively-stable committed same-sex relationship as an abomination, but I have to wonder, after reading these words, if those very same “good” Christians who “speaketh lies” and who “soweth discord” amongst my former brethren about my “sin” aren’t looked upon by the God they claim to love so dearly as a similar “abomination”. Wouldn’t that be a really ironic & sad kick in the pants??

In the film, Archbishop Desmond Tutu states simply that homophobia is a not-so-distant relative of the evil of apartheid, which he himself endured & helped to subsequently conquer, and calls them both what they are, "contrary to the heart of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

In 1988, Mary Lou Wallner’s daughter Anna “came out” to her in a letter she had mailed to her mom. Being a deeply religious family, in the letter, Anna said she loved God & she knew God loved her & that she hoped her mom wouldn’t try to change her.

A couple of weeks later, her mom finally wrote back to her, and said, in part, “Undoubtedly, the most difficult part of your letter was the gay thing. I will NEVER accept that in you. I feel it’s a terrible waste, besides being spiritually and morally wrong. For a reason I don’t quite fathom, I have a harder time dealing with that issue than almost anything in the world. I do and will continue to love YOU, but I will always hate that, and will pray every day that you will change your mind and attitude.” (as a matter of fact, in the trailer for the film, the “I will always hate that” part is shown to the singing of “Jesus Loves Me”).

A few years later, after very little contact with her daughter except for another letter stating how her mother’s response to her coming out was devastating to her & that she could not forgive her for what she saw as her mother’s abandonment of her, Mrs. Wallner received some awful news. I have cut & pasted the following few paragraphs from Mrs. Wallner’s website (TEACH Ministries—To Educate About the Consequences of Homophobia) as she explains it better than I ever could:

On February 28, 1997 at 10:00 p.m., I received a phone call from my ex-husband and Anna's Dad. At about 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, Anna had been found hanging from the bar in her closet. She had been dead for 15 hours. It was ruled a suicide by the coroner -- no autopsy, no note, no nothing -- but days, weeks, months and years of pain and anguish.

I have heard it said that when a loved one dies of suicide, there is a sense of utter failure. I can identify with that. I did not love her unconditionally, even though I knew 1 Corinthians 13 well. Among other things it says, Love is patient...and kind; Love is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs...It always protects, always hopes, always perseveres.

Throughout these years, since Anna's death, I have done a lot of soul searching to figure out just what part I played in Anna's death. I have wrestled with who I am and how I treated my own flesh and blood.

No matter what else happens in my life, I will always acknowledge the pain and tragedy of Anna's suicide. However, her death has also brought me face-to-face with the untruth I have been taught throughout my life by the church. My transformation has occurred through a wonderful gift given to me by God: getting to know, understand, and love GLBTA (Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders, and Allies).

I am now proud to call myself an ally and am honored to count these children of God amongst my closest and dearest friends. 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.

Recently, I went to the curio cabinet that holds Anna's pictures and dolphin collection. I said to her, "I will never again treat a gay person the way I treated you. That's a promise!"
Anna hanged herself in her closet using her dog’s collar & I will always remember the picture they showed of Anna with that collar around her neck. I will also always remember what Mrs. Wallner said about how she was going to provide to other gay & lesbian sons & daughters who have been abandoned by their families the love she could never find in herself to share with her own daughter. Those words nearly brought me to tears. Not for me or my journey thus far, but for Mrs. Wallner herself, doomed forever to carry around in her heart the knowledge of how very much her love & acceptance would have meant to her daughter. Her pain must be unspeakable.

Jake Reitan, son of Phil and Randi Reitan, had come out to his parents as a young teenager. The Reitans were a family of Evangelical Lutherans whose lineage was replete with pastors in the church & who held the same beliefs regarding homosexuality that they had always believed the Bible & their church had taught them. When it came down to the long-held dogma & the love of their youngest son, they were torn, and they decided to keep it the “dirty little secret” in their family & had advised Jake to keep this to himself til he graduated from high school, for fear of what might happen to him.

Mrs. Reitan told the story about an incident that occurred shortly after Jake came out. She said that they lived in a house in Minnesota that had a long driveway & that she had come outside & had seen something written on the ground at the end of the driveway. When she got to the end of the driveway, she saw the word “FAG” written in chalk on the ground. She rushed inside & got some water & a scrub brush & she erased it before Jake had a chance to see it. She had become deeply scared because she knew now that the secret was out.

The Reitans eventually became activists for gay rights amongst the religious community in America & have worked to make life easier for their son & for all the other sons & daughters who had to travel their son’s path. The film showed that the Reitans were even arrested for trespassing in Colorado Springs, Colorado trying to deliver a letter to James Dobson explaining how his “Focus on the Family” ministry actually actively hurts countless numbers of families who love & care for their GLBT family members when, among other things, he compares gay people’s very existence as much a threat to Christianity as Nazis were to the Jews during World War II & when he tells families to refuse to accept their gay child. Because the good doctor refused to focus on this particular family & listen to their concerns about how they felt attacked by his group, the mountain came to Mohammad. After being confronted by the police guarding the Focus on the Family property from this "assault' & explaining that if they took one more step they’d be arrested, Phil Reitan explained that he was an American and a Christian & a father who loves his children & that he demanded to tell Dobson what he’s doing to all those families. Phil & Randi, with their son’s arms around them, all stepped forward & were peacefully taken away in a police van, but the world was there in the form of cameras & other protesters & the moment was marked forever where this family who saw themselves as victims of this “godly” man’s ministry had said, “No More!” It was a beautiful thing! Contrast that with one of the letters that the Reitans received for daring to stand up to this Man of God, an anonymous “fan” of Dr. Dobson’s writing in a letter to the family, “Death to the Faggits!”.

The movie also brought up an interesting dichotomy where these anti-gay ministries are concerned. They talk about how the believe in the literal translation of the Bible, especially as concerns the “abomination” of a “man lying with a man” is concerned, but they conveniently forget the literal command in the Bible to take all you have and give it to the poor, and what an abomination in the eyes of the Lord must be the ever-growing profits of these ministries, while the poor are getting poorer. How selective their literal interpretation of the Bible is!

Gene Robinson’s parents, conservatives from deep in the heart of Kentucky, tell of their son’s life. They talk about how, when he was born, he nearly died & that he had physical problems & that no one expected him to live very long or, if he lived, to be able to do or be much. From his earliest years, they told of how he loved God & how he studied the Bible & how he knew he wanted to share God’s love with the rest of the world. His parents, with the deepest Southern twang I’ve heard in a long time, spoke with pride of how their son had overcome so much in his life & how he had worked so hard to tell the world the Good News of his God’s redemptive powers. His parents were there when he was consecrated as Bishop & his parents even placed the Bishop’s garment on their son during the ceremony. They said that God had made their son “that way” & of their belief that the Lord had had His had on Gene & brought him through so much so that he could be a beacon of hope for those who had forgotten how to hope. Speaking of hopelessness, the film also quoted a statistic I had never heard before: gay & lesbian people are 3 to 7 times more likely to commit suicide that those who are not gay or lesbian. Sounds like Gene Robinson is more needed than I thought.

The film revealed that hate is really a violent form of fear. Not that I believe that everyone who says they are “against homosexuality” hates gay people, but it’s hard to come any other conclusion about those people who say “Slaughter the Gays” or “Death to Faggits” or “God Hates Fags” or that AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuals.

All in all, biased as I may be, I don't think that the film disparaged anyone. The film certainly presented a certain point of view & that point of view is certainly widely unpopular in most Christian circles nowadays, but it does very much humanize those of us who have long been all but demonized in popular religion today & shows that not all people of God see a sin that needs ridding when they see people like me.

It also opened my eyes to understand that to get from there to here is sometimes a long, painful, soul-searching journey, just like my own lifelong trip from deep inside a cold, dark closet to the warmth of truth & freedom.

When I think of people like Mary Lou Wallner and her daughter Anna or Phil or Randi Reitan and their son, Jake, and how their lives were changed forever when their children came out to them (each with obviously different results) and how they were forced to challenge what their churches have always told them was undeniable truth and how they were made to see things quite differently with the passing of the years & the circumstances of their lives, I'm left wondering now if what I have endured to this point in my life had never happened I would truly appreciate life here on the other side of that closet.

Silly as it may sound, maybe Dolly Parton's right when she said if you want to enjoy the rainbows, you're gonna have to stand a little rain! Considering the foregoing, I think "a little rain" is a bit of an understatement, but still the thought remains.

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